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The good old days of healthcare system and hospital branding and marketing are over. How will you survive and thrive in the new paradigm?

Competition is no longer just down the street, nor limited to the traditional confines of healthcare. Boundary lines have been redrawn, and national retail pharmacy brands, big-box retailers and both established and new technology companies all want a piece of the action.

At the same time, proactive consumers have replaced passive patients. No longer tied to the hip of their physician, they have choices, information, resources and technology tools – an entire ecosystem of health and wellness resources to take more control over their health. And, complements of the Affordable Care Act, there are more than 30 million new consumers who’ve entered the market for healthcare services.

Healthcare is in the midst of disruption. It’s being pushed, pulled and morphing into a health market that crosses multiple verticals and demographics, intersects consumers looking to get well, stay well and play well and moving to a model of value-based care.

Where it stops nobody really knows. But everyone knows that the traditional model is on borrowed time. Oliver Wyman, in their report titled the Patient-To-Consumer Revolution, refer to “Health Market 2.0 as a space where new kinds of companies offer combinations of services never seen before, redrawing industry lines and engaging consumers in new ways.”

But even within this fluid environment, there’s one thing that no competitor, no matter how well resourced they are, can take from you. That is, they can’t stake a claim to your brand ideas – who you are, what you believe and why people should care.

It’s our belief that healthcare systems and hospitals must seize the opportunity to take their place at the new “health and wellness” table by taking control of their brands. It’s the one asset that is sustainable into the future – regardless of business model – and the one asset that in the midst of the rise of consumerism and more empowered consumers, is at the heart of your relationships.

Five implications for healthcare system and hospital leaders are as follows:

1. Who you are is beyond what you deliver. What you deliver looks much the same to the outside world and doesn’t distinguish you from others. Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts, Nike and Converse, Virgin and United – all similar in their offerings, but your mind and heart quickly gravitate to one brand promise or the other. Same for your hospital vs. the one on the other side of town? Or how about vs. the retail pharmacy and its health partner down the street (a la Rite-Aid’s Health Alliance Program)? What you deliver can be ripped off tomorrow. Bravely declaring who you are is sustainable, distinguishable and pulls people towards you.

2. Demonstrate brand beliefs . How you behave in the world – and in your new consumer-oriented health vs. healthcare market – is becoming increasingly important. Create easy linkages to your brand by becoming more relevant to people’s everyday lives – engaging them in their own health and empowering them by making health and wellness easy and personalized anywhere and all the time. While some traditional healthcare services might be shrinking, the demands of “health 2.0” communities will still be as great as they’ve been in the past. Use your muscle to find your organization’s soul, its authentic purpose, and creatively express that in actions as well as communications.

3. Bring mobile/social front and center. Your customers increasingly rely on a mobile device (be it smartphone or tablet) as their first screen, their doorway into your healthcare system or hospital and as means to manage their own health. As a result, they’re expecting better, more personalized, real-time experiences. Their journey with your healthcare brand must take into account mobile (which is really digital, social and search all wrapped up in one) as an integral part of their lifestyle. More about mobile here.

4. Create a seamless brand experience. Customers shouldn’t be burdened by the artificial barriers that exist between your services, departments and channels. How can your brand truly live up to its potential (and how can it help people live up to their potential) when its interactions are artificially siloed. The more you can get over your own infrastructures, the more value you can provide, and the more loyalty, engagement and advocacy you’ll gain as a result.

5. Look outside your immediate industry. No longer can you meaningfully benchmark your organization against other healthcare systems and hospitals. Because your competitive set has drastically expanded. And customer expectations have followed suit. Just because you’re in “healthcare”, doesn’t mean customers compartmentalize their healthcare experience from outside industry experiences. What they get from Open Table, Amazon, Southwest, et al, they expect from you. “Brand experience” is “brand experience”, irrespective of category.

Regardless of how “healthcare” shakes out, one thing is certain. It will. It’s up to you whether your brand has a seat at the table.

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The Hub Magazine just announced their 2014 Excellence in the Brand Experience awards.

The Hub Prize honors excellence in the brand experience, which they define as each and every opportunity to make or break the brand promise to a customer (shopper, consumer or business). A key consideration is whether the entry’s objective was to improve the daily life of the customer in some way, be it big or small, fanciful or profound.

Given the increasing importance of customer experience in healthcare systems and hospitals…

• as one of the only real differentiators for many organizations vs. local competitors
• due to impending changes brought on by the Affordable Care Act (e.g. financial benefits of better HCAHPS scores)
• and based on the fact that customers base their “brand experience” expectations on the best players in hospitality, financial services and other areas

…I thought it might be inspirational, and hopefully helpful, to see how some of the best outside category service brands deliver on their brand promises through customer experience.

