Thursday, September 27, 2012

Hospital Branding - What Goes Around, Comes Around

Since we're in the middle of "Conference Season" - yes, that time of year when squeeze balls and personalized pens go flying off the exhibit tables - I'm pleased to report that the topics of branding and strategy are, once again, in the conversation.  For the past couple years, or so it seems, break-out sessions and keynote addresses have centered on the "hot picks" including social networks, digital media, and mobile technology. And while these subjects are still the bullseye of marketing agendas, the context is brand strategy and, at least for now, the dog is back in charge of wagging the tail.

There are several key factors and forces which appear to be influencing this shift in context, away from tactical marketing to strategy and branding.  Based on the conferences I've attended thus far this Fall, here are a few:

  • The "Steve Jobs" Effect - Maybe it's the surging stock price of Apple, or the upcoming one-year anniversary of his death, but Steve Jobs has certainly been top-of-mind. In fact, many of the conference sessions that I've attended have included his quotes - and here's my favorite to-date:  I'm more proud of what we don't do than what we do.  Apple is all about brand and strategy and this comment in Business Week gets at the core of his wisdom.  Strategy means sacrifice and not being "all things to all people."  This translates again to the strategy of branding and the opportunity for a company, product, or service to be clearly differentiated from competition and carve out a unique personality in their respective industries.  Apple demonstrates this philosophy in all aspects of its brand, from product design, packaging, usage, store displays, and even the attitude and dress of Apple employees. The lessons he left us, and the products we enjoy, are one very real reason the context of conversation has shifted from tactics to strategy.  
  • No More "Me Too" - It's taken a few years, but now that we're past the early adopter stage of social media, marketers have realized that the personality of the brand needs to shine, and not the personality of the social media poster.  In the context of brand, all Tweets, Facebook posts, LinkedIn messaging, and other posts should be in support of the strategy, not independent ideas that reflect the mood of the social media representative or the quote of the day.  I found this especially refreshing to hear during marketing conferences as it speaks to the consistency of the brand story and standing apart from what competitors are also posting.  Speakers referenced integrated social media plans (akin to marketing plans) as an excellent way to identify, months in advance, the social strategy for your organization in support of various services, promotions, and other strategic initiatives.
  • The Value of the Brand Dollar - Without a doubt, many conference speakers and industry representatives offered their two cents on the cost efficiency of a brand strategy versus that of independent service-line promotions.  The economy has definitely fueled the desire and need for brand marketers to create an overarching strategy that supports many products and services.  Branding has long afforded this efficiency and in light of tight budgets, marketing departments are re-evaluating this approach to get more of that proverbial "bang for the buck."  
  • Branding is Not a "One and Done" - Iconic brands - and you know who they are - have demonstrated the value of a long-term, consistent strategy.  That's why the slightest change in strategy will often upset the Apple cart (pun intended).  Look what happens when Diet Coke changes its packaging, or the parent brand changes its recipe.  How about when Burger King continues to change its tagline and goes back to the original.  Or when FedEx realizes it's not technology that people are buying, but the promise of "absolutely, positively" being delivered.  Branding is not a "one and done."  Plain and simple.  Hospital marketers have notoriously checked this "to do" off the list and moved on to other strategies, and I'm glad to hear that it's sill very much on the agenda.
What goes around, comes around.  Brand marketers lost sight of the value of branding - both strategically and financially - in favor of the tactical applications of new media and technologies.  They've now realized that without the context of a brand story and unique market differentiation, these tactics are just like the ones down-the-street.  I'm glad to hear that branding is back in the forefront and, next to squish balls and iPads, is at the center of many Fall agendas.

Rob Rosenberg is President of Springboard Brand and 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