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Name Confusion

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Thinking of dubbing your cardiology program a "heart center?" You and everybody else.

Hospitals first started giving their services and programs impressive-sounding names like "The Bone and Joint Institute" and "The Heart Center" to elevate and differentiate their key service lines. But today, institutes and centers litter the American landscape, from the New England Baptist Bone and Joint Institute in Boston to The Southern California Orthopedic Institute in Van Nuys, CA. Search the Internet for "heart center" and you'll get thousands of hits.

With so many organizations using the same strategy, does the strategy still work?

"No, no, no, and no," says Susan Dubuque, president of Neathawk Dubuque & Packett in Richmond, VA. Consumers don't care what you call your cardiology program, she says. And, worse, marketing multiple services under different names and brands causes confusion.

"Consumers only have so many brain cells that they're going to devote to remembering anything concerning healthcare," she says. "The more an organization splinters its brand identity into a zillion different parts … the more it dilutes the consumer's ability to digest the whole organization."

It also wastes valuable marketing resources, she says. "With shrinking budgets and shrinking staff levels, there simply are not enough resources to build awareness for all these sub-brands, nor is there a need. Time and experience and certainly research tell us that the more consolidated a brand identity, the stronger the brand identity."

Perception beats reality
Not everyone believes such a naming strategy is a bad thing, however. Using words like institute or academy or calling your hospital a medical center can still send a message about quality to consumers, says C. David Shepherd, PhD, a professor of marketing at Georgia Southern University. "In healthcare, we're thinking about the latest technology, the latest in healthcare. And ‘medical center' … sounds better than a ‘community hospital.'"

Whichever approach your organization takes for choosing a name, says Preston Gee, senior vice president of strategic planning and marketing for Trinity Health in Novi, MI, it must be based on empirical evidence. "I always recommend conducting market research with a number of naming options to validate the resonance with the consumer," Gee says. "I believe there is value in naming a service line—or a center of excellence or separate facility—and there is empirical evidence to validate that premise." Gee adds that when naming a service line, naming the entity something that "readily communicates the service, such as heart, cancer, brain" and sufficiently promoting the new name is crucial.

"I'm not sure whether ‘institute,' ‘center,' or ‘hospital' brings more cachet and/or recognition for the service line, but my sense is that it depends on the service line, the market, and a host of other factors that the organization would want to test prior to naming the new enterprise."

Time to get real
Bonnie Wittman, principal and founder of Wittman & Associates in Cocoa Beach, FL, says the word hospital might be going the way of the dodo, but the strategy for a successful medical center won't change anytime soon. Put everything you can into your key service lines. Address physician alignment. Create the best product that you possibly can. And reach beyond your local market to increase volume. In other words, do more than just give your products a pretty name.

"Everything has to be behind it," she says. "It's not just semantics—the verbiage or the titles or something that sounds catchy."

Gienna Shaw

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