Top “Hub Cup” award: Umpqua Bank (who I’ve written about before and who bring a fresh and exciting twist to the banking experience)

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GOLD awards: CitiBike Bike Sharing System (Citi)

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Life Safety Customer Experience Center (Honeywell)

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SILVER awards:  Time Warner Cable Flagship Store (Time Warner Cable)

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BRONZE awards: Life’s Better When You’re Connected (Bank of America)

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I hope there’s something here that inspires you in regard to delivering your healthcare system’s or hospital’s brand promises in ways that might make your customer’s lives better…in ways big or small.








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The Cleveland Clinic might not formally make the cut as one of the Top 100 Best Global Brands. But within the world of healthcare, it’s certainly one of the chart toppers as it’s a brand that has the power to change the world.

Interbrand’s Best Global Brands Study is the definitive list of the world’s top 100 most valuable brands. To be included, a brand must be truly global, having successfully transcended geographic and cultural boundaries. Based on this criteria, there were no healthcare brands – no healthcare systems or hospitals – in 2014’s top 100 list.

So I was pleasantly surprised as part of this study to see an interview with Paul Matsen, Chief Marketing and Communications Officer, Cleveland Clinic. While you can read his entire interview here, here are some important “cut-down” snippets relevant to any healthcare marketer. For example, while you might not be recognized and trusted around the world, there is no excuse not to be among your local communities.

Q. Role of brand in Cleveland Clinic’s enduring success?

A. The brand plays a critical role in the success of Cleveland Clinic – as we’re recognized and trusted around the world as an organization that provides clinical excellence, an outstanding patient experience, and valuable medical information for patients and physicians. Many patients’ first encounter with us is when they or a loved one are diagnosed with a medical condition and are searching for helpful information online. Patients and families know they can trust our brand to provide helpful information and patient care.

Q. On Cleveland Clinic’s website, patients can set up and access “MyAccount,” “MyChart,” and so forth. How has making your online services so personal created closer relationships with patients? How do you think this is enhancing wellness-and improving the way consumers perceive Cleveland Clinic?  

A. Nothing is more personal than healthcare. Providing state-of-the-art tools to help patients manage their health is a vital part of Cleveland Clinic care and the patient experience. At the same time, our CEO has stated that our goal is to move from “sick care to wellness.” We’ve been an innovator and leader in wellness from promoting healthy eating and exercise to being one of the first healthcare systems to not hire smokers. Wellness is a key part of our mission and it has become a key part of our brand.

Q. Consumers now use digital and social media to access healthcare advice and information. How do you use social media to engage and educate? How are mobile apps making life easier and healthier for the people Cleveland Clinic serves?

A. We’ve created a highly innovative social media strategy focused around our Health Hub blog. It reaches more than 2.5 million people a month and plays a key role in providing daily information on a broad range of wellness topics, as well as building awareness and positive perceptions of the Cleveland Clinic brand.

Today, more than 63% of traffic to our website comes from mobile devices, and adapting rapidly to mobile has been critical to our success. Our comprehensive consumer app “Today” provides virtually all of the tools that consumers need to access Cleveland Clinic. At the same time, we have a broad range of specialty apps ranging from a referring physician app to one that helps manage concussions. 

Q. How is Cleveland Clinic leveraging the value of big data to personalize medicine, promote efficiency, and customize patient care?

A. As one of the first to adopt the electronic patient record, we’ve gathered millions of data points on diagnosis, treatment and demographics. We’ve developed proprietary software and spun off a company that enables us to access healthcare data from across any number of hospitals and health systems–lightning fast and at no risk to patients’ privacy. Researchers around the world are using it to discover patterns of disease and what treatments really work best.

Our Genomic Medicine Institute and Center for Personalized Healthcare have launched ambitious initiatives to harness the power of genetics and family history to mount aggressive early interventions against deadly diseases. Genetic counselors work as a team with specialists in cancer and other areas to customize drug treatments to the patient’s genetic profile wherever possible. We’re tailoring care to each patient’s physical, emotional, and social needs. 

Q. What major investments is Cleveland Clinic making in light of the changing face of healthcare? How is Cleveland Clinic innovating to meet changing needs, pressures, and preferences in healthcare?

A. We’ve invested heavily in regional healthcare delivery sites and sophisticated patient transport to make sure that every patient gets the right care, at the right place, at the right time. Any patient who calls before noon is offered a same-day appointment. We booked more than one million same-day appointments last year.

We’ve also completely overhauled our culture and facilities to reflect an intense commitment to patient experience. Our brand includes the fact that every employee is called a caregiver, as everyone who works here in any capacity plays a role in patient care. We have trained all 43,000 of our caregivers in courtesy, compassion, and listening skills. We redesigned the patient gown to preserve patient dignity, and designed facilities with abundant space, light, and artwork.

