Editor Bill Santamour’s column in May 2015 Hospitals & Health Networks magazine – The 3 C’s of Health Care Today – refers to collaboration, coordination and continuum — which he says sums up one big emerging health care theme.

It’s the idea that much of healthcare today takes place beyond a hospital’s four walls, so everybody involved in promoting individual and community health must cooperate more than they have in the past.

But I’d add a fourth C to this list. Because to get the most out of these changes – providers must be able to make the necessary connection with current customers and prospects, healthcare professionals, and the communities they serve. To do this, they must invest in, and leverage, one of their most important business assets: their hospital brand.

As the healthcare business model continues to evolve, and as new consumer-oriented competitors threaten traditional hospital and health system turf, the way hospitals brand themselves must evolve as well. Investments in collaboration, coordination and continuum – and the rationale behind them – must be communicated as part of an overall hospital brand that ties them together and conveys the most meaningful benefits to each of its constituent groups.

Ultimately, it’s the combination of these “4C’s” that will help you attract new customers, highly skilled healthcare professionals, and position you to become the provider of choice within your region.

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Here’s a good article for healthcare marketers on MediaPost’s Marketing:health – The Art And Science of Effective Work. While it’s primarily speaking to pharmaceutical marketers, it rings just as true for health system and hospital marketers.

The context of the article is the talk by Chuck Porter (chief strategist at MDC Partners) on creativity at the Cannes Lions Advertising Festival last year. But the more important point by Graham Mills, a member of the 2015 North American Final Round Health Effie Awards Jury, is that people want more than advertising from brands; they want a valid reason to let brands into their lives.

In order to do this, marketers need to go beyond product-centric advertising to positioning marketing as a service that answers both the emotional and practical needs of the consumer. Selling product features is not enough to prove value.

We refer to this as creating marketing that matters. Marketing that in and of itself can make a difference in people’s lives (i.e. “marketing as a service”). Marketing that goes beyond the still too typical health system and hospital advertising that touts latest technology (until tomorrow), number of awards (which are not an important driver in decision-making) and is written in insider hospital-centric language.

This need is intensified given the shifting landscape of consumer and technology brands like CVS, Apple and Teladoc (among hundreds of others) fighting for a piece of the traditional healthcare pie. Brands who’ve cultivated consumer relationships in ways that health system and hospitals have not.

In this environment, traditional health system and hospital marketers must re-evaluate their marketing through a new lens of possibility. Because the interrelationship between people’s needs (people who you used to refer to as your patients) and the new benefits that are offered up to them by the new “health” companies and brands are where the real “maas” opportunities lie.

By understanding the emotional payoff that people will feel as a result of their ideal “health” experience (which now could be CVS, Apple or Teladoc), you can then begin to identify what’s driving their choice and the direction your marketing should be heading. Clearly, this is beyond communicating the “functional benefit of your traditional healthcare services.”

Robin Wight, co-founder of WCRS in London, mentions in the article about interrogating a product until it confesses to its strength and that strength is not always a product attribute. That underlying strength for health systems and hospitals is an emotional end benefit far beyond the immediate functional fix. And owning this emotional end benefit territory provides a more robust platform to keep you ahead of constantly evolving market changes, consumer needs and competitive activity.

But in order for the relationship with a brand to work, as with any relationship, it must be based on exchange of something of value. One of these “exchanges” should be going beyond product-centric advertising to positioning marketing as a service that answers both the emotional and practical needs of the consumer.



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Working across the related categories of healthcare, personal care, wellness and lifestyle — we bring an informed and wider lens view of the world that helps our clients to see things they don’t currently see, believe in what’s possible and act in new ways.

As hospitals and health care systems continue to make the pivot from b2b to b2c, they’re faced with challenging their own status quo and having to create new forms of value for a forever changed breed of health care consumer.

So what can healthcare leaders and healthcare marketers learn from Kiehl’s? They’re a wonderful example of a company that has carved out its own path to greatness. And in today’s healthcare environment, where the traditional business model is increasingly challenged and consumers wield increasing power, this is a very important idea.

