Creating Healthier Brands: What is the Difference Between Brand Identity and Brand Image?

A compass image to denote the act of navigating through a rebranding effortTo refresh or revitalize your brand, your organization faces some important decision points up front. Do you want to change your brand identity (appearance), your brand image (personality), or both?

As president of a healthcare marketing, branding and advertising firm, I often hear the terms “brand identity” and “brand image” used interchangeably. While these two paths do intersect and build on one another, they are really quite different in what they will achieve for your company.

Your brand identity is tangible, an identifiable representation of your company’s name and overall “look.” It’s how you present in market – your company name, logo and tagline, your corporate color palette, and how your customers refer to you. Your brand identity typically substantiates your current market position. It is what people call you and how they recognize you visually. Identity is most closely correlated with the logo.

Your brand image, on the other hand, is intangible. It’s a reflection of the outward personality, character and authenticity of your company, which comes from the inside out. Your brand image is how your customers perceive you based on how you relate and connect with them, and it embodies the market position you want to own. It is who you are and what you stand for – the intended meaning of your brand in the minds of consumers, including the expectations they have of you. Image is most closely correlated to organizational culture.

Creating Healthier Brands – The Difference Between Brand Identity & Brand Image: Click To Tweet

Defining and Communicating Brand Identity/Brand Image

Below, I’ve outlined 10-step core processes for defining and communicating your brand identity or brand image. Together, these processes can be combined into a larger, data-driven brand strategy that ensures a strong brand position, one that is sustainable, well aligned with internal vision, and highly embraceable by consumers.

Redefining your brand’s identity (appearance):

  1. Know your objective: If you’re changing the company name, what is your end goal? Define specifically what you plan to accomplish with a new name.
  2. Know your market position: What is your brand’s current market position, and how does the name change add to or detract from that market position?
  3. Formulate a competitive profile: How does your current brand identity look relative to your competition? It is important to differentiate from your competitors to alleviate brand confusion.
  4. Take a corporate inventory: Locate all current assets that will need to be updated with the new brand identity. Create a corporate identity checklist to ensure nothing slips through the cracks of your rebranding effort.
  5. Get creative and tactical: Build and review designs of the new name and logo, trademark production, image asset development, etc.
  6. Embrace market feedback: At a minimum, conduct basic research and market testing to be sure your new brand identity resonates with your target audiences, potential and existing partners, and other key audiences.
  7. Develop brand standards: To ensure consistency and integrity of the brand, provide your employees with specific guidelines on showcasing the new brand identity, including detailed specifications on logo usage, corporate color palette and fonts. Provide templates for documents, presentations, brochures, ads and other key assets.
  8. Prepare your new creative: Deploy your new brand identity into layout per the guidelines, and integrate into all other affected corporate assets as you prepare for launch.
  9. Execute externally: Launch your new visual brand identity into market, using a multimedia approach to reach all audiences. Include promotional items in the mix, as studies have shown that branded giveaways get people excited and aid in brand recall.
  10. Communicate the story of your new identity: Have a thoughtful communication plan in place to tell your story. Ensure your story is meaningful – focused on the outcome rather than the internal drivers – and connects your new brand identity to your future vision. Your customers must understand how this change benefits them.

Redefining your brand’s image (personality):

  1. Conduct a brand audit: Start with key stakeholder interviews to understand and define the brand image you have today, and the brand image you want for the future. Then, survey customers to understand brand awareness and perceptions.
  2. Define your brand differentiation: Outline your core brand differentiators – those attributes that set you apart from your competition and define only your company. Points of differentiation tend to come from within and are closely aligned with culture.
  3. Ensure leadership adoption: Host leadership discussions to garner buy-in and ensure the brand image you want aligns with leadership expectations.
  4. Build your brand strategy: Analyze data and integrate insights to create a brand strategy that outlines the brand vision, market position, differentiating attributes, value proposition and brand promise. Then, synthesize the strategy into a single-page summary, so the core tenets stand out in ways that are easy for your employees (internal audience) to understand and embrace.
  5. Map all brand touch points: Work with key department leaders to help them define and communicate the actions their teams must take to deliver on the brand promise.
  6. Appoint brand champions: Determine and assign internal brand ambassadors to propagate the brand throughout the organization.
  7. Develop a marketing strategy: Create a marketing strategy and tactical plan that communicates the brand promise to the public.
  8. Build a creative strategy: Establish a creative strategy that promotes the brand promise visually.
  9. Execute externally: Develop and deploy integrated, multimedia creative campaigns to bring the brand to life. As with brand identity initiatives, include corporate merchandise as promotional items to foster excitement and brand affinity (both internally and externally).
  10. Monitor progress toward your end goal: Evaluate change in perception and key market indicators to continuously monitor and ensure brand adoption, both internally and externally.

