A “not pretty, but beautiful” Gibson guitar and healthcare branding

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“Not pretty” can be beautiful.  Open, sincere and honest works best in healthcare branding.

Hospitals are under intensifying pressure on so many fronts. Regulators are expecting the impossible; better, faster and cheaper, and the public is no longer the voiceless, captive audience, but consumers of healthcare with the ability to broadcast to the world, their dissatisfaction or praise in five seconds.  The implications are too numerous to address or attempt to answer in a simple blog post. But there is one concept healthcare marketers should be mindful of while building a brand for the future.

A hospital brand must be bona fide

The Black’s Law Dictionary defines BONA FIDE as – “In or with good faith; honestly, openly, and sincerely; without deceit or fraud. Truly; actually; without simulation or pretense.”

The “without simulation or pretense” is particularly important. In simple terms, do not attempt to make something that is not the case, appear true. Even more simply put, be yourself.

In an age where social media and consumer opinion sway brand reputation, the elephant has left the living room, but lives larger than life on the web and healthcare brand marketers cannot attempt to fight the tide or ignore its presence. Rather it behooves hospital marketers to define their brand with a combination of good faith, honesty, openness and sincerity. Weaving the good and the bad (and the sometimes ugly) into an authentic and honest brand story that can gain the trust of your audience. In short, making it bona fide.

Making this point from outside healthcare…using a guitar (of all things)

I was recently struck by an online post about the sale of a used acoustic guitar. It was written by “Erin” who, I’m pretty sure doesn’t work on Madison Avenue. None the less, in her simple prose, Erin illustrated that no matter what is being sold, nothing can compare to the power of an honest story and of communicating a unique promise of value that resonates with its intended audience. The post was as follows:

“I have a 1991 Gibson J-100 acoustic guitar that was not cautiously cared for though loved and constantly played, in honkytonks, parking lots, around campfires, on river banks, year round and round the country.., it is not pretty but it is beautiful. The headstock is repaired and it wears the tread of the road well. It plays easy and true. Any ideas, ballpark, of what I might expect to get if I sell it? Thanks.”

Erin had me at “it is not pretty but it is beautiful”. For those who aren’t familiar with quality acoustic guitars like a Gibson, when they’re played consistently, they actually sound better, the older they get. The pretty finish fades, but the tone becomes richer, its beauty grows. Beauty “wears the tread of the road well”. Pretty does not.

Perhaps your organization has had some very public challenges. Arguably your strength and beauty lies in openly communicating how you’ve dealt with these challenges, your striving to better serve your community and who you’ve become as an organization.

So for a hospital brand, like most that are “not pretty,” the ability to communicate “wearing the tread of the road well” authentically makes for a beautiful brand. And at the very least there’s a great country song entitled “She ain’t pretty, but she’s beautiful” just aching to be written on a well-traveled old Gibson acoustic. Thanks, Erin.




Eric Brody

Eric Brody is President of Trajectory, launched in 1999, the specialist health & wellness branding and marketing agency using every moment to move customers, brands and businesses upward. Prior to Trajectory, Eric served as EVP and Management Board member at Interbrand (the world’s most influential brand consultancy). Before Interbrand, he held senior marketing positions at Beiersdorf Inc. and L’Oreal and advertising account management positions at Marschalk and Benton & Bowles.He has also taught as an adjunct professor at Seton Hall’s Graduate School of Communications and has lectured at Wharton Business School and Emory Goizueta School of Business.