Kiehl’s is just about 165 years old, and the brand is still going strong. Here are ten reasons why (which healthcare leaders and marketers should take note of):

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1. Story. The brand has a great back story – starting with its name Kiehl’s Since 1851 – as an apothecary business in NYC’s lower East Side owned and managed over four generations as a family business (and now owned by L’Oreal). But their story continues to genuinely evolve and capture the imagination of new generations of audiences. Many other skin care brands have a celebrated past. But I’m not sure any are as compelling or as unconventional as Kiehl’s.

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2. Belief. There aren’t too many people who boast about ingredients and physical product benefits. But they do talk about Kiehl’s greater sense of purpose – brought to life through its approach to products, distinguishing community-based retail experience and socially-driven activities.

3. Behavior. Everything Kiehl’s does, every experience they create across the end-to-end customer journey, supports and enhances their story and is executed with brilliance.

4. Products and Packaging. True to its heritage, Kiehl’s uses the very best naturally-derived ingredients – based on herbal and pharmaceutical formulas. Packaging also reflects the brand’s apothecary roots – a homemade look that feels like they are individually made in the back of the store, with detailed descriptions about ingredients, benefits and directions for use.

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5. Retail Experience. Even though the brand now has 500-plus stores around the world, the Kiehl’s brand team recreates the look and feel of the original New York boutique wherever you find the brand.

Why would Kiehl’s have a vintage motorcycle in their store? Because it’s core to the story and the brand’s visual expression. The trademark vintage Ducati motorcycle is there because the founder liked the brand. Just another detail that differentiates Kiehl’s from all other skin care businesses.

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The brand also maintains its close ties with the medical community from which it was born. As such, Mr. Bones (the skeleton you see in every store) serves to pay homage to the industry.

6. Word-of-Mouth. L’Oreal has faithfully adhered to the founding family approach of not advertising the Kiehl’s brand. For Kiehl’s, it’s all about the ‘pull’ of word-of-mouth. Creating beautiful interesting stores, wonderful products and living its philosophy of purpose beyond profit compels customers to do their advertising for them as one by one they share Kiehl’s with their friends.

7. Sampling. Kiehl’s diehards know one of the most fun things about going to Kiehl’s is snapping up all the samples. Each year they distribute over 40 million samples from their range of 300+ products. When you leave with your purchase, you’ll also be going home with at least three trial size samples to introduce you to another element of their range (knowing you’ll also spread the word to your friends).

8. Benevolence. Kiehl’s just doesn’t give to multiple causes, it participates. And there’s a difference (for today’s more discerning customers) between just writing the check and demonstrating your commitment.

Community service is in the DNA of the brand. It dates back to WWI when John Kiehl’s donated cream to soldiers for their dry, chapped hands. Kiehl’s Gives is the name of their global CSI initiatives worldwide, and their focus is threefold: HIV AIDS, children’s causes
and environmental issues.

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9. Bonding. Beyond customers interacting with Keihl’s, the brand is a platform for its advocates to share with one another – through Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram.

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10. Bold. The brand continues to surprise and delight, by adding new collections, addressing new concerns, and delivering on its mission “to improve in some way the quality of the community…making for better citizens, better firms, and better communities.”

No matter how the healthcare landscape evolves, it will greatly be shaped by the rise of consumerism. And in this environment, brand has a value and resonance that is quite meaningful. Which means healthcare leaders and their teams must be able to see the world through a new lens of possibility. The ability to see the world like Kiehl’s.





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In an earlier post about mobile and the healthcare brand experience, we wondered whether at some point in the future, customers might have a mobile-only relationship with a hospital or healthcare system. Consider too that mobile isn’t just another channel, it’s digital, search and social, all wrapped into one.

Here, in a recent Modern Healthcare interview, Bruce Broussard, CEO of Ky.-based Humana talks about the mobile evolution they’re undertaking. He states that mobile devices play a key part in engaging with the patient around a health outcome, being able to service them and give them the transparency of choice, or the ability for physicians to make a decision about care on the fly with a mobile device.