While this is a quick review of the core processes for defining and communicating corporate identity versus your brand’s personality, it is important to understand the outcome of each. Identity is graphical; image is strategy. It is common for organizations to modify both at the same time (and those seeking expert guidance through this process should consider the value of brand scout+). Whichever path you choose, never lose sight of the fact that brand is not a logo. Your brand is what resonates in the hearts and minds of your customers, the sum of their experiences when they interact with your company.

Reader Tip: At Dobies Health Marketing, we create healthier brands across the healthcare industry – and we view branding as the foundation of deep market planning. Our approach to branding aligns with the Kellogg School of Management. For more information from Kellogg, I recommend reading, “Kellogg on Branding: The Marketing Faculty of The Kellogg School of Management.

About the Author

Julie Amor, Chief Strategy OfficerJulie Amor, MHA, President and Chief Strategy Officer for Dobies Health Marketing, has 30 years of experience elevating healthcare brands. Share your thoughts with her by tweeting @DobiesGroup, connecting with us on LinkedIn, or by commenting on our Facebook page.

The Power of Corporate Merchandise: What the Right Promotional Items Can Do for Your Healthcare Brand

A collection of branded promotional items in a bowl engraved with the words “Happy & Healthy”Do you call it swag?

Do you dismiss them as tchotchkes?

Or do you recognize promotional merchandise as a tangible manifestation of your brand that offers meaningful and valuable engagement with your customer base? You should.

As president of a healthcare marketing firm, clients often ask me if consumers value promotional items. The data suggest branded merchandise aids in overall brand affinity. When integrated into your overall marketing strategy, promotional merchandise complements your marketing message with a palpable brand experience that leaves a lasting impression. According to this growing body of consumer research, custom merchandise and apparel enhance your brand’s reach, recall and resonance:

  • Roughly 90 percent of consumers say promotional items aid in brand recall, and nearly 80 percent say it has led them to research a brand.
  • The average consumer keeps promotional merchandise for eight months, and 63 percent pass the items on to someone else when they are finished with it.
  • Branded merchandise played a role in positively changing impressions of a brand among 80 percent of consumers, and 83 percent of consumers say they are more likely to do business with brands that provide promotional products.
The power of corporate merchandise – what the right promotional items can do for your healthcare brand: Click To Tweet

Creating a Corporate Merchandise Strategy

As with all effective marketing, your plan for promotional merchandise should begin with a data-driven strategy:

  • Identify your objective. Do you want your branded items to spur and/or nurture lead development? Improve customer satisfaction? Improve employee satisfaction? Boost event traffic and engagement? Clearly establish and communicate your primary goal at the outset.
  • Define your target audience. In considering who will receive your branded merchandise, demographic data will illuminate behaviors and values to drive more personal engagement that happens at the right place and time. This type of insight will support your efforts to choose promotional merchandise that allows your brand to create a remarkable impression.
  • Develop a distribution plan. The means of distribution is as critical of a consideration as the merchandise itself. For instance, market research indicates that mailing a promotional item in advance can generate more traffic at trade shows than handing out the items to passersby onsite.

Defining your Marketing Message

Influential promotional merchandise involves more than placing a logo on an item. It is essential to protect your corporate identity by ensuring adherence to clearly established logo and brand guidelines – but that’s really just the bare minimum requirement in terms of the message you want to send.

Beyond being merely recognizable, the promotional merchandise should express the campaign theme, evoke your brand ideals and deliver a brand experience you can be proud of. That includes marketing content that supports your promotional gift. Gifts to consumers will spark curiosity and drive them to learn more, so make sure you have a strong call to action and a well-defined customer journey to meet their interest.

Choosing the Right Promotional Items

The promotional item you choose should do more than reflect your brand – it should also provide value. If your custom merchandise solves a recurring need, its repeated use generates added exposure and fosters a stronger connection with your brand.

Aim for something that will be used at least ten times. To provoke frequent use, your merchandise must be both useful and of high quality. This doesn’t mean that the merchandise needs to be expensive, just thoughtfully executed with the utmost consideration of your target audience.

As the consumer survey data noted above indicates, well-executed promotional merchandise can be among the most cost-effective marketing tactics, delivering healthy returns in brand awareness and authentic growth.

Brand building is a continuous journey, and promotional merchandise is just one of many steps along the way – but it takes thoughtfulness to do it well and do it right. To invigorate your brand with promotional giveaways that reinforce your brand identity, take a moment to discover the value of our strategic Corporate Merchandise Program, a service provided by our team of experts in healthcare branding. For more information, call 816.595.6723.

Reader Tip: To find out which products make the best impressions, I encourage you to read this 2016 study by the Advertising Specialty Institute (ASI). While published by the advertising industry, it provides interesting insight to see what customers value most.

