Nearly half of all hospitals in the United States are losing money, as indicated by a recent study published in Health Affairs, a struggle that has only been exacerbated by the requirements of value-based care. And, as patients are now responsible for an increasing portion of their finances related to healthcare, decisions are made more selectively regarding where to obtain medical services. This means providers and hospital systems must work even harder to attract — and retain — today’s discerning patient.
That’s where branding comes in.
A strong brand is critical to truly differentiating your organization and positioning it within today’s changing market. It’s what creates an emotional connection with your audience and solidifies your reputation.
Determine What Makes You Special
In the healthcare space, there is often significant overlap in positioning. That’s why identifying “the differentiated sweet spot,” or two to three PODs (points of distinction), is an essential step in the brand strategy process. This means identifying what sets your brand apart from others in the industry. It’s taking a step back to ask, “what do they look like, what are they saying about themselves, and how can I do it differently? How can I do it better?”
This holds true when it comes to your brand image as well — you need to break the mold. For example, within the healthcare industry, you’ll often see a lot of palettes and logos using the colors green and blue because they have traditionally represented the feeling of trust. However, the brands that are truly setting themselves apart today are the ones using colors that “pop,” like oranges, reds, and purples that are typically considered to be unconventional. These colors make brands more memorable, especially in an industry that tends to be more conservative.
Get Your Internal Teams On Board
An old Harvard Business Review study showed that fewer than 5% of employees within organizations are familiar with, or understand, their companies’ brand strategies. It will be challenging to deliver on your brand’s promise if the entire team is not immersed in what the brand stands for. It’s more than just crafting messaging — for your brand identity to truly be effective, the brand values, mission, and expectations must be internally ingrained within your brand culture. Start with an internal communications plan — typically including the hospital intranet, email, or newsletter — to socialize your strategy, along with your outward-facing image.
Consider this: a strong brand identity with a mission your team can get behind gives your team meaning and purpose. They’ll be more likely to stay around longer and dedicate themselves to their work if they feel like they are a part of a greater mission.
Deliver On Your Promises
Today’s patient is also a healthcare consumer, aware of the number of choices available when it comes to making decisions on where they obtain healthcare. In fact, 62% of smartphone users have used their phone in the past year to look up a health condition and 54% of millennials look online before choosing a doctor. This means that healthcare marketers must take a fresh approach to developing and maintaining positive patient relationships. Savvy marketers will encourage engagement and solidify their brand promises at every step of the patient journey by providing the patient with the valuable, educational content they are searching for.
Blogging has become an inexpensive and effective way for healthcare businesses to establish regular communication with their patient bases. It allows physicians to actively support patients by providing them with tips to live a healthy lifestyle, information directly impacting their user experience (like how to better utilize a patient portal on the company’s website, for example), and knowledge that may directly relate to their care and recovery. In addition, blogging benefits healthcare businesses by improving search engine visibility so prospective patients are more likely to find the physician’s practice or hospital online when searching for health-related information.
Think Before You Merge
Those in healthcare are likely no stranger to mergers and acquisitions. Recent healthcare reform, an increasing focus on population health, and lower overall reimbursements have set forth a healthy wave of mergers and acquisitions — in fact, 235 deals were completed in Q1 of 2017 alone — and there are likely more on the way.
Capital One recently released its annual survey on merger and acquisition activity, illustrating what to expect in the year ahead. Of the more than 450 healthcare executives that responded to the survey, 38% percent report merger and acquisition transactions have driven their growth plans for 2017. Still, the majority of M&A’s actually miss the mark.
The reason? A lack of branding focus at the beginning of the deal. The best time to bring the merger and acquisition brand strategy discussion to the table is actually during the M&A. Bringing these issues to light early will force the consideration of some tough decisions. It might even draw attention to some holes in planning and prevent yet another failed acquisition.
The development of your healthcare brand is a highly personal and dynamic exercise. Take it seriously, communicate openly, and be willing to allocate the appropriate resources necessary to be successful. Bringing in a third party for an objective analysis may prove to be invaluable, as identifying one’s own distinctions and conducting the research necessary to get there isn’t always an easy task.