Although it seems obvious and is largely taken for granted in other industries, healthcare marketers still face obstacles explaining to partners why having a strong brand matters to the ultimate success or failure of their marketing efforts.
During this week’s healthcare marketing MS class at OHSU we talked about why brand matters, and the role marketers play in leveraging strong brands to promote an organization’s products and services.
Before we get in too deep, it might help to define “brand.” As Seth Godin explains it,
“A brand is the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another. If the consumer (whether it’s a business, a buyer, a voter or a donor) doesn’t pay a premium, make a selection or spread the word, then no brand value exists for that consumer.”
Using that definition, here are three reasons why having a strong brand matters in healthcare.
1. If you stand for nothing and have no tangible differentiation from competitors, consumers will value you only as a commodity. With more choices for care available than ever before, this represents a problem.
Most well-run, successful organizations have a clear brand position that is easy to identify and experienced by every user. At the end of the day, an organization’s brand is the emotional response a business evokes in a customer. If a brand is perceived – especially through the patient experience – as negative and needing to change, it requires more than a new logo or catchy advertising copy. What is truly needed is a shift in the products or service levels offered that customers will notice and consistently experience.
2. People prefer established brands for their care.
PwC’s Health Research Institute’s annual report called out a number of the emerging trends in healthcare, one of which is the increasing importance that a strong brand plays in decision-making:
“Well-known healthcare brands may have a market advantage. Consolidation is creating larger health systems and insurers. These moves make branding critical. HRI’s 2015 consumer survey found Americans are willing to drive further to receive care from a well-known system, signaling receptiveness to brand over convenience.”
Mixed in that report is also a cautionary note, and perhaps an opportunity:
“Many consumers, however, say they are not willing to pay more for care delivered health systems considered ‘best in field.’”
To me, that last part signifies that additional effort is needed on defining value propositions and probably improving price transparency as well.
3. Marketing a “bad” product wastes time and money.
Although marketing is only one component of branding, it certainly plays a significant role. Without marketing in the mix, it would be difficult for an organization to expand its brand awareness beyond immediate users and growth would be slow.
Even with great marketing, brands that have disappointed consumers in the past face an uphill battle in regaining the trust of the public – Wells Fargo and Samsung are two companies facing that struggle right now. When services improve, it can remain challenging for a damaged brand to turn detractors into advocates.
Moving into 2017, healthcare systems are faced with having to serve more patients amid declining reimbursements. With that dynamic in play, it’s crucial that every marketing dollar spent has a true impact and drives patients into key services that deliver an outstanding experience. Growth and retention must go hand in hand.