About the Author

Julie Amor, Chief Strategy OfficerJulie Amor, MHA, President and Chief Strategy Officer for Dobies Health Marketing, has 30 years of experience elevating healthcare brands. Share your thoughts with her by tweeting @DobiesGroup, connecting with us on LinkedIn, or by commenting on our Facebook page.

Opportunity Ahead: Re-Imagining Your Health System’s Approach to Patient Navigation

Image of a woman with a map, illustrating the quest for improved decision-making.Years ago, I read a parable about how to make a better decision written by Spencer Johnson, MD. It was about a business leader and his quest for improved decision-making skills as he trekked along a mountain trail. I loved the common-sense approach, and I have long carried in my wallet the book’s accompanying card outlining “The Map” to a better decision.

The Map suggests you first use your head by asking a practical question, such as “Am I meeting the real need, informing myself of options and thinking it through?” The second is a private question: “Does my decision show I am honest with myself, trust my intuition and deserve better?” Finally, The Map suggests after listening to yourself and others, you have the information to make and act on a better decision.

At the time, I didn’t think about the fact that the writer was a doctor because the storyline had nothing to do with healthcare. But, leading a healthcare marketing strategy firm with a mission to help inspire better health decisions, I now wonder to what extent Dr. Johnson was inspired by his experiences in healthcare. When he originally wrote the book in 1992, consumerism in healthcare was just taking shape. Did he realize people could use his map to navigate the healthcare system in their quests for personal health decisions? And, taking the concept one step further, did he foresee a way for hospital and health system leaders to use it to better address the needs of their consumers?

Whether or not Dr. Johnson recognized that secondary track 26 years ago, I cannot say – but as someone who has made it my business to understand healthcare and healthcare strategy for the same number of years, I see it clearly now.

Illuminating the path to better health decisions for consumers

As with most of us working in the healthcare industry, I am called on by friends and business colleagues facing serious health conditions to help navigate the health system. It is astounding to me there aren’t better navigation systems in place to lead patients in making better decisions about their health. Fortunately, many individual hospitals and health systems have nurse navigators and processes to help manage care within their own continuum to reduce costs, improve quality and enhance the patient experience. One may ask, is the goal to keep people within their own systems, or is the goal to drive better health for each patient, even if they may achieve better outcomes elsewhere? Forward-thinking health system leaders are likely re-imagining a patient-centric, health system-agnostic navigation process to objectively guide patients as they confront challenging health conditions. And if not, perhaps Dr. Johnson’s Map to a Better Decision can offer insights as we strive for better health.

Opportunity Ahead – Re-Imagining Your Health System’s Approach to Patient Navigation: Click To Tweet

At Dobies Health Marketing, we’ve been sharing insight with our hospital and health system clients  about how consumer knowledge shifts and other market forces are driving substantial change in healthcare delivery. Such change requires greater collaboration among all parties tasked with providing care and access to care (which isn’t always medical). At the core of this shift is the need to keep people healthy throughout their lives, not simply treat them when they are sick – a model we call lifecare. Read more on the lifecare model in this white paper we co-authored  with HealthScape Advisors, as well as  continuing discussions on our blog.

Why is the concept of lifecare relevant? Because what you will see is a shift in mental framework, from traditional pipeline strategy to the more innovative platform strategy. Platform strategy provokes a call for all organizations within a community’s comprehensive care continuum to create an ecosystem where better health is possible. Lifecare is a framework for creating a cohesive network that is prepared to connect each consumer to the products, services, education and additional support needed for optimal individual health. U.S. hospitals and health systems can and should take a more active role in facilitating optimal outcomes across a more unified and connected system. And those who embrace this notion now (e.g., with re-imagined patient navigation) have the greatest opportunity to become innovative leaders who are authentically consumer-centric, catalyzing a movement toward a more meaningful impact on individual and population health.

About the Author

Carol Dobies, CEO and Founder of Dobies Health MarketingCarol Dobies is the CEO and Founder of Dobies Health Marketing, where she has been bringing healthcare brands to life for 35+ years. Share your thoughts with her by tweeting @DobiesGroup, connecting with us on LinkedIn, or by commenting on our Facebook page.

Differentiate or Die – Yes, Healthcare Leaders, It’s Still True

Image of a red chess piece in a crowd of white pieces, symbolizing brand differentiation.In marketing, the key to success is a unique point of differentiation conveyed as a clear, consistent, sticky brand message. Any brand that can become synonymous with its unique market position has real potential to become the brand leader, forcing all other brands in the same space to find other ways to differentiate themselves. Brands that cannot communicate a unique value proposition risk languishing in the sea of sameness.

Differentiation is the process of identifying, amplifying and communicating what makes you different.

– Jack Trout and Steve Rivkin

In the highly competitive world of healthcare marketing, you should be asking: How do we differentiate our brand and drive consumer choice and preference? How do we offer something no one else can match? How do we find what we do better than anyone else and own that space? How do we showcase what makes us unique?

