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When Nobody Knows Your Name

Gienna Shaw, for HealthLeaders Media, September 23, 2009

I've lived most all of my life in Massachusetts and I'm quite familiar with the local Tufts brand. I know about Tufts University's medical, dental, and veterinary schools. And I know all about Tufts Medical Center.

Or so I thought.

I did know that Tufts University and Tufts Medical Center were affiliated—although I did not know that was not always the case. I did know Tufts Medical Center is a teaching hospital but I did not think of it as a place to go for routine care. Amazingly—I am almost embarrassed to admit this—I assumed Tufts Medical Center was located in Medford, MA, home to the university's undergraduate campus. Nope, it's in Chinatown, a neighborhood of Boston.

I'm not the only one who was misinformed about the 350-bed hospital. Market research found about 50% of consumers did not know that the hospital and the university are affiliated. They didn't think of the hospital as a convenient, "in your own backyard" choice. Awareness of high-end services was low—people didn't see the hospital as cutting-edge. On the other hand, people considered Tufts a good choice for high-risk pregnancies and fetal care, but did not think of it for routine deliveries.

If you ever wondered what might happen if your marketing department were to go away, look to Tufts for the answer. Facing tumult on a variety of fronts—from leadership to financial—the hospital "went dark," halting its marketing efforts.

And, eventually, that caught up with them. And although that wasn't good news for Tufts, it is encouraging for healthcare marketers who believe that budget cuts to marketing departments can do more harm than good, especially long-term.

It's also good news for those who want to overcome negative perceptions that branding campaigns are soft and fluffy. Branding efforts can do a lot, says Tony Cotrupi, president of PARTNERS+simons, the Boston-based brand communications firm that worked on the Tufts campaign. For example, he says, they can:

  • drive volume
  • build name recognition and brand equity
  • attract and retain physicians
  • lay groundwork for development efforts
  • encourage donors and potential donors
  • validate the decision of current, recent, and prospective patients
  • position the institution as a bedrock of the community
  • position the institution as innovative, vibrant, and alive

You can read about how Tufts turned things around with its new branding campaign, emerging with a new name, a stronger brand, and measurable results, including heightened awareness among consumers, in this month's HealthLeaders magazine story, A New Name.


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