You don’t need a crystal ball to see that healthcare customers are increasingly mobile. Or the inevitability of a mobile-first customer journey. For the hospitals and healthcare systems that respond first, the prize should be a tri-fecta of greater customer engagement, satisfaction and advocacy.

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I came across anti-aging skincare brand Verso while doing some “role-modeling” research for brands that simplify the shopping experience.

It’s a luxury Swedish skincare brand made with a high-dose nonprescription vitamin A derivative that claims to be eight times more effective than the average product on the market and is safe enough to use during the day.

But beyond its attributes and functional benefits, what makes Verso stand out in a sea of skincare brand alternatives is its simplicity. It’s straightforward and minimalist style shines through in everything the brand says and does. Starting with its story…

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Extending to its shopability and packaging…

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Website experience…

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Brand film…

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and even through to things like company policy.

In a world that demands so much of our time, we all crave a bit of simplicity now and then. Can’t you actually feel how nice it is to be able to make a choice without being deluged with alternative products and confusing and seemingly overlapping claims.

Verso represents an unexpected and delightful brand experience. It’s one that shifts power to the consumer. Removes the typical buyer pain. And importantly, saves you time.  I don’t know enough about the business to say whether the resultant financial rewards are/will follow. But I imagine they will.

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Here’s a timely article for healthcare marketers by Kenneth Kaufman on Hospitals & Health Networks, Whom Does Health Care Serve: Patients, Consumers or People?

It’s a question many healthcare system and hospital marketers are grappling with (or at least should be), in an increasingly consumer-centric industry where healthcare brands need to think and act like consumer brands.

Here’s our take:

Beyond the technical, objective and appropriate definition of “patient”,  people today don’t want to be labeled as subservient.  Because across most categories, they’re not. And specific to the changing nature of healthcare – from people becoming more personally invested in their health care to the internet making it possible for people to pre-empt their traditional role of patient – the idea of health care providers in control and patients as subordinate is not a compelling idea.

Think about the ideal role of your brand. It would be unlocking people potential. Being a platform for them to get to a better place beyond what they can do on their own or beyond the reach of competitors. In this kind of relationship, quite the opposite of subservient, both consumers and people are far more appropriate terms.

As Kenneth states, ultimately some people will be comfortable in the traditional role of patient, while others will demand to be consumers. Most will play different roles in different health care situations. For providers, the challenge will be not to control these varied roles, but to adapt to serve them. If we have to choose one term to describe those served by the health care system, perhaps the best term is people, a word that is broad enough to suggest the diversity, nuance and universality of the health care experience.

We agree. Across all categories, including healthcare, people want to be and expect to be equal partners in their brand relationships.


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Every great brand has both a strong performance story and a strong emotional story that speaks to the consumer.

We know that know-how is important to health system and hospital brand leaders and marketing teams. It’s conveyed all the time through awards, technology and thought-leadership; in marketing campaigns, on website home pages, in annual reports. But in and of itself, know-how doesn’t draw people to you, because it’s more of a category defining characteristic. It might help you to get into the healthcare system or hospital consideration set, but it’s only one side of the “brand attraction” coin.

Emotion on the other hand, gives your brands unique meaning and a unique place in the eyes and lives of your consumers. It creates an instinctive attraction that goes beyond rational reasons for purchase. Even in healthcare, brand attraction is based on the ability to touch your consumers at a deeper level. And great healthcare brands know what their emotive meaning needs to be.

There’s a common misconception that “emotion” only applies to certain “image-based” categories. But this isn’t the case. By way of example, in recent one-on-one board and senior leadership conversations with one of our healthcare system clients, brand strategy conversations became conversations about creating symbolism, cutting through with a unique visual language, creating instantly recognizable images that help people identify with the organization.

Symbolism is the language of emotion and triggers decisions by our intuitive brains. Great brands understand the symbolic meaning in everything: and they purposefully use shapes, colors, images and sounds to evoke particular emotions. Their perfectly aligned symbolism constitutes a brand mnemonic, and a powerful language for talking directly to how consumers make decisions.

In the end, it’s know-how overlaid with emotion that helps create a stronger marketplace presence, and a more meaningful and lasting customer connection.