All good questions—and the answers are your ticket to avoiding that sea of sameness. I can tell you from years of experience, however, that the right answers rarely involve quality, access or service. Everyone offers those. As authors Jack Trout and Steve Rivkin explained in their 2008 book, Differentiate or Die: Survival in Our Era of Killer Competition, only a handful of approaches will truly differentiate your brand. To find your true north—your clearly lit pathway to brand success—start with the simple survey tool provided below, which is inspired by the lessons of Trout and Rivkin:

Differentiation Opportunity Differentiator
Questions to
Ask Yourself
Owning a core attribute Often distilled to a single word or short phrase, when a brand owns a unique selling feature or service benefit that resonates with consumers, the result is effective brand differentiation. What one word or short phase defines your brand and only your brand?
Leadership (being the best at something) Being number one is certainly effective at establishing a unique market position. By our very nature, people tend to follow leaders and want to be affiliated with success. Can you identify a category within your industry where you are number one?
Heritage In the mind of the consumer, longevity in market equates to trustworthy experience. Have you served your industry for many years and/or longer than your competitor(s)?
Market specialization To specialize in something, you must be really good at it compared to those who are generalists. Therefore, specialists are perceived as experts in their field. Are you an expert in something because you do one thing, and do it better than anyone else?
Preference Awards and high performance rankings imply quality and leadership in the brand category. Are you the most preferred brand by consumers in your market?
Hotness Volume growth (not product or service expansion) is seen as a differentiator. When a brand is the hottest thing going, everyone wants to be part of it. Is your brand on a growth trajectory due to word of mouth marketing?

Let’s assume you could answer at least one of the questions in the affirmative. Your next important query is this: can that opportunity become the point of differentiation that sets your brand apart from all others in the market? In other words, can you own it and consistently deliver on it?

The secret to giving your healthcare brand a long and healthy life? Discover your differentiators: Click To Tweet

At Dobies Health Marketing, our own differentiators include specialization (strategic marketing and branding for healthcare companies) and heritage (our 26+ year legacy of creating healthier brands). As such, we help healthcare organizations of all types and sizes discover what sets them apart, and then build their brands around those unique attributes. We also guide and support our clients through the strategies necessary to ensure that every person at the organization knows what the brand differentiator is, and how to make it authentic by delivering on the associated brand promise every day.

As you begin your journey to brand differentiation, keep in mind the process is logical rather than creative. The time to focus on external communications comes later, after you’ve built a strong foundation through strategy. Once you have strategically identified and solidified your differentiator, tell the world about it. The alternative for your brand, as Trout and Rivkin say, is to die.

Reader tip: For more on how to differentiate, consider reading or re-reading this classic: Differentiate or Die: Survival in Our Era of Killer Competition, by Jack Trout and Steve Rivkin (originally released in 2001 with a second edition in 2008). In the book, Trout and Rivkin offer real-world examples and special insight to explain the process of achieving differentiation for a long-term competitive edge.

About the Author

Julie Amor, Chief Strategy OfficerJulie Amor, President and Chief Strategy Officer for Dobies Health Marketing, has 30 years of experience elevating healthcare brands. Share your thoughts with her by tweeting @DobiesGroup, connecting with us on LinkedIn, or by commenting on our Facebook page.

Changing your Corporate Identity: Top 3 Potential Pitfalls & How to Avoid Them

Launching a new corporate identity (a.k.a. brand identity) signals to the market that something is different within your operations, strategy or positioning, or external environment. In healthcare, corporate identity changes are most often born from (a) environmental influences leading to changes in operations, or (b) new ownership—such as a merger or series of acquisitions—which frequently results in a house of brands, a collection of different cultures and a bevy of competing product offerings. Regardless of the specific reason, firms are more likely to modify corporate identity when there is a significant change in their overall strategy. Just as corporate identity is inextricably linked to strategy, so too should it be coupled with brand strategy.

Healthcare marketers charged with rolling out a new corporate identity must ensure the firm builds affinity for the new brand, while also taking necessary steps to prevent losing customers during the brand migration process. That is no easy task, and certain pitfalls must be avoided. Having led corporate identity and rebranding initiatives since my early days in corporate marketing for the nation’s largest proprietary home health chain, I’ve seen firsthand how the following key areas can undermine an otherwise successful corporate identity transition:

Pitfall #1: Limited alignment of the firm’s actions/behaviors with the brand promise.

To what extent can your organization fulfill its commitment to your customers? Be honest and realistic when answering this question. Take a close look at the people in your organization and how they communicate (directly or indirectly) with your customers—then ask yourself:

  • Do they exemplify the brand?
  • Is the essence of your brand embedded so deeply in the ethos of the company that their actions and behaviors support your brand promise?

