Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Hospital Branding Blog: Is your brand safe?

At a recent breakfast featuring several CEO’s of Chicago hospitals, the panel was asked this question: “what keeps you up at night?”  Their answers really woke up the audience of nearly 500 and provided a chilling reminder about how the world and our priorities have changed.

One panelist explained that his answer would have been very different years ago.  It would have focused on the hospital’s census, average length of stay, and quality ratings. Today what keeps these hospital CEO’s awake is concern over patient safety.

At first glance, you might suspect that their comments have to do with Medicare’s Hospital-Acquired Condition (HAC) Reduction program.  Or, reports from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality that cite one in eight hospital admissions result in a patient injury of some kind.  After all, the HAC program alone costs hospitals nearly $400 Million in Medicare payments.

This kind of  “patient safety” is not what these administrators had in mind.  On the heels of shootings all over the world, from Paris to San Bernardino, to other crazy incidents occurring almost daily, their morning thoughts are on whether or not anything happened in their hospitals the night before and if their patients and employees are safe.

Unfortunately for brands in all categories, this is not the first time, nor the last, CEO’s have to think about consumer safety.  It goes way back, before the days of Tylenol tampering to the most recent outbreak of salmonella experienced by Chipotle customers.  I’m sure airline CEO’s think about it all the time as do other brand leaders with products and services that directly touch peoples lives.

These same potential nightmares keep brand marketers up at night, too.  Many have very detailed protocols to deal with any type of threatening incident that might occur.  For hospital marketers, the list is long, and worthy of a reminder to have:
  • Safety transfer plans and lock-down drills – like schools, churches, and synagogues to keep    stakeholders safe and intruders out. 
  • PR emergency plans – to keep the public and media on top of events with an emphasis on transparency, especially in light of social media traveling at light speed.
  • Social media plans – to alert campuses and facilities when a danger is present in real-time.
  • Staff training/education – to keep eyes and ears open, and to always be skeptical of any type of disruption.
  • Changes in customer service protocols – from open visitation to controlled access in order to keep security high and patients safe.
  • Ongoing safety controls – for patients and customers in all areas to make sure the right people are where they are supposed to be, and other are not. 
As 2015 ends and the holiday season is upon us, I couldn’t think of a better blog subject to put things in perspective than brand safety.  It is tragic that world events have put us all on high alert, and what keeps us up at night are the daily reminders that (as the song says) in a New York minute, everything can change.

Here’s to a great New Year for you and your brands – may 2016 bring peace and safety to you, your families,  and your organizations. 

Rob Rosenberg is President of Springboard Brand & Creative Strategy, a brand strategy and communications firm specializing in hospital and healthcare branding, 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

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Brand Positioning Can Open New Doors. Or Close Them.

It has happened twice in the last month to restaurants near me.  Both closed suddenly, after their owners made huge investments of time and money in their dreams and visions.  While this happens across the country to businesses everyday, there are similarities between these restaurants that more than hit close to home;  they emphasize the importance of brand positioning and how it can either open new doors to customers, or close them.

Restaurant A was in a very popular and trendy northern suburb of Chicago. The owner was a first time restauranteur who bought the property and totally gutted it.  New floors, tables, music stage, lighting - you name it. He wanted it to be known, or positioned, as a great restaurant with a lively bar and awesome music scene.  Aside from the fact the food quality didn't start out of the gate that great, people didn't like that their meal was served with loud music and congestion from the crowded bar area.  Was it a bar with decent food or a great restaurant with music?  Turns out we'll never know...he should have followed the lead of the previous owner who carved out a nice niche of being a cozy bar with decent munchies.  

Restaurant B was located right in our office building, so I had the chance to witness its demise on a nightly, and painful, basis as I'd walk past a near empty dining room almost every evening. This owner had a vision to create a fun, family-oriented 50's diner right in downtown Arlington Heights.  After pouring roughly $2MM into the new spot, complete with a '57 Chevy converted into dining booths, the restaurant closed less than a year later.  Again, a case of poor brand positioning.  While the brand was supposed to be a "fun, family diner," the promise and promotion went undelivered.  Even though the waitstaff wore 50's attire, that's as far as it went.  Think Ed Debevic's in Chicago and this was the total opposite.  The prices were too high (enough to turn families off) and neon beer signs were everywhere (also turning off grandparents seeking to take their grandkids out for a fun meal).  Oh, and the food was terrible.  Again, what do you want to be and to whom do you want to target were questions that apparently never got answered.

