Healthcare branding – insights from the sport and leisure wars

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In the changing and challenging healthcare marketplace where patients have now become more empowered and more scrutinizing customers – and organizations are facing reimbursement (and therefore marketing budget) cuts – clearly defining and differentiating your brand is a must.

Healthcare marketers, whether system, hospital, specialty physician-based, or other, can take a cue from these two outside category sport and leisure brands – Nike and Brooks Running (who repositioned and differentiated itself in order to hit its stride again).

Nike vs. Brooks Running

They’re both in the same market, competing for the same customer, both successful – but with different positioning and different approaches to marketing.  Nike is the undisputed champ of all things athletic, as validated by its number one position on Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies of 2013 list, known for its technological ingenuity.

With its latest invention, NikeFuel, the parent brand has taken sportswear to a whole new level – not only does the new bracelet satisfy consumers’ need to feel engaged and social (via NikeFuel’s online community), it allows Nike to track customer behavior AND serves as a permanent, walking advertisement.  Nike has transcended through sportswear into “tech, data, and services,” so its only natural that its marketing should wear a digital track suit.

However, Brooks Running is a completely different story – at one point, tried to compete with Nike on the “full-on athletic” front, but realizing it could not, has since repositioned itself as a premium performance running-only athletic-wear company.  In stark contrast with Nike’s bold and sometimes controversial advertising, Brooks runs towards the light with Run Happy and prefers more grassroots avenues of marketing – focusing on social media and word of mouth. In recent years, Brooks has seen a surge of success, growing sales from $180 million in 2009 to $409 million in 2012.

So, what can healthcare marketers glean from the success of these two sport and leisure heavyweights?

1. Don’t rest on laurels (or languish from complacency). This year marks Brooks’ centennial – if CEO, Jim Weber hadn’t taken the risk 12 years ago to launch a rebrand of the company, we may all be wearing Nike shoes today. Take a cue from companies that tried to innovate/reinvent too late (RIP Blockbuster, Borders, Tribune Publishing…sorta).

“Business models are not meant to be static…In the world we live in today, you have to adapt and change. One of my fears is being this big, slow, constipated, bureaucratic company that’s happy with its success. That will wind up being your death in the end.” – Mark Parker, Nike CEO

2. Know who you are. Nike and Brooks’ goal is to build a captive audience of repeat customers, as well as new ones (similar to healthcare providers), which starts with putting a stake in the ground regarding who you are, who you’re for, what you do and why you matter.

3. Total commitment. Both Nike and Brooks have stayed true to their respective positionings’ and remain focused on delivering on them through their actions (similar to healthcare providers demonstrating their focus of why they’re the smart and best choice for an individual’s healthcare and well-care).

“Focus, focus, focus. Strong brands are built over decades, not years. If you keep changing what you stand for, no one will really know and trust your values, philosophies, spirit and point of view.” – Jim Weber, Brooks CEO

Ultimately, the only sustainable difference you have is your brand. Which starts with getting your idea right, promises right, voice right, delivery right.

One thought on “Healthcare branding – insights from the sport and leisure wars

  1. Great articulation of what it’s key to establish your point-of-difference and be genuine to your brand in everything you do. Healthcare clients can certainly learn from these examples and put the customer at the center of everything they do.

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