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A Tale of Two Brands

Marianne Aiello, for HealthLeaders Media, May 12, 2010

If it wasn't the worst of times for Sturgis (MI) Hospital in 2008, it was close to it. The 84-bed hospital's carefully crafted brand was being overrun by a second kind of brand; one that was emanating from disgruntled employees, city politicians, and other community members who were disheartened by the hospital's financial woes and benefit cuts. So Sturgis launched a two-pronged campaign to neutralize the second "brand" and refresh its true brand identity.

"Before we could continue to build a position that effectively convinced people that we're every bit as safe and good—or better—than big city hospitals, we needed to deconstruct the overshadowing second brand," marketers wrote on their entry form for the 2009 HealthLeaders Media Marketing Awards, where Sturgis won gold among small hospitals. "In order to strip our image back down and begin to rebuild it, we had to squelch the misinformation that was causing negative attitudes that were taking on a life of their own."

The campaign aimed to educate the community about the intricacies of healthcare financing, a nonprofit hospital's commitment to indigent care, the role of a community hospital, and Sturgis' importance to the health of the local economy.

Marketers used the "Every Community Has a Heart" tagline to ask community members to imagine the town without Sturgis—and then realize they are all the better for it.

"The purpose of the tagline was to remind residents and detractors that we are a key component—and employer—to this community, and they wouldn't really want to lose us," the marketing team wrote. "It also sought to draw the connection between our financial losses due to charity care and bad debt."

The campaign consisted of newspaper, radio, and online elements, as well as involved community outreach. Sturgis gave presentations to a number of groups, met with several local press outlets and community leaders, and enhanced its employee communications.

Sturgis declared the campaign a success when, finally, they heard no criticism at all.

"We experienced confirming messages shared with hospital staff and leadership, and when community leaders defended the hospital at City Commission meetings," they wrote. "And finally… silence. Hospital bashing was now passé. The issues were no longer newsworthy."

Sturgis' dubious dual brand is now one, hospital-run brand identity—and they're committed to making sure it stays that way.

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