Solution: If your answers are no or you are uncertain, facilitate departmental work sessions to review the upcoming change in corporate identity and brand, and discuss how each department can contribute to keeping the brand promise. By using what we call a touchpoint matrix, employees in each department should map specific actions that align with the brand promise and work as a team to identify new behaviors that will further demonstrate that commitment. Leadership can use the matrix to measure adoption and to ensure each department is fully aligned with the brand promise before going public with the corporate identity transition.

Changing your Corporate Identity: Top 3 Potential Perils & How to Avoid Them Click To Tweet

Pitfall #2: Assuming internal teams and key influencers are onboard with the brand and prepared to promote it.

Obviously, your employees will be better prepared to be brand ambassadors after your touchpoint matrix sessions. But don’t overlook your key influencers, partners and board members. Your closest stakeholders need to be your most vocal champions of and advocates for your new brand. Remember, this is not just about a visible change in identity­—stakeholders need to understand the story underlying the change and be able to communicate it correctly for you.

Solution: Create a list of your key internal audiences and influencers. Segment the list carefully and establish steps necessary to ensure each associate can embrace the new brand ideology. Identify and use key messages aligned to each audience segment and its potential concerns. For example, think about the impact a change in corporate identity will have on long-term, highly vested employees versus new hires. Similarly, involve the sales team by developing specific tools and messages they can use to engage customers in a dialogue about the change and what it means for each specific customer.

In our brandscout+ process, we have tools and time built in to help our clients garner internal support before going to market with a new brand. In my opinion, Nick Ragone, senior vice president and chief marketing and communications officer for Ascension, is spot-on in the remarks he made to AHA’s Health Forum about his organization’s rebranding efforts. Ragone referred to the journey of becoming ‘One Ascension’ as an “inside-out process,” one in which success depends on building support internally before launching the new identity externally. Achieving the right level of internal support takes time – according to Ragone, they “spent a good 18 months just doing extensive socializing with all our associates.”

Pitfall #3: Underestimating the value of a well-funded marketing strategy.

Conveying a change in corporate identity is very complex and likely a hefty investment, particularly if the change involves multiple brands, business lines, market segments and audiences. Less-than-stellar communication can result in a loss of positive equity your former brand established over the years. Brand and corporate identity changes require an integrated communication strategy (PR/media outreach, social media messaging, advertising, sales/marketing strategy)—far more than editorial coverage from one news release and a handful of social posts.

Solution: Allocate an advertising budget above and beyond that already established for company promotions, and carefully define the media strategy to reach your audiences across your various market segments. Also, don’t underestimate the length of time you’ll need to be in market with these messages. Depending on the scope of your transition (multiple market segments, multiple companies), you will likely need to run multiple integrated marketing campaigns—for example, one with messages that bridge your old and new brands to protect brand legacy, followed by new brand ads, followed still by company image and product ads that underscore the brand promise. Like I said, when done right, it will likely require a sizable investment.

Of course, all this advice assumes you have already developed a well-planned brand transition strategy (with baseline awareness and reputation data and customer insight to guide it), as well as an effective new corporate identity and brand architecture that’s ready to market. By making sure these three areas of concern are also well defined and properly addressed, you’ll be in a much better position to build affinity for the new brand while retaining your existing customer base through the process.

About the Author

Carol Dobies, CEO and Founder of Dobies Health MarketingCarol Dobies is the CEO and Founder of Dobies Health Marketing, where she has been bringing healthcare brands to life for 35+ years. Share your thoughts with her by tweeting @DobiesGroup, connecting with us on LinkedIn, or by commenting on our Facebook page.

The Consumer Quest for Well-Being

This edition of our #lifecare blog series explores how products that enable consumers to take more control of health needs are creating a “well-being” state of mind.

Woman in yoga-meditation pose with graphical overlays indicating wellbeing consists of good food, exercise, medicine and heart rate health.There has been a notable uptick in consumer use of products, services and web/mobile applications that cater to their increasing desire to maintain an overall healthy state of being. The connected wearable device category alone reached 453 million users in 2017, and it is projected to nearly double by 2021 (findings available here for Statista subscribers).

With consumer adoption of these “well-being” tools on the rise, one would think health systems and health plans would more proactively create and use well-being models to engage consumers. On the contrary, health systems and health plans have been slow to embrace such tools due to skepticism that they will change behaviors.

The motivational factors and support systems behind consumer resources for well-being data and counsel have yet to be orchestrated as part of a continuum that consumers can connect with in a meaningful, sustainable manner. Most likely, we will see growth in well-being funded by more external (non-healthcare) industry investments and non-traditional partnerships. This is telling, in that these new entrants clearly believe there are opportunities to capture and interact with the consumer. Although health-related products are nothing new, their scope and ubiquity are becoming grander and more pervasive.

The American Hospital Association, in its 2018 Environmental Scan, asserts that this elevated consumer “health ownership” is increasingly driving individuals to view healthcare through a consumer (rather than patient) lens. New expectations for a better experience enabled by technology are driving healthcare organizations and startups to find ways to embed technology into care delivery and lifestyle improvements that create a stronger sense of well-being.

