Monday, March 5, 2012

Hospital Branding: A Resurgence in Rebranding: Remember, what's in a name?



Have you noticed it in your marketplace? Hospitals and health systems are undergoing a vast resurgence in new naming strategies. Here in the Chicago area, for example, we've seen Central DuPage Hospital and Delnor Health System come together as "Cadence Health." Provena Health and Resurrection Health Care have selected "Presence Health" as their new combined name. From corporate HQ in San Francisco, Catholic Healthcare West has become Dignity Health in their 40-plus markets in the U.S. The Ohio State University Hospital changed its name to Wexner Medical Center at Ohio State University. And, just recently St. Luke's Hospital in Allentown, PA announced it will now be known as St. Luke's University Health Network.


These are only a handful of the many name changes happening in markets across the country. Why this surge? The reasons vary; from an onslaught of recent mergers to faith-based practices, from competitive positioning to donor recognition. Regardless of the reason, there are several fundamental branding disciplines to keep in mind if you're considering a name change for your organization.

Equity, equity, equity. Similar to location, location, location in the real estate market, naming strategies all come down to equity. Before abandoning an established name for the sake of collaboration or partnership, conduct objective research to determine the knowledge, attitudes, and meaning your current name(s) have in the market. If merging entities, there's nothing wrong with retaining a current name(s) if it scores well in consumer research and has strong brand equity. Banks do this all the time, nothing fancy about First Third Fifth Fourth Bank, but we know who they are and where they've come from.

We just helped a client develop a naming strategy for a sister hospital facility that will be under construction in a few months. While all sorts of names were tested, the best strategy, as determined by consumers, was to retain the "flagship" brand name and add a geographic descriptor in the name. The equity in the flagship was way too strong to abandon.

New name means new positioning. Since I'm located in the Chicago market, let me use the Central DuPage and Delnor case as an example here. For a couple of years, Central DuPage has had a nice positioning and ad campaign around "always thinking, always caring." As a consumer, I associate that with Central DuPage. Now, along comes this new brand called Cadence and, guess what, they, too, are positioned as "always thinking, always caring." Can you spell confusing? If that tagline didn't score well the first time, I doubt it will improve the second time around. There's a reason that entities merge and a benefit ensues - and that should be reflected in the positioning strategy and tagline - not just a recycle from one of the participating parties.

Be ready to roll day one. Dignity did it right. The day it was announced that Catholic Healthcare West (CHW) was changing its name due to the diversity of its network and subsequent faith-based issues, every hospital was ready to go live with new brand templates, websites, and a well crafted story of its new mission and position. As one of the Vice Presidents from a participating hospital told me, "We worked around the clock to make sure it was seamless. It was amazing what went on behind the scenes getting ready for this announcement."

Don't be disappointed when your new name doesn't register in the market. I have been behind the mirror of many focus groups and watched clients become frustrated when consumers call their organization by an old name. "We changed that name 15 years ago!" After restraining them from leaping through to the other side, I remind them that people just don't pay that much attention to what we say and do. Like a former colleague used to tell me - people have minds like old, rural mailboxes. There's a slot for every type of product and brand and that is where they store information about different brands and services. And the space is crowded!

Bottom-line, consumers don't (over) think about it like you do. When your name changes, there's a great likelihood that you'll still be known by the old one for many years to come. Plan accordingly and be realistic in your expectations.

Explain it first to the people who matter most, your employees. Their family, friends, and neighbors will ask them. "What's with the new name?" If their answer is, "I have no idea," or "makes no sense to me," then you're in for an uphill fight for brand equity. That's why employees and other internal stakeholders have to be in the know, now, before it goes public. Of course, as with other internal communications, it's not just an education - it's an inspiration - getting them to understand and be enthusiastic about the change. Plus, don't forget how far a coffee mug or sweatshirt can go to ignite pride and advocacy. We have found brand books and videos to be excellent ideas to help spread the word internally.

Learn from the past, we've been through this before. Back in the 90's, as integration and the formation of health systems began to emerge, new naming strategies were the norm. The result was oftentimes a computer-generated name that left many scratching their heads. A few years later, disintegration took place and the merged systems went back to their individual hospital roots and marketers had to pick up the pieces and lost time. As it appears the industry is, once again, going through a naming frenzy, keep these lessons from the past in mind and have a contingency plan in mind in the event your organization becomes a stand-alone. How much equity do you really want to give up?



Rob Rosenberg is President of Springboard Brand & Creative Strategy, a brand development and communications firm with offices in the Chicago and D.C. areas. For more information on Springboard or to discuss this and other ideas, please contact Rob at 847.398.4920 or at rob@springboardbrand.com  Hospital Branding