Thursday, June 28, 2012

Hospital Branding: The difference between branding and selling - A Heart Beat vs. A Chest Beat

This month, Springboard celebrated its 10-year anniversary.  The number of well wishes and thoughtful remarks were much appreciated and gave us "cause for pause" and the opportunity to reflect on the last decade. Obviously, much has changed in the healthcare and marketing industries; from the invent of social media to the real inroads of healthcare reform. Amidst all the changes, there is a consistent thread that has remained woven in the fabric of consumer buying, and has for decades. Yes, the concept of branding is alive and well and remains at the "heart beat" of reaching and motivating customers to choose one product or service over another.

That's it - heart beat!  After spending so many years describing the concept of branding and all the text-book definitions, it comes down to these two key words.  And when contrasted with the words "chest beat," used to describe branding's first cousin, selling, it really ticks!

A brand strategy makes an emotional statement for a product, service, or organization.  It creates a promise to the marketplace that places an emphasis on user benefits, not features (another attribute of the "selling" family tree).  And the benefits usually make our hearts beat; whether it's how we feel, dream, hope, perform, or even how others view us as a result of using our favorite brand.  All heart beats.  Not chest beats. Perfect examples:  Levi's makes the heart beat with the feeling of freedom and relaxation, not with thread count and fabric data.  Coke makes the heart beat with rejuvenation and refreshment,  not carbonated water, sugar, and caffeine.

Another important trait of branding versus selling is the type of communication that takes place with customers.  These days, branding is so engaged with social media and web/mobile interactivity, that it really is an ongoing dialogue with loyalists.  Whereas selling is still very much a monologue with buyers, telling them what you want them to hear (aka chest beat) often in intellectual terms, not emotional ones. Notice the difference in audience descriptions - branding talks with loyalists, selling talks to buyers.

The same differences between branding and selling apply to internal marketing, too.  Since employees are the number one audience that needs to become engaged with a brand - especially in service industries - they have to feel the heart beat.  There has to be passion in the words they use to describe their organization to friends, family, and future loyalists.  Perfect example:  Next time you want to present a new brand campaign to internal stakeholders, don't just inform them (aka chest beat), inspire them!  Use sight, sound, and emotion to build a sense of pride and professionalism.  Demonstrating how each and every employee contributes to the success of the enterprise - as well as the communities in which they live - offers real tangible benefits in terms of satisfaction, retention, and even customer sales.

Could the concept of branding be this simple and pure?  Probably not, but it doesn't have to be obscure and complicated, either.  Branding is about creating a heart beat, inside and outside your organization. Here's a few suggestions to help get you pumped up:
  1. Beat to a different drummer - your brand has to set your organization apart and provide your products and services with a unique positioning platform.  It has to be true and authentic to your organization and tell a story no other brand can communicate.  
  2. Take the pulse of your market - your positioning platform and brand promise have to resonate with your key internal and external audiences (remember, future loyalists).  Qualitative research has proven to be an excellent methodology for revealing, reviewing, and determining the relevance of brand statements and creative applications.
  3. Reasons to beat (or believe) - brands need intellectual support to tell an emotional story.  Sometimes just one "nugget." Gatorade does this all the time when it creates the emotions of victory and endurance, and supports it with the "reason whys" based on scientific facts.
  4. The beat goes on - branding is not just a "one and done."  Don't just check it off your list and move on.  Stay with it, both on the outside and inside. Your brand essence must live within the culture of your organization.  Successful organizations use their brand strategy as a guide for making operational,  human resources, and customer service decisions that support the promise.
  5. Just beat it - traditional, digital, social...regardless of the media, channels, or vehicles, your brand strategy and creative executions need to be consistent across the board.  Perfect example: sync your social media strategy to your brand promise and require posts to speak to the personality and position of your organization (and not the poster). 
Ten years and counting.  We're proud of the success we've shared with our clients and the work we've contributed to the healthcare marketing space.  It's about "heart beat," and when we keep that in the forefront of our thinking and strategy development, the wonderful journey of brand-building will continue to create new pathways and opportunities for all of us.  

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