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  • Writer's pictureAlan Shoebridge

Why a strong brand (still) matters in healthcare

Updated: Oct 11, 2022

Nearly six years ago, I wrote my first article on the topic of why brand matters in healthcare. I believed a strong brand mattered for healthcare organizations back then, and I think it matters even more in 2022. The majority of brand, marketing and communication leaders within our industry also agree with that perception for a variety of reasons.

A few of those reasons came up recently when I joined a “campfire session” to talk about why brand matters in healthcare with Stephen Moegling, Joe Gunderson, Chrisie Scott and Vanessa Hill. You can watch the entire conversation in the video below:

Staring at the start. What is a brand?

Most people tend to think of branding in terms of visual identity. To them, it’s the name, logo and advertising that makes a brand. However, a brand is much deeper than that. It’s really the experience people have when they interact with your company or product that truly defines your brand. Here is a great explanation from Seth Godin,

“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.”

If Godin’s definition doesn’t resonate with you, here are 30 other opinions.

So, does a strong brand matter in healthcare?

Yes! Why? Because 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 now than ever before, including emerging entrants in the industry like Amazon, Apple and others with very strong brands, this represents a potential threat for health systems and hospitals.

Furthermore, there is a major segment of the public – nationally and in most markets – that doesn’t already prefer a specific healthcare brand. From NRC Health,

“In light of the 2021 Consumer Trends Report, NRC Health reported that an increasing number of consumers had indicated no particular preference for a healthcare brand. In 2021, the percentage of consumers indicating “no preference” was 34.5%, indicating a plateau in 'no preference.' But while the number of consumers with no preference has plateaued, hospitals and health systems have a vested interest in ensuring that their brand is preferred.”

You can see the full report here. These are three top-level findings from a recent NRC update that are important to be aware of right now:

  • Consumers are deferring care in record numbers (27% in 2022) with little evidence they will return to healthcare soon.

  • Non-traditional healthcare experiences are blooming as COVID opened new doors to care and widened the consumer view of what qualifies as a “healthcare experience.”

  • Brand preference is down over the last decade: 1 in 3 consumers have no preference for any healthcare brand despite being more aware of their healthcare options.

All of that taken together is a challenge, but it also shows the importance of building a strong brand. There is opportunity to carve out space in the minds of consumers and patients.

What can you do?

The first thing you need to do is to truly understand what your brand position is. What do people say about you? Is it true? What can you do to address it if the way you want to be perceived doesn’t line up with the way current and prospective patients describe you?

If you don’t know the answers to those questions, you have to start conducting regular research on your brand.

You also need to help educate leadership - outside of the marketing, communication and brand teams - to get them to understand the importance of having a strong brand in healthcare. The good news is that I think most leaders do understand the importance of a highly admired brand, although that understanding has taken a long time to develop.

One example of this is that many organizations have now created brand promises that are a barometer to measure progress against. For instance, Providence’s promise to patients and consumers is “Know me. Care for me. Ease my way.”

Understanding your current brand position and then measuring improvements is a critical step that everyone can take.

Final thought

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 – it has to be something customers will notice and consistently experience.

Continue the conversation

🚨💻👇 𝐖𝐄𝐁𝐈𝐍𝐀𝐑: Oct. 14 at 9 a.m. PT/noon ET. As we get ready to plan for 2023, it's important to understand industry trends and how consumers are approaching healthcare. I'm excited to join Persado for this conversation. The session will also feature some recent research findings from NRC Health about why consumers are putting off care.

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