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Regional expansion, mergers and acquisitions, diversification and new service line offerings –– all impact your brand portfolio, and the design of your brand architecture (defined as how you organize and name your services in order to show consumers the differences and similarities between them).

Brand architecture isn’t always considered integral to the brand strategy process among healthcare systems and hospitals. But consumer goods companies like Procter & Gamble, Nestle and Unilever have long had established brand architecture frameworks and guidelines. And they do so because a well-thought out brand architecture is critical to:

a. supporting your organization’s vision, business goals and strategies
b. providing the right marketplace visibility to your services
c. the ability for consumers to simply shop them; and
d. all brands working together in the portfolio to grow value back to your healthcare system or hospital brand

This is particularly challenging in a dynamic market like healthcare where your portfolios are always being pushed and pulled. So how to ensure a brand architecture that keeps pace with with any mergers, acquisitions or any other new strategic initiative in your healthcare system or hospital? Here are five tips:

1. Start with an audit. Chart your organization’s current brand architecture to understand and assess the existing relationships between the different brands in your portfolio and how they relate to any master brand names and your corporate brand name. It’s a crucial starting point for evaluating, refining and strengthening your portfolio. Critical to remember is that any form of brand architecture should be developed from your consumers’ point of view and not from your internal vantage point.

When conducting the audit, you should have two benchmarks in mind:
1. Current and future growth strategy for the organization
2. Current and future positioning of the hospital, facility and service line brands in the market segments in which you operate

2. Brand Portfolio Evaluation. Through this exercise, you should look to answer questions including:
a. What story is your brand portfolio telling from a customer perspective?
b. Do each of the brands in your portfolio have clearly defined roles and relationships; is there sufficient separation/synergy between them?
c. How do your different brands contribute in building strategic advantage, and current/future growth and profitability?
d. Do you sufficiently cover the market given the needs of your priority services and key audiences?
e. Does market attractiveness (size and potential growth) merit investment?
f. How to integrate newly acquired brands into the portfolio in terms of relationships with master brands and the corporate brand?

The outcome of this exercise should be a rationalised set of brands in your portfolio which have been identified as strategic drivers of growth for your organization and are clearly positioned both internally and externally.

3. Brand Architecture Framework Decision. Before the final architecture is implemented, multiple scenarios need to be developed and examined. They should always do justice to current brand relationships but should also be designed with the future in mind. The key elements that influence the design of frameworks include:

a. Number of levels required in the architecture hierarchy
b. Organization branding strategy (e.g. branded house, house of brands, endorsed brands etc.)
c. Own and partner provider brand portfolios
d. Future scenarios that might need to be accommodated

4. Brand Naming Convention Guidelines. These are developed to act as a set of principles for naming new entities and service lines. Depending on the final brand architecture, naming guidelines should be able to help in naming new offerings by following the principles of the architecture. Established naming guidelines can also be of strategic help when an organisation acquires or merges brands. If any of the acquired brands are market leaders or have dominant market shares, then the organization can use the naming guidelines in conjunction with the brand architecture framework to decide what form of endorsement, co-branding, independent branding etc. is required.

5. Implementation and Communication. The fifth, and often overlooked stage, is the implementation of the final brand architecture, and its formal communication throughout the organization. This is key to getting everyone on the same page about successful brand architecture and brand and portfolio management. Brand books can be developed that can visually depict the architecture, individual training sessions and collaborative workshops can be conducted to educate on the architecture, and guidelines can be established for correctly using the architecture to develop new brands.


A couple takeaways.

First. In healthcare organizations, where change is constant, we believe that annual brand audits and brand architecture reviews should become common practice. They are crucial strategic checks to assess whether ever expanding brand portfolios are still making sense in brand architecture and whether brand management practices are showing the required results or not.

Second. Given a healthcare organizations vast portfolio of services, we’d also suggest putting an individual or a group in the role of brand custodians. These individuals or groups should be responsible for ensuring consistency of brand positioning across all entities and service lines, in sync with your brand architecture framework and guidelines.

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