The shift in reimbursement toward value-based and population health models is also calling upon providers to bring the consumer into the decision-making process, creating greater awareness and engagement. Most recently, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) threw its weight behind data sharing designed to put patients at the center of health decision-making. In April, CMS announced it may begin requiring hospitals to share electronic patient records with other hospitals, community providers and patients. While the specifics of the rule have yet to be finalized, CMS’s Data Driven Patient Care Strategy provides a clear look into the future of healthcare. According to CMS Administrator Seema Verma, “The [strategy] will empower patients with the information they need as consumers of healthcare to enable them to make informed decisions about the care they need.”

With consumers becoming more involved in health/healthcare decisions, significant healthcare marketing and branding opportunities are at hand. Click To Tweet

With consumers becoming more involved in their health and healthcare-related decisions, significant healthcare marketing and branding opportunities are at hand. Healthcare providers have ways to engage consumers at deeper levels than ever before. To make true emotional connections with customers, organizations are developing strategies closely aligned with their corporate cultures to enable and promote an authentic brand experience. Hospitals and health systems across the country are changing their names and logos to reflect a focus on health as opposed to illness. They are demonstrating authenticity by becoming more involved in healthy initiatives in their communities through corporate social engagement. And they are focusing more and more on company culture – character inspired through leaders and demonstrated through core values – to promote consumer centricity in every interaction.

As consumers continue their quest for health as a state of well-being, we see the opportunity for health systems and health plans to embrace the future of healthcare as a consumer-centric industry tasked with keeping people healthy for life, rather than simply delivering care when they are not. Only then will they begin to show authenticity in their promises to consumers, ultimately increasing their overall impact today, and for generations to come.

Authors’ Note: For health system and health plan leaders who want to explore this topic in greater depth, I invite you to read our white paper, “The Emerging Lifecare Model: How consumerism is driving industry collaboration toward health and lifecare as a new strategic platform.” In the paper, we define lifecare as a new brand position that establishes a consumer-centric ecosystem offering integrated health-related services across the full continuum of consumer needs. We also explore lifecare as a platform strategy, as well as its implications on current and future opportunities for partnerships that make a meaningful difference on population health and well-being.

About the Authors

Julie Amor, President and Chief Strategy OfficerCarol Dobies, CEO and Founder of Dobies Health Marketing

Julie Amor, President and Chief Strategy Officer for Dobies Healthcare, co-authored this article with Carol Dobies, our CEO and Founder. Julie and Carol each have deep industry experience that includes 30 years of building and elevating healthcare brands. Share your thoughts about this article by tweeting @DobiesGroup, connecting with us on LinkedIn, or by commenting on our Facebook page.

Healthcare Marketing: Authentic Brands vs. Pigs in Lipstick

All the marketing in the world will not fix a lack of operational readiness, nor improve customer experience. Brands must be ready and able to deliver on their promises before going to market.

Brand is an intangible asset that lives in the hearts and minds of your customers. It is shaped by consumer expectations born from your organization’s actions and communications. It stands to reason, then, that your brand strategy must account for operational considerations and your company’s cultural ethos. Authentic marketing depends on aligning the brand experience (your operations) with the brand promise (your communications). In other words, what you do needs to be in lock-step alignment with what you say.

Absent that, you’re simply putting lipstick on a pig.

Authentic marketing depends on aligning the brand experience (your operations) with the brand promise (your communications). Click To Tweet

Those who embrace authenticity find consumers will do the marketing for them, says fellow marketer Ashley Deibert in a Forbes Communications Council post. Of course, the opposite is also true, given that today’s hyper-connected world means people will also quite publicly call out brands that don’t live up to their promises. Deibert asserts that, “…brands no longer have an option other than representing themselves honestly and transparently. Authenticity is crucial to continued loyalty from fickle audiences.”

I couldn’t agree more. At Dobies Health Marketing, we’ve been preaching the virtues of brand authenticity to our clients for more than 25 years, long before social media and review sites made word-of-mouth sharing so effortless and ubiquitous. The social media explosion has only intensified a bedrock branding principle that has always been there—authenticity is paramount.

As a healthcare marketer, you likely face the challenge of implementing authentic marketing every day. You intuitively know it is important for products and services to meet certain performance indicators before you invest in promoting them. But do you have those indicators clearly outlined in your marketing and positioning strategy? And how often do you enforce those levels of performance? Are you able to say yes or no and defend your position with data?

Defining and implementing guidelines on assessing service line readiness for marketing is a critical success factor—one that equips you with objective criteria on which to make marketing decisions when product managers or line leaders come calling for marketing support.

