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Brand Building Beyond Labels

For most people branding begins and ends with the name, logo and tagline. Many healthcare providers do compromise on the brand by relegating it to one support department who will manage the social media and will print some brochures.

In reality, a brand is much more than that. Branding as a concept encompasses the entire soul, fibre and character of the company. Brand has a wider scope and it is relevant to the entire operations, support and strategic planning functions in the organisation.

Globally, there is a lot to be learnt as far as strategic brand management in healthcare is concerned. Different regions will have different challenges. But the fact that the gaps need to be addressed still remains. Are healthcare systems learning enough from other global brands like Mercedes, Pepsi, Apple, Toyota, etc.? Well, the answer is no.

To provide clarity on what an effective brand building would entail in a hospital, the following points have been listed below: 

Brand Values: Branding starts with the inherent values of a firm. These values are more often than not, given by the founders and top leaders of the organisation. It is imperative for everyone to take a step back and see what the organisation stands for. In case of hospitals, it could be philanthropy, enhancing the quality of life, bringing world-class services to the area, etc. Whatever the philosophy, it needs to be discovered, articulated and used to form the basis for the brand to be created.

The idea is to find the uniqueness in the inherent fibre of the brand. Every human being is unique in some way or the other, and so is every brand. One only has to dig deep enough to discover what the uniqueness is.

Brand Positioning: Once it is clear what the branding is for, one needs to look at how this will be positioned in the market. Needless to say, it cannot be the same as anyone else as each hospital will need their own unique position. 

Many hospitals make the mistake of positioning themselves on the ‘features’ that they have to offer. As a result, they are unable to connect to the end user. It would be more relevant for the target audience if they positioned themselves on the benefit that the features would translate into. For example, JCI accreditation is a feature which translates into better treatment outcomes as a benefit. So, focusing on the accreditation rather than the benefit will not resonate with the target group.

Not to forget, the positioning of a brand is a matter of perception. In branding, perception is reality. A brand is positioned by the image it creates for itself in the minds of the people.

Brand Identity: This is where the name, logo and tagline come into the picture. We can add house colours, font type, etc. to the list. The identity has to be consistent to the unique position that we want to create. In some parts of the world, most hospitals, till recently, had green colour as part of its branding. Whereas, it is acceptable that there are ample reasons for green being allocated to healthcare, it is also contradictory to the concept of branding that green colour should be used by every brand. 

Of late, we have been seeing non-green branding for hospitals, which makes the hospital brand more visible in the marketplace. If a colour is being decided for a hospital brand, it will make sense to choose something that is not being used by others.

The identity [name, logo and tagline] has to be appealing enough so that the image of the brand can be created with ease. The recall will be good and the preference will be favourable for the brands that have likeable and unique identities.

Brand Personality: This is a concept which is very closely linked to the identity. Every brand has a personality. It may sound strange, but leading brands work hard at creating a persona out of their brands. For instance, the overall personality of a brand like Virgin Atlantic is distinct from a brand like Lufthansa. These differences are created by planning the colours, words, images and other attributes carefully. Similarly, the hospital brand can be a modern male doctor, or a caring mother, etc. Whatever one needs to create, it has to be crafted deliberately and must augment the brand position.

Brand Promise Delivery: Once the brand’s unique position, identity and persona are in place, the time comes to deliver whatever will be promised. Many hospitals boast of high quality, but their clinical outcomes are not up to the mark. Many hospitals boast of great doctors, but most of their doctors operate as islands of excellence without seeing eye to eye with each other. Similarly waiting times, interiors, staff attitude and a lot of other things needs to be diligently worked at in order to create a consistent brand experience. It is fundamental to the success of a brand, that the promise and its delivery should be consistent every single day.

One of the key factors that determine the delivery the brand promises is the staff behaviour and outlook. A premium hospital promising a great patient experience with all the frills cannot afford to have a staff that is badly dressed. A hospital that promises utmost care and concern for its patients cannot have a grumpy looking front office person. Staff outlook and attitude plays a vital role in delivering the brand. One may be surprised to see how many hospitals have never communicated to their staff about what the brand has promised to the outside world. 

There is absolutely no thinking through or training of the staff about delivering the brand promise. No wonder many healthcare providers are unable to figure out why the branding efforts have failed in spite of a hefty sum being paid for designing of adverts. Sometimes, healthcare providers make the mistake of going ahead with the advertising blitz without ensuring that the expectations they create will be met at the ground level. This shooting in the foot results in lost reputation over a period of time.

Brand Communication: A healthcare brand communicates with its audience on multiple platforms. It speaks to them primarily through advertisements and press and media and other philanthropic initiatives. For each communication there must be an objective. It is imperative that each communication talks about the uniqueness of the brand. This uniqueness needs to be relevant to the audience it is speaking to.

A judicious mix of each kind of communication vehicle is a must. The number of newspaper ads and outdoor hoardings have to be determined based on certain organised facts and data. Press and media play a vital role in building healthcare brands. The brand can get its initiatives endorsed and liked by the popular press and create a favourable image for itself. In the modern times, online media and social networking also plays a very significant role in shaping the opinion for a brand. Healthcare providers can overlook media [including web media] on its own peril.

Brand Loyalty: No discussion on branding is complete until we talk about brand loyalty. In healthcare, brand loyalty is a peculiar concept. Providers cannot [and mostly do not] wish for the patients to get sick and come back again. In such a scenario, how can a hospital talk about loyalty? The answer is — people can refer the hospital/provider to their friends in case they ever need the services. This can be done by brand advocates who can swear by the capabilities of the brand to deliver what it promises.

Another form of loyalty in healthcare arises with patients who need to visit the facility repeatedly for their medical condition. This is true for chronic ailments or for conditions like pregnancy, physiotherapy, etc. Brands serious about loyalty will not only want to retain the patients for the entire cycle of care that they can provide but would also like to monitor the number of new patients who came as a result of reference given by this existing patient. I have not seen many brands doing that in healthcare, even though there have been calculations proving that a five per cent increase in loyalty can push up the sales by up to 20 per cent!

There is so much more that can be said about branding for healthcare services. However, as a starting point, if whatever is mentioned above can be incorporated in building the healthcare brand, one will stand a fair chance of creating a sound platform for robust growth. 

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