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How to Build a Brand in Four Easy Steps

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One of the hardest things a healthcare marketer will ever do is pitch a branding campaign to the chief executive officer. For starters, it’s nearly impossible to measure return on investment, since there’s typically no call to action. But beyond that, most CEOs want to hear about marketing plans that promote specific service lines, since that’s what drives volume. Hard data about market share is a lot easier to digest than squishy numbers about market preference.

But anyone who’s concerned with the bottom line should not underestimate the power of a strong brand, say experts who make their living pitching these kinds of campaigns to hospital and health system leaders.

“How you are perceived by your customers and by your public is going to dictate, ultimately, your success,” says Patrick Buckley, president of PB Healthcare Business Solutions in Pewaukee, WI, and author of the forthcoming book, The Complete Guide to Hospital Marketing, published by HealthLeaders Media.

So how can hospitals shape those customer perceptions? Here are four tips:

Be the boss of your brand

It might sound obvious, but the first step to successful branding is to decide what your organization’s image will be. “The two parts of that would have to be how your customers perceive the brand and how you want your brand to be perceived,” says Daniel Fell, a partner with Daniel+Douglas+Norcross, a healthcare marketing consultancy in Chattanooga, TN.

“You have to create something that helps the hospital build the trust with the audiences that it serves and helps remind them who the hospital is, what they stand for, and that they can be trusted with a person’s life and health,” says Richard Bressler, principal of Bressler Advertising & Public Relations in Atlanta.

Choose your image wisely …

Do you want to be known as the hospital with the most caring nurses, the one with the smartest doctors, or the one that saves the most lives? The answer, it turns out, is none of the above. That’s because consumers expect hospitals to have those qualities. “It’s not necessarily something you can differentiate on,” says Fell.

Rather than reach for easy answers, delve into your organization’s culture, study your customers and the market, and take a hard look at what your competitors are doing. You should also consider how you are already perceived in the marketplace. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to change ingrained consumer perceptions of your brand.

... And make sure it’s the truth

Which brings us to the next step: Don’t try to reinvent the organization or make it into something it’s not. If your 100-year-old hospital serves a middle-aged, suburban demographic, you won’t have much luck making it seem young, modern and hip.

“If you try to portray yourself or want to be seen as something that you really aren’t, then all that will happen is you will no longer be credible in the marketplace,” Buckley says.

Prepare for the long haul

Your organization might need a little image boost now and then. But creating a brand for your organization is a lot more work than just slapping a fresh coat of paint on the emergency room, redesigning your logo or sending out a press release. Whereas image repair is a reactive strategy usually prompted by something negative that occurs, a strong brand is an overarching strategy, says Robert Rosenberg, president of Springboard Brand & Creative Strategy in Arlington Heights, IL. Everything a hospital does, all future communications, will build upon it.

“Branding is strategy-based, and it is a long-term proposition that requires an appropriate investment, both internally and externally, to make it happen,” he says. “And it’s as much internal as it is external. It’s not just communicating an image in the marketplace; it’s actually living that behavior in the organization.”

—Gienna Shaw