Marketing is not a given. It is a strategic operational initiative reserved for targeted organizational growth. For example, consider the following benchmarks for a hospital’s service line readiness:

  • Customer Satisfaction – Are top box scores on satisfaction measures and ‘likelihood to recommend’ scores above 85% (or your specific organizational goal)?
  • Access/Capacity – Do you have enough supply to meet the new demand marketing will generate? Do your physicians have capacity to take more appointments? Are next available appointments for specialists within seven days?
  • Quality – Are quality metrics on your dashboard in the green? Or, if they are in the yellow, are recovery plans well underway?
  • Contribution Margin – Does the service line meet productivity goals and other contribution margin objectives?

Good marketing will make the phone ring, so the product or service best be ready to take the call. Otherwise, you are investing in nothing more than lipstick for a pig. Worse, you’re marketing for your competitors!

About the Author

Carol Dobies, CEO and Founder of Dobies Health MarketingCarol Dobies is the CEO and Founder of Dobies Health Marketing, where she has been bringing healthcare brands to life for 35+ years. Share your thoughts with her by tweeting @DobiesGroup, connecting with us on LinkedIn, or by commenting on our Facebook page.

Healthcare is Human: 4 Reasons to Invest in Interaction as a Marketing & Branding Strategy

Despite the important conversations we’re all having about our changing healthcare landscape, one thing remains constant: old-school customer service still reigns.

Image representing the inside of a hospital call centerHaving overseen a busy call center in a large academic medical center for many years, I know those over-the-phone touch points are among the biggest moments of opportunity to build lifetime customers. In fact, a call between a patient or consumer and a member of your staff is more than a touch point. It’s a brand moment, and it is often the customer’s first experience with your brand. Its potential to build relationships—or impair them, depending on how things are handled—should not be underestimated.

Here are four lessons learned about the value of investing in human interaction as a core marketing and branding strategy:

1. You never get a second chance to make a good first impression, so empower your call center staff to be brand ambassadors. Customers will change brands due to poor customer service, even if the product is good. Great marketing and advertising can make the phone ring, but what happens next will make or break the brand perception. A great customer experience at these moments of impact can build a customer for life.

2. Your call center is a point of brand differentiation, so bypass automation and actually answer the phone. Think about how frustrating it is when you call a company and have to talk to an automated voice, work your way through a call tree, or worse yet, stay on indefinite hold. In today’s world of high-tech, robotic, automated phone systems and online experiences, a friendly, knowledgeable voice makes all the difference for your customers.

3. Control how you deliver on your brand promise. Define your promise and ensure it is delivered at every interaction. People used to ask me why we did not outsource our call center. Outsourcing would have been less expensive, required less management time and taken less real estate. I always asked them back – do you want to have control of your brand and how it is delivered? Define how your brand is delivered by optimizing human interaction.

4. Five dedicated minutes with your customer – priceless. Utilize those precious few uninterrupted minutes to build a customer relationship. With the overload of marketing messages presented to customers every day, a few minutes on the phone is time to build a relationship. I like how Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh says Zappos builds its personal connections with customers primarily on the phone: “We’re actually experimenting with ways to get more people to call because it’s such a valuable marketing and brand builder for us.”

What do all these lessons have in common? An understanding that healthcare is for humans, not machines or robots. Invest in the people who are your brand.

4 Reasons to Invest in Human Interaction as a Healthcare Marketing & Branding Strategy. Click To Tweet

About the Author

Julie Amor, Chief Strategy OfficerJulie Amor, President and Chief Strategy Officer for Dobies Healthcare, has 30 years of experience elevating healthcare brands. Share your thoughts with her by tweeting @DobiesGroup, connecting with us on LinkedIn, or by commenting on our Facebook page.

After Rebranding Your Hospital: Five Guiding Principles to Brand Sustainability

Brand promise vs. mission statementIf you have recently launched a new brand at your healthcare organization, you are well aware that your brand is not a logo – your brand is an intangible asset that resides in people’s hearts and minds. It is defined by expectations developed over time though communication and, more importantly, through actions.

While you have good reason to celebrate a successful launch, it is important to know the public unveiling of your new brand is only the beginning. Maintaining what you’ve created is a continuous journey of aligning operations with communications to ensure you continuously deliver an authentic brand promise.

Here are five guiding principles to sustaining your brand:

1. Be a visible leader.

Effective leadership is like oxygen for your brand. It is an essential driving force that ultimately determines whether your employees live your brand promise, and whether your customers experience it.

Take every opportunity as a leader to demonstrate commitment to your brand in words as well as actions, promoting an aligned, shared vision across the organization. Integrate your key talking points into all employee communications. Reinforce your commitment at executive and board meetings by including brand strategy as an ongoing agenda item. Reiterate what differentiates your product or service, and work to ensure those points of differentiation continuously elevate your brand above the competition. Use your brand strategy as a key filter for business decisions, keeping the big picture in mind as you guide your organization in delivering your brand promise. Hold your organization accountable for delivering on the brand promise every day.

