Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Hospital Marketing and Healthcare Branding - Ten Lessons from 15 Years

I just had a birthday!  My company did, that is.  Springboard Brand & Creative Strategy recently turned 15 and since only one third of new businesses last past their first decade, I feel pretty good about this accomplishment.  As I reflect over the past decade and a half, there are certain thoughts and ideas that surfaced that I wanted to share.   I hope some will educate, inspire, amuse, or just be a head nod to those who read them.
  1. The power of a big idea still surges. From the “Mad Men” era until today, and I’m certain into the future, the advertising business still thrives on big ideas.  Sure, there are all sorts of new technologies to communicate and ways to “hide” behind production value, but strip it all away and – if there’s not a big idea that touches the heart and soul of your customer – you have nothing.  You know you have one when, years later, people still recall pieces of a campaign.  I’m proud to say there have been a few of those over the years.
  1. Get with the times. I used to cover my ears when the subject of digital/social media came up in conversations.  I thought that if I just focused on traditional branding and advertising practices, others would take care of the new stuff.  Wrong!  (I guess it’s right to say that today?) Anyway, I have come to really embrace “new” media and appreciate its flexibility and ability to be measured, and the fact that it’s not “new” anymore, just part of the game.
  1. There’s no such thing as a “just a.” There have been many times the client has requested “just a re-size,”  “just a simple program ad,” or “just a something.”  You know as well as I do that there’s no such thing.  Every project has a purpose and should have a strategy against it.  Just when you think it’s a “just a,” it expends more time, resources, and thought than projects that are viewed as larger from the beginning.
  1. It’s hard to make predictions. After 15 years at Springboard, and a total of nearly 40 in the advertising and marketing business, I thought I was close to being able to make decent predictions.  Whether it’s a new business win, what creative campaign a client will pick, an award, and the list goes on…the truth is you shouldn’t predict.  Because I’ll predict you’re going to be wrong.
  1. Personal engagement is still the best form of communications. We all get dozens of emails a day, many text messages, and other forms of tech communications.  While they are time efficient, there is still no substitute for meeting with a client, enjoying a meal, or taking in a social event together.  Just like the “old days.”  And imagine their surprise and gratitude when you send something via “snail mail.”
  1. Punctuation and grammar speak volumes. Related to the above, the industry has changed dramatically in not only how we communicate with each other but also our attention to details.  It seems as though every email contains a typo or has some level of bad grammar.  As we take shortcuts with our communications, it doesn’t mean we should do the same with our spelling and grammar.  A bad typo can kill a great letter or even a client relationship.
  1. You’re only as good as your people. One thing that I’ve definitely appreciated over the years is working with really excellent people.  I never wanted a company with my name on the door.  I wanted one that everybody could feel some ownership in, so when my time comes to move on, the company can do the same.  From David Ogilvy’s famous quote, “our inventory goes down the elevator every night,” to other classic business phrases, your brand depends on who’s delivering it.  I’ve been fortunate to have several people who have helped me really deliver.
  1. Hire for your culture, not for a client. Related to the above, I’ve learned (the hard way, too), that one should hire based on need and culture and not to fit a specific client.  Clients come and go in this business every few years.  Great employees are those you want to stay for an extended period of time.  Culture is important and not just lip service, and I’ve come to realize it starts or stops in the corner office.
  1. Perception really is bigger than reality. With social media today, a small company can make a big impression, around the world!  I remember when blogging was first fashionable and, with some time at a hotel one night, created “Hospital Branding Blog.”  Today, it’s read in over 25 countries and serves to keep Springboard on the first page of most organic searches.  I’m always amazed when people ask how “big” the company is – and when I tell them they always say, “wow, I thought you were hundreds of people and in many cities.”  That’s the power of social media and the importance of maintaining an active social marketing strategy.
  1. You have to stay in sound business shape. From airplanes to rental cars, sleepless nights to meals on the run, I’ve learned to appreciate the importance of a wellness regimen since owning a company. The pressures of the day can be tough, but nothing a good workout at night can’t knock out.  A solid breakfast really does rev up the metabolism, and a decent night sleep works wonders.  In fact, if someone asked, “what’s the one thing you’d recommend when starting a business” I would answer, “work hard to stay healthy and keep your head in the game.”
Thank you for the opportunity to share these thoughts, and to all our clients, collaborators, and partners who have helped me reach this important milestone.  As Confucius said, (I always wanted to say that) “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” 

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

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Healthcare Branding - More hospital mega-brands on the horizon as mega-mergers rise

This week’s Modern Healthcare magazine, long a leading industry publication for healthcare and hospital executives, recapped the number of “mega-mergers” taking place in the industry during the first quarter of 2017.  The article cites four such mergers between eight $1 billion healthcare organizations. 

According to a managing director of a larger international financial advisory firm in the healthcare industry, this is a trend that is likely to accelerate as hospital companies want “regional, if not national, reach to be more attractive to patients and insurers.”

Additionally, the article cites that many academic medical centers are operating at near capacity and are seeking community hospital partners to take patients requiring less intensive cases.  This is opposite of a few years ago, when these same large academic providers were partnering with community hospitals to generate more referrals for their highly specialized programs that require volume to remain viable.

There were only a handful of “mega-brands” in the marketplace a few years ago - Mayo, Cleveland Clinic, Hopkins, M.D. Anderson, etc. - so the implications of this trend impact hospital branding in a mega-way and bring to mind the importance of key branding indicators such as equity and relevance. 

