Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Perils of Overthinking in Hospital Branding

As another year comes to a close, we think about all we've accomplished in 2012.  However, it's equally important to think about what we didn't. In fact, our business-oriented list of New Year's resolutions should begin with the "to do's" that remain undone.  There are many reasons in the marketing world why we're not always able to put check marks next to our check-lists.  Deadlines, new project initiatives, changes in staffing, revised business priorities...the list goes on with many items that just can't be helped.  But there's another reason we often don't complete what we've set out to accomplish - "overthinking."

Overthinking.  Admit it, we're all guilty.  There are many examples in the world of hospital branding that fall prey to the symptoms of overthinking. Most center around how we think people will react to strategic decisions and whether or not they'll be able to put "two and two together."  But here's the honest truth - which is sometimes difficult to swallow for people in our business, myself included:

People just don't think about things the way we do. 

Several sources suggest that we've gone from exposing consumers to 500 messages a day to nearly 3,000.  And, according to Yankelovich Consumer Research, "regardless of whether the figure is 3,000 or 30,000, it is clear that businesses need to do something fairly special to be noticed on a large scale.  Even if people do happen to cast their eyes on your messages, whether they actually take any notice or process the information is a different matter."

Here are a few examples in hospital branding that have been the subject of overthinking:

Naming a new hospital or branded enterprise  - We have worked with three organizations this past year that were evaluating name changes and suggestions for hospital facilities or branded enterprises.  A lot of quality research was conducted and in-depth consumer interviews were held. Not surprisingly,  most people liked the names they were most familiar with and expressed the desire to have them incorporated into new branding strategies.  Research can be equally validating as it is illuminating.

Dabbling in social media - This train left the station last year.  Yet, there are many healthcare organizations that continue to think through every possible negative ramification in launching an aggressive digital or on-line strategy.  As a result, they never got off the dime and competition now owns keywords and a strong digital presence.

Graphic Standards - Does the line come under the name or does the name come over the line?  Graphic standards are paramount for growing organizations, however, most are developed with the company in mind, not the consumer.  Focus group participants clearly report:  "Tell us who you are and where you are" and "keep it simple."

Internal Branding -  Stakeholders want to be educated about various marketing initiatives.  After all, it's the "fun" part of the business and who doesn't enjoy seeing their organization's name out in the community.  But they also want to be inspired, and have a better understanding of what it means for them in their daily work activities.  

There are many other examples of key initiatives that often get caught in our own analysis-paralysis.  Just remember the number from Yankelovich - your consumer audience is hit with over 3,000 messages every day.  Job one is making ideas clear, relevant, and simple - and not overthinking the story we want to tell as hospital branders.

Other reminders that make our messages more memorable:
  • Engage, don't sell - branding is a heartbeat not a chest beat.  Remember "feature benefits, not features."  Ideas around love, money, health, career, hopes, and dreams are what get people's attention.
  • Use media effectively -  if consumers are bombarded with messages, select media channels and strategies that are most relevant to those you want to reach.  Traditional and non-traditional media can be highly targeted to better the odds of messages being noticed.
  • Be innovative and creative - people will notice your messages if they stand out and capture their imagination.  Same old, same old is, well, same old.
Happy 2013!  May the New Year bring you health, happiness, love, success and money (see how it works!)  Here's to more doing and less overthinking.

Rob Rosenberg is President of  Springboard Brand and Creative Strategy, a brand strategy and communications firm located in the Chicagoland area. For more information on Springboard or to discuss this and other ideas, please contact Rob at 847.398.4920 or at rob@springboardbrand.com

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