These classic tales of poor brand positioning cost these business owners millions of dollars and several lost years.  For hospital marketing purposes, the stories translate and the lessons are relevant. 
  • How is your hospital positioned and is it clear to the right audiences?  
  • Is the brand promise fulfilled in as many ways and touch points as possible?
  • Is signage and other promotional elements also supportive of the brand position and promise?
  • As a healthcare provider, is your level of care and service great? These attributes are expected among your consumers as a "have to have," not a "nice to have." Just like good food in a restaurant.
  • Are all the sensory ingredients in place in terms of noise levels, lighting, and even smells, as you position your hospital or healthcare entity?
A clearcut brand position is vital to an organization's success.  It gives you a framework to work within that will appeal to certain segments of the population and set you apart from your competition.  Remember, strategy is sacrifice, and you can't be all things to all people like the restaurants above tried to be.  Unfortunately, they learned the hard way and their restaurant brands went right down the disposal.

Rob Rosenberg is President of Springboard Brand & Creative Strategy, a brand strategy and communications firm specializing in hospital and healthcare marketing, 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

Thursday, September 3, 2015

A Brand Strategy is Multi-Faceted, not Multi-Faced

"Facing" is a great term used in marketing circles for decades.  Originally, it referred to the level and amount of shelf space a brand received in retail and centered around the "P" word, "place," from the  4 P's of Marketing. Today, it's used more than ever as it relates to the promotional strategy and audience mix a brand is pursuing.  In marketing meetings everywhere, statements or questions arise about a brand's facing such as "what's your consumer facing?" or "our brand also has a business-to-business facing," or "our online facing..."  Still a great term, but the context has shifted dramatically.

The more it comes up in conversations, the more we need reminding that a brand should only have one face.  Sometimes the way it faces toward different audiences, will change, however, the profile of the brand should be consistent. 

Different messaging should be used to motivate different audiences, however, the brand essence should remain consistent.

Yes, today's successful brands need to work hard against multiple audiences and markets.  But that doesn't mean they need a different persona against each strategy. Maintaining a consistent platform is key to securing a unique position that your brand can own, regardless of who it's targeting. Remember, audiences cross-over from consumer to influencer to decision-maker.  Top brands create and secure a lofty enough platform to transcend each audience group and support a single-minded approach.  Whether you're a buyer for a national sporting goods chain, a runner, or a retail store manager, Nike's brand promise of "self fulfillment and achievement" remains the same.  Headlines and images can be used to convey different messages, however, the brand essence of "Just Do It" is consistent.

Take a leading healthcare brand that owns a position of "empathy" - a deep understanding of the trials and tribulations of its' customers experiences. Whether you're a patient, family member, online visitor, referring physician, or employee, the brand stands up to the same promise and doesn't show a different face to every audience. And, yes, the brand experience has to be delivered on each and every time.

What's your brand facing?

Every brand faces challenges from different audience groups.  And every brand faces new opportunities from different media channels; online, traditional, earned, paid, or owned. But regardless of the "facing," the personality and relevance of your brand must remain the same.  Otherwise, it will leave your head - and those of your customers - spinning. 

Rob Rosenberg is President of 
Springboard Brand & Creative Strategy, a brand strategy and communications firm specializing in hospital and healthcare branding, 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

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Healthcare Branding: Content may be King, but Listening is the Key to Your Social Marketing Success

Only 10 years ago, MySpace was the king of the social network hill, and Facebook was still primarily for students. Back then brands were still trying to reach their target audiences in the traditional ways, and we had no concept of forging the dialogs and close connections with our target audiences that we can develop today. Responding in real-time to those audiences was just a pipe dream.
Fast forward to 2015 – having a social media presence is no longer a “nice to have,” but is now a definite “must have.” And in order to make the most of our presence on social networks, build a strong brand and effectively manage our social media accounts, we’ll need to do more than just create great content, we have to do some social listening and have a dialog as well.

