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Friday, August 15, 2008

Healthcare system branding - some rules of the road

While brand-building fundamentals tend to be the same across many industries, Health Care Systems, with their many facets and multiple audiences, possess a unique set of challenges and requirements. Based on our work within this industry, here are some "Rules of the Road" starting points:

Leadership must take the lead
Mounting skepticism, increased information, transparency and choice demands that CEO's and their leadership embrace branding as a strategic tool to proactively build and nurture relationships.

Start with your strategic plan direction
Any "system level" brand work needs to be grounded in reality. And this grounding starts with strategic plan direction. Business initiatives such as expanding into new geography, introducing new service lines and merging with another entity will impact your brands value proposition.

Consider the importance of your external and internal audiences
Externally, there are local communities and patients, the media and politicians. Internally, there are doctors, nurses, staffs and volunteers, boards and foundations - who will make or break you brand-building effort. Ultimately, they both need to understand and connect with what your system brand stands for and how it relates.

Analyze where system-audience relationships exist, today and into the future
Have you historically focused on building relationships with the system brand or the individual hospitals and facilities that provide care? Consider these answers in the context of your strategic plan and annual business goals, e.g. creating a seamlessly integrated " continuum of care" or an affiliation of specialists. Analyze the pros and cons of each possible branding system scenario.

Formalize your brand agenda
All system staffers, physicians and associates should have a clear and consistent understanding of what makes your brand unique and special. Commit your intended brand purpose, promises, personality, positioning and unifying brand idea to paper for all to help shape and embrace – and then use this as a guidepost for all brand actions and communications.

Audit, monitor and refine the myriad ways you express your brand
Consider all the ways your brand speaks to its audiences. All impart messages about your brand. To ensure that your brand consistently shines through, you need to audit all of these different touch points to gauge their effectiveness at conveying an " on-brand" message.

Brand from the inside-out
Branding is all about building relationships to fuel business growth. And these relationships start inside your system. You must be aligned to deliver your brand promise day in and day out through the actions and interactions of your staffers and physicians. Every single touch point through which your local communities and patients experience your health care system brand should reinforce its vision.

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