“Where’s the equity” replaces “what’s in a name.”

These new mergers keep a focus on the equity that exists for brand(s) in the marketplace.  Decisions impacting naming, identities, brand strategies, and communications need to start with a thorough understanding of the recognition, reputation, and value a brand has among its current and desired market.  While seemingly obvious, there are countless examples of health systems that have moved away from existing, and high-equity, brand names in order to keep the peace among partners and/or start from a clean slate.  In many cases, consumers react negatively and still refer to “their” hospital or system by its original name (oftentimes, many years later) to the dismay of marketing brand managers.  The only true discipline to gauge the equity of your brand is market research among key customers.  And as one client recently reminded me, “it’s best to let sleeping equity lie,” if it is strong enough to tell the new brand story.  With all these mega-brands taking shape, the equity might lie in both organizations and a long, but strong, new brand will emerge.
What’s the new relevance of the new mega-brand?

The biggest buzzword in branding today is relevance – or what role and meaning does a brand have in the life of its consumers.  As mega-brands rise, so too must their relevance.   Again, focus group testing among consumers will validate what’s most important to them as you seek to identify your mega-brand strategy.  There’s a reason that two or more organizations have come together and, if it makes sense, that should be the story told to prospective users.  Key here is telling it in terms that they understand and find benefit in, and not buzzwords and cliché terms that only make sense to hospital executives.

It seems every few years, there is a new surge in hospital brand mergers – followed by an almost equal number of breakups.  If you’re considering a merger, how far do you want to walk away from the equity and relevance you’ve established in your marketplace?  If history sheds any insight, you might want to “let sleeping equity lie” and maintain as much of your equity as possible – even in this era of mega-brands.

A personal note:  Modern Healthcare was referenced in this article and it brings to mind the very recent passing of long-time publisher and healthcare leader, Chuck Lauer.  I had the pleasure of knowing Chuck, as he was a close friend of a former business partner of mine and frequent visitor to our office.  In fact, when I was considering leaving a large, general advertising agency, I was invited to meet Chuck and “pick his brain” on whether hospital advertising would remain a viable industry.  His conviction about how consumers would influence choice and that marketing would influence consumers was a key factor in my decision to join a smaller healthcare marketing firm.  As I approach 30 years in this business, I like to think that Chuck, as motivating and convincing as he was, was right again.  RIP Mr. Lauer.

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

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Hospital and Healthcare Branding: If creative executions are not in sync, it's time to rethink (the strategy)

Do you have headlines, copy, banner ads or other tactical elements that seem to be bouncing back and forth between you and your advertising agency?  Are you frustrated that your communication blends into the marketplace and doesn’t allow your organization to stand apart in a meaningful way?  Do internal stakeholders seem nonchalant over your new “branding” campaign or communication initiative?

If you answered “yes” to any or all of the above, it might be time to rethink your strategy versus yet another redo to an existing concept or strategy that is either off course or has run that way. Too often, agencies and clients go round and round on creative executions and can’t quite pinpoint what it is that isn’t working.  Worse, yet, is the old “I’ll know it when I see it” conversation, that agencies seem to be hearing more and more these days.
Keep this in mind:  If at three it’s not in sync, it’s time to rethink.  After a third revision, it’s not the execution that’s bad, it’s the thinking – on both sides of the desk – that isn’t in sync and should be reexamined.
  • Always start with a strategic creative brief. Even if the overarching strategy has been in place for a while, each creative project should have some direction.  There’s no such thing as “it’s just another version of last year’s ad.”  Every requested idea should be accompanied by a creative brief outlining, at minimum, the challenge, goal, target audience, promise, and support of the message.  This should not be a five page document, it should be as succinct as possible.  And even a “brief” brief is better than nothing and will guide creative thinking in the right direction.  Key here:  gain agreement on the brief from both the agency and client.  This becomes the contract for your creative work.
  • Update your competitive intelligence at least twice a year. Even the best ideas can be killed instantly, if they are too similar to that of a competitor.  Most times this happens unintentionally, but when it does, it reflects poorly on all involved.  Every six months, refresh your competitive file (both physical and online) and review what your competition is saying in the marketplace and how they are positioning their organizations.
  • Use research to validate your thinking. As above with competitive intelligence, at least once a year, you should be conducting consumer research to determine whether your thinking is still on target and your strategy is relevant to your key consumers, including internal stakeholders.  Online surveys, focus groups, community studies, and/or other research methodologies should be implemented every year. The goal is not to determine if consumers “like” or “dislike” your messaging but rather to validate that your strategy is still aligned with their wants and needs.  We call this Heartbeat Branding,” as the strategy intersects with the desires and interests of your consumers and is culturally relevant.
  • Assess your results. The best way to determine if your strategy is still engaging is to track your results on a regular basis.  In the digital world, monthly analytics serve this purpose, and in packaged goods, sales reports provide daily measures.  For other products and services, results can be tracked in a variety of ways.  The key here is to determine upfront what your measurable goals are so you can go back to determine effectiveness.
The “hit or miss” of a creative concept or branding program can be avoided if all parties regularly evaluate the strategy and confirm that it is still unique and relevant.  Agencies will still “miss,” and have to go back to the drawing board, but it won’t be over disagreement on what the message should be.  Rather, it will be on how it’s executed.  Clients will be forced to keep in touch with their marketplace and really think hard about how the brand promise is being delivered upon.
When it comes to creative concepts, three times is not a charm.  Remember, “if at three you’re not in sync, it’s time to rethink.”