Top 5 reasons to monitor brands on social media

1.     Powerful marketing analytics
Social media listening helps uncover a myriad of powerful statistics. By tracking social media metrics, brands can determine what is being said about them, and who is saying what.  Marketers can also track when their followers are most active online, what content is most popular, and which posts are resulting in the highest number of click-throughs.  Keeping track of all of this activity can help a brand optimize its content, and drive more effective search engine marketing campaigns.
2.     Building a community
Listening enables brands to track conversations and detect leads and key influencers in their industry. The insight gained from listening helps brands to interact with consumers in a way that builds a positive image and better relationships, leading to a community of loyal followers or even brand evangelists. Interaction with your consumers also affects the visibility of your future posts in their news feeds. The more you engage with a follower, the more likely they are to see your posts, and the more likely others will see it as well.
3.     Improved agility
It has been said that when it comes to social media, timing is everything. According to a recent article by Lithium Technologies, consumers will punish brands that fail to respond to complaints on social media quickly. However, brands that do react quickly, and provide timely responses build a more loyal following.
4.     Developing a better product
Social media listening can highlight various problems that consumers experience when using your services (way finding in hospitals, ER wait times) Monitoring the reviews and mentions on social media can help brands gain insight into the preferences and expectations of their target audiences, and then help address them when making operational improvements, adding new products and services, or even highlighting what they’re doing well.
5.     Social recruiting
The best hires come from referrals.  When people share favorable experiences about their careers online, their friends and followers take notice. Brands that monitor the pulse of their employees can address problems, and highlight wins in their workforce.  Using social media listening to gain insight into what employees say about working for you, or what they say about working for a competitor can help make improvements moving forward.
Profiles on social media can also offer insight about a potential candidate. Hiring managers can evaluate the consistency of a candidate’s application with what they have posted on their Linkedin profile, among others.
Social listening is an essential activity that will yield insights that can affect every aspect of your brand. Monitoring what’s being said about your brand can help you provide more relevant content to your target audiences, proactively improve your interactions, react and respond more efficiently to a crisis, and build a community of loyal followers and brand evangelists.

For more information, contact Springboard Brand & Creative Strategy 847.398.4920

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Hospital Branding: Digital is a Lose-Lose Proposition

The phrase "win-win" has been engrained in our vocabulary, to the point where business books call it one of the most overused statements of the last decade.  Obviously, the meaning implies there is a mutual benefit to two parties who take part in a common activity or situation.  The opposite side of that equation is the "lose-lose," reflecting an individual or organization that chooses not to engage in a strategy that has limited risk and high potential return.

Such is the case with digital marketing.  Believe it or not, there are still many healthcare organizations that are merely skimming the surface and not committing more of their budgets to paid digital media.  They are engaged in social, SEO, and other forms of owned media, but not shifting their budgets in favor of digital spend versus traditional media.  To borrow another phrase in the business vernacular, digital media is a "no brainer."  Think about the benefits:
  • You can precisely target by geography and demographics to reach your desired audience.
  • You can generate valuable impressions for awareness and preference building just by serving on-line ads.
  • You can drive click-through rates to landing pages and portals - and measure it every click of the way.
  • And, in some paid instances, you can serve text ads and unless they are clicked on, you don't pay.  
The list goes on.  Add to it the opportunity to test creative via A/B messaging at a fraction of the price of traditional focus groups.  Consumers will actually vote with their "check book" (borrowing another phrase...) and click on those messages that motivate them versus just saying what they might do.

If you play follow the leader, you'll be interested to know that the Cleveland Clinic now puts 75% of its media spend in digital!  According to Chief Marketing Officer, Paul Matsen, this is significantly up from just a few years ago when digital was at the bottom of the overall media budget.  Interestingly, he also shared that 64% of the Clinic's web visits comes through mobile devices.  And,  the majority of new patients come through digital.  It makes perfect sense that digital is now at the top of the media heap.