2. Measure, measure, measure.

When you developed your new brand strategy, you did so with data from surveys, in-depth interviews and local market studies. You gathered information from your customers, community stakeholders, industry leaders and employees. Similarly, as you work to keep your brand strategy sustainable, it is important to continue gathering input and measuring perceptions.

Insights from data help redefine differentiators, invigorate key messages, rally your team around a brand promise and execute an authentic brand experience that makes positive emotional connections with customers.

Consider a results dashboard to track and trend key data that provide the insight needed to maintain brand authenticity. For hospitals, metrics might include quality indicators, customer engagement activity, brand awareness levels and customer feedback.

3. Keep an eye on competitive activity.

You spent significant time and money developing your new brand strategy and the marketing materials to support it. Your competitors noticed, and they are likely taking action to ensure they’re not left behind. They may be adjusting growth strategies and geographic focus. They may be altering their marketing and advertising plans, possibly increasing their media spending to reduce your share of voice and share of market. Some of this activity will be readily apparent; some will not. It is imperative that you know what your competition is doing in the marketplace and how customers are reacting.

Acquiring competitive information may require significant time and resources to collect and interpret. Hospitals and health systems can consider using soviews+, a competitive media market profiling tool that consolidates and synthesizes the information needed to make informed, strategic marketing and advertising investments, as illustrated in the following video:

Regardless of your approach, it is crucial to dedicate time and effort to understand competitive market activity. In the healthcare industry, NRC Health’s Market Insights provides detailed customer perception reports that can be customized to compare your system or hospital to a distinct set of competitors. This information, updated monthly, is a valuable resource for understanding how your brand is performing. Regardless of your segment of the health industry, measuring customer perception is essential to understanding what actions you will need to undertake as you continue your rebranding journey.

Your #HospitalBrand is a valuable business asset. Maintain & evolve what you have created. Click To Tweet

4. Ensure culture is your brand driver.

The health of your brand internally (your culture) is as important as customer perception and competitive activity – perhaps more so – because brand is a byproduct of culture. To promote and encourage internal brand adoption:

  • Maintain cultural and strategic alignment. Understanding and embracing the link between strategy, culture and brand is key. Your organization’s culture is inspired through leaders and demonstrated through core values. It is a powerful strategic asset and a sustainable differentiator that requires ongoing focus and commitment.
  • Enlist internal brand advocates. Branding extends far beyond the marketing department – brand advocates can and should span all levels and departments within your organization. These individuals can encourage a shared sense of purpose, keep others focused on the brand strategy and help implement tactical components to fulfill the brand promise.
  • Audit internal brand adoption. Ask your brand advocates to track key desired behaviors. Provide clear guidelines on the activities and cultural attributes you want employees to demonstrate. Empower employees to innovate to deliver products, services and experiences that align with your brand promise.
  • Adhere to your visual brand guidelines. Although you likely inventoried your corporate identity assets and brand presence as part of your rebranding effort, there are ample opportunities for branding oversights or mishaps. Create and distribute a simple brand identity checklist for everyone to follow. Be sure your new logo, tagline, tone, color palette and other visual elements are followed consistently. Be diligent about it, and engage your brand advocates and other passionate team members to assist in this effort.

5. Continue to tell your brand’s story.

Preserving brand health involves telling the brand story at every meaningful opportunity. Encourage employees at all levels of your organization to refer to your brand talking points as they communicate in person, online, over the phone and every other touch point for connecting with consumers. Lead by example.

Take talking points a step further by developing a compelling story about your brand. According to Harvard Business Review, stories are essential in today’s information-rich (and often data-overloaded) environment. Telling stories creates “sticky” memories when emotion is embedded in the story. Take time to develop a narrative around your brand that creates memorable and positive associations. What is the inspiration behind your brand? What specific challenge(s) have you overcome that made your brand what it is today? What role do your employees play in that brand story? What role do your customers play?

Your brand is one of your most valuable business assets. Invest time and energy to maintain and evolve what you have created. Keep your brand healthy through strong leadership and close attention to consumer and competitive activity as your healthcare business grows and transforms. Look for opportunities to strengthen your brand internally, and continue to share the meaning and purpose of your brand to enhance connections with your customers. Your efforts will be rewarded with loyalty and preference, both internally and externally.

As a side note for healthcare organizations that wish to embark on a rebranding journey but seek expert guidance through the process, brand scout+ is an excellent resource for leaders to consider. Learn more in this blog post on revitalizing your brand.

About the Author

Carol Dobies, CEO and Founder of Dobies Health Marketing

Carol Dobies is the CEO and Founder of Dobies Health Marketing, where she has been bringing healthcare brands to life for 35 years. Share your thoughts with her by tweeting @DobiesGroup or commenting on our Facebook page.