The reluctance on the part of healthcare marketers to limit their exposure and spend in digital media is a "lose-lose."  You lose visibility, flexibility, and cost efficiencies that can really help your organization win.  

Rob Rosenberg is President of Springboard Brand & Creative Strategy, a brand strategy and communications firm specializing in hospital branding 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

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Hitting The Sweeter Sweet Spot With Your Brand

In this branding blog, we have written about the "sweet spot."  The book, "Aaker on Branding," defines it as the intersection between consumer passions and brand benefits.  While there are several variations of this description,  the basic premise of the "sweet spot" relies on a deep understanding of your consumers beyond demographics, household composition, and top-line preferences.  It requires real insights on their dreams, visions, and interests.

At a recent advertising conference I heard this:  "Branding moves at the speed of culture."  It was a "wow moment."  The example was based on a popular brand of headphones and ear buds that have done an incredible job of tying their products to what's currently trending.  As a result, the brand is always at the forefront of culture and endorsed by many top athletes and celebrities.  I should add, too, that the creative work is pretty brilliant.

The intersection of your brand promise, your customer's passions, and the rapid changes in our culture is the recipe for making the sweet spot even sweeter.

Here's how the three ingredients work together:
  • Your Brand Message - remains at the top as the overarching benefit and promise of your product or service.  Your brand still requires all the special time and touches it takes to develop just the right essence and differentiation.  
  • Your Customer's Passions - What drives the lifestyle and behaviors of your consumers?  What dreams and visions do they have about their lives?  Answers to these questions will help you create the right words and images which help create a brand bond and speak to what's most important to consumers and what's in it for them.
  • At the Speed of Culture - What's trending, hot, and timely?  How are we communicating and what new technology is driving us ahead?  What news or culture events have us talking?  These trends and forces will help our brands be as relevant and real-time as possible.
An example might help, take Starbucks.  The brand message is around the experience of the coffee restaurant; the "between" place from home to office.  Customer passions might include key words and images such as "comfort," "personal," and "gathering."  At the time of this writing, unfortunately, there's a lot of violence trending such as gun fights in Waco, train crashes, and (too) many other examples.  If Starbucks really wanted to hit the sweeter sweet spot, create a program that offered "relief" in the comfort of its' stores and communicate this message through visuals, key words, and immersive experiences.  That's moving at the speed of culture!

While a brand message should be around for at least a couple years, that doesn't mean it can't be flexible and nimble and really resonate with consumers by attaching itself to what matters to them most, that day.  

Branding moves at the speed of culture.  How sweet it is!

Rob Rosenberg is President of Springboard Brand & Creative Strategy, a brand strategy and communications firm specializing in hospital branding 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

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Who can you trust as a spokesperson for your healthcare brand?

It takes years to create a trusted brand; one that carries with it quality, safety, assurance, and credibility in the minds of your consumers.  Then, in an instance, it’s gone and – in many cases – impossible to get back.  There are several reasons this occurs – some controlled (think Coke’s new recipe or Maker’s Mark less potent one), some out of control (think Tylenol).  According to David Horsager, author of “The Trust Edge,” a lack of trust is the biggest expense a brand can endure. 

One of the hot topics today when it comes to brand trust is the use of a spokesperson and whether this makes good sense for an organization.  From Lance Armstrong and Tiger Woods (who reportedly lost $110 Million income in two weeks) in the sports world to Bill Cosby and recently Brian Williams in the “entertainment” industry, to countless others, tying your brand to an individual is a risk you should seriously consider.  It has JELL-O shaking in its’ Nike shoes.

Why is this a risky strategy?  Because you’re attaching your brand to an individual…a human being who, in the blink of an eye, or the push of a (camera) widget or tweet, can lose their credibility.   And, you can lose your brand trust. 

So, whom can you trust?  Or should you even bother. 

In today’s social media world, this risk of tying your brand to a spokesperson is greatly heightened!  PSM (pre social media), the use of a spokesperson was fairly predictable and solid.  Wilford Brimley, for example, was a great spokesperson for Quaker Oats in the 80’s and 90’s and brilliantly personified the brand.  William Shatner has worked out, so far, for Priceline, as have many others.  The question remains, is the reward worth the risk? In many cases, the use of a spokesperson is a stretch and really doesn’t support a brand – so why go there anyway. That’s the first question to ask: does the use of a spokesperson actually add relevance and value to your brand strategy or is it merely a device to help your brand gain attention?  If it’s the latter, the risk is most likely not worth the reward.

Creating your own character creates control.

Several brands have created their own iconic spokespeople.  Charmin and Mr. Whipple are inseparable; the Maytag repairman supported the brand strategy of dependability and durability, and Tony the Tiger made Corn Flakes “grrreat!”  More recently, Flo, the Geico gecko, and the Aflac duck, have created a new category of branded characters that have worked extremely well to drive sales while at the same time come with little risk…unless, of course, the duck gets pulled over for a FUI (flying under the influence).

In healthcare branding, the topic of using a spokesperson is often raised. In Chicago, Danica Patrick has emerged as a spokesperson for a newly formed hospital system seeking to build its brand promise on being “health driven.”  The organization has spent significant dollars in media and production to register this theme.  While I do applaud their approach, let’s just hope Danica doesn’t take a spill or put this brand in reverse for some other reason.

Here are thoughts for healthcare marketers considering whether to use a spokesperson for their brands, including the use of patient testimonials:
  • Real patients are real people.  Testimonials often bring the richest stories to your marketplace and are proven to be very engaging – but they’re about people.  And real people do crazy things.  And, unfortunately, real patients succumb to their diseases and illnesses.  Before tying your strategy into real patient testimonials, consider this approach for a social media strategy, which is less costly and more nimble than brand commercials. 
  • Doctors are people, too.  You want to feature your superstar cardiovascular surgeon as the “spokesperson” for your brand but then…boom!  She shows up on the news in a negative way, or decides to leave your medical staff.  If you want to pursue the strategy of physician excellence, think through different creative executions that get the point across and use other media to showcase individuals such as PR, social media, or video.  These can have much shorter shelf lives if need be.
  • Create a spokesperson.  Your brand might not call for the use of a gecko or a duck, but there are other possibilities to be creative with a branded spokesperson that you can “own” and build a long-term communications strategy around.
  • Make the use of a spokesperson a special promotion, not a long-standing brand strategy.  If the use of a spokesperson supports your strategy and the character of the individual speaks to your marketplace, consider this approach as a short-term promotional effort for your owned or bought media channels.  The risks these days of tying into someone or something for too long are just too great.
  • Test, test, test.  Before paying substantial dollars for a spokesperson and the production of communications materials, test the idea with internal and external customers and stakeholders.  If the association and relevance is lacking, it’s probably worth a pass.
Companies such as Coca Cola, Kraft (Jell-O), McNeil Pharmaceuticals (Tylenol), and Nike are of the size where brand disasters can (sometimes) be overcome.  Hospitals, on the other hand, can ill afford to subject their consumer facing with the face of someone who does not build trust or credibility around their brands.

Rob Rosenberg is President of Springboard Brand & Creative Strategy, a brand strategy and communications firm specializing in hospital branding 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

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Disruptive Thinking Creates Powerful Brand Messaging

The most effective way to be disruptive in today’s marketplace is to have the deepest possible understanding of your consumers.
Have you ever been behind a fo­cus group mirror watching a group of your customers, wanting to reach through the glass to educate them about your brand so they could better understand the brand mes­sage and successfully choose your product or service? All the work you think you’re doing to develop the most compelling and differentiating brand proposition is falling terribly flat!
It has happened to all of us and, while it is a humbling and reflective experience, it reinforces a basic principle of branding, communications, and breaking through the clutter. It’s not that customers don’t “get” or care about the message, it’s mainly that the content is not engaging or disruptive enough to rise to the top in their already multi-tasked lives. And this leads to the brand marketer’s next task.
We use the term disruptive as an adapta­tion of Clayton M. Christensen’s work— the message needs to create a new value proposition that disrupts current thinking or existing positioning.
Cost of Entry for Brand Preference
There was a time when creating a brand proposition based on consumer needs and competitive gaps was enough to gain con­sumer preference. Today, however, being meaningful and relevant is the cost of entry for positioning your brand and generating interest from your audience.
To gain brand preference, or even ac­knowledgement, we have to be far more likeable and relevant than ever and reach consumers in new, immersive ways that present our brands as part of their lifestyle, not our selling cycles. And, it has to be done in new and engaging media that catch people on the run, at home, in the office, at the airport, in the grocery store, or in their neighbor’s kitchen.
Engaging and Disruptive Messaging
There is a new healthcare activist emerging. One who is becoming increasingly well informed, exposed to an explosion of choices, digital channels, personalized treatments, technology-enabled self-care, and has an intense focus on the overall experience of the care. Trying to reach this new consumer with traditional methodologies is not only inefficient, but it can be a significant destructive force to your budget and branding platform.
The most effective way to be disruptive in today’s marketplace is to have the deepest possible understanding of your consumers: their passions, interests, habits, family pro­files, and lifestyle preferences. You have to be sensory-driven as much as data-driven when it comes to knowing how to integrate your brand through touch, sound, sight, and even smell! Harvard researcher David Edwards has developed a scent-based mes­saging called oNotes that can send aromatic messaging. Oscar Mayer developed an alarm clock app that actually emits the smell of bacon—now that’s disruptive!
With nearly 5,000-plus messages bom­barding us every day, you have to be more than meaningful to break through. You have to be disruptive and speak to consumers in ways that not only get their attention, but engage them in every sense of the word.
As David Aaker shares in his book, Aaker on Branding, your brand needs to hit the “sweet spot” of your customer; the place that resides at the intersection of their interests and passions and your brand benefits.
Consumer Trends
The first place to look when considering your most disruptive messaging opportunities is the many trends and forces taking place in the lives of your customers today. How can you be disruptive if don’t know what their buying, eating, reading, watching, feeling, afraid of, happy about? Look at some of the broad issues that are shaping how people live, shop, and work in America. These are where we need to meet our consumers to gain their attention and loyalty.
  • Families and households in the United States are changing. Consider that only 64 percent of children have two married parents today. Nearly three-quarters of mothers work outside the home; but note that the number of mothers who stay at home is up from 23 percent in 1999 to 29 percent in 2014.
    Only 51 percent of Americans are married—the fewest number of people in our history. More people are living together without getting married or for a long time before getting married.
    About one-third of men say they now have primary shopping responsibility in the household…what happened to women making all the household decisions?
  • Another inspiration for disruptive messaging strategies is the desire for personalization. People will respond to messages and prod­ucts that are created specifically for them rather than the same thing that everyone else receives. Nike, for example, offers the opportunity to design your own shoes.
    In healthcare, everything from your sun exposure to your heart rate to how many flights of stairs you climb every day is be­coming highly personalized and gaining traction. Through technologies such as wearables, consumers are increasingly look­ing for more benefits that are both personal and measurable and specific to them. Today, there are approximately 15 million users of app-enabled mobile health and fitness de­vices. By 2018, this number is projected to reach 96 million. For wearable devices across all consumer segments, Morgan Stanley is predicting shipments of nearly 250 million by this same time. Now, that’s a lot of op­portunity for disruption! Remember, you can customize a million applications but you can only personalize one.
    Revolutionizing Your Brand
    The journey of brand messaging has come a long way. Relevance and value are key mile markers, however, they are just at the start­ing line of your brand strategy. Healthcare brands will need to introduce new “jour­neys” for their consumers to give them a sense of personal progress and engagement.
    How will your brand position itself in a disruptive and personalized way? What trends and technologies will you or partner em­brace to make the journey both fun and effective?
    These are the questions healthcare marketers should be asking as we shift from the age of differentiation to the age of disruption through differentiation and personalization.

    This article originally appeared in the March/April edition of Spectrum. ©2015 by SHSMD

    Paul A. Szablowski
    Senior Vice President Communications & Image
    Texas Health Resources
    Arlington, TX

    Rob Rosenberg
    Springboard Brand & Creative Strategy, Ltd
    Arlington Heights, IL

    Rob Rosenberg is President of Springboard Brand & Creative Strategy, a brand strategy and communications firm specializing in hospital branding 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