The Cleveland Clinic brand is inseparable from its lifesaving mission. Our name and symbol represent medical care at the highest level, a continual drive for innovation, ease of access, efficiency of operations, and a culture of empathy. Our goal is to give every patient the best outcome and experience.


As I said, while Cleveland Clinic didn’t formally make the cut as one of the Top 100 Best Global Brands, it’s certainly one of the chart toppers in healthcare as it’s a brand that has the power to change the world.




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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.



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Hospital merger and acquisition activity remains robust. In 2012, the number of deals was more than twice that of 2009 (Irving Levin Associates).

Regardless of the reasons for the transaction, being able to position the new entity for success, attract and retain patients and drive new growth requires coordinating the three related activities of Brand, Buy-In & Marketing.

Without this planning and oversight, hospitals and healthcare systems in the midst of transitioning through a merger or acquisition (regardless of which side of the M&A an organization is on) will encounter:

• a brand that struggles to support the newly-formed organization’s vision, promises, values and goals
• a fractured internal audience that must be relied on to deliver unified messages and experiences
• external marketing promises that aren’t synchronized with delivery of care
• inefficiencies resulting in sub-optimal return on marketing investment

At Trajectory, we’ve guided many healthcare organizations through these transitions, and understand the unique challenges they face. Here’s a checklist of 10 activities to consider as your healthcare systems, hospitals and physician groups transition from pre-merger competitors to post-merger partners:


1. M&A brand team: created across your organization’s to proactively act on and communicate leadership decisions and to navigate the range of tangibles and intangibles on the table, e.g. logistics, preparation, training.

2. Brand compatibility: short-term financial and market share strength will not overcome the need to develop a singular brand vision, positioning, key messaging framework and set of values.

3. Portfolio efficiency: how will the merger or acquisition impact your brand portfolio in terms of overlapping organizational, facility and service line capabilities? You can check here to begin to determine if your portfolio is delivering maximum ROI.


4. Cultural fit: what’s the process of integrating medical staff and employees, across all functions, and all initiatives, on both sides of the M&A table. And whose culture leads?

5. Open communication: have you established feedback mechanisms (both offline and online) for both internal and external audiences to share their perspectives about the impact the M&A will have on their lives.

6. Engagement & Alignment: are your organization’s really on the same page? You don’t know, and can’t act upon, until you measure.


7. Marketing philosophy and approach: is marketing considered an investment or expense? Does it tend to be brand or service line-driven? How will you align your two organizations relative to each one’s key revenue generating, strategic and mission-driven service lines?

8. Social media practices: it’s not likely that each of your organization’s have the exact same philosophy, goals, strategies and tactics as it relates to social media. How will you best harness the power of your “social currency”, i.e. the value you’ve created and the conversations, communities and advocacy you’ve worked so hard to cultivate?

9. Local community commitment: do your organizations have the same commitment to your local communities; does bigger now mean less touch in order to serve the health needs of the larger region?

10. From follower to leader: how will you adjust your approach from being the #2 or #3 player to becoming a stronger market share leader?

Have you experienced these issues as a healthcare marketer in the midst of a merger or acquisition?

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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.

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Given the squeeze on hospital finances, healthcare systems and hospitals must find efficiencies wherever they can – including their marketing budgets. One area of review that might yield big savings (at the same time building CFO affection) is for healthcare marketers to evaluate the health and wellbeing of their brand portfolios.

How do you determine if you’re spending as efficiently and strategically as possible behind your brands? And if your portfolio has the right mix of brands to support your business strategy?

We’ve created a tool that we call “The 7 Portfolio P’s.” Presented in summary fashion here, it provides a good starting point for evaluating the effectiveness and efficiency of your brand portfolio.

Purpose. Do each of your brands reflect your organization’s vision, business goals and strategies?

Perspective. What story is the brand portfolio telling from a customer perspective?

Place. Do each of the brands in the portfolio have a clearly defined role; are relationships clear; is there sufficient separation/synergy between them?

Potential. How do your different brands contribute in building strategic advantage, and current/future growth and profitability?

Performance. Do you sufficiently cover the market given the needs of your priority services and key audiences?

Potency. Does market attractiveness (size and potential growth) merit investment?

Pink Slips. For those brands that don’t meet these criteria, what is your plan for phasing them out?

Today, your reality as a healthcare marketer is likely having to do more with less. Which means that you can’t afford to waste your precious marketing resources against a brand portfolio that’s not yielding a fair return. Similar to periodically evaluating your financial portfolio to ensure that you’re protecting your wealth now and into the future, do the same with your brand portfolio.

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Who would have thought that our healthcare branding work would make it to prime time? Not featuring our advertising, but for our branding work for Orlando Health.

We had the good fortune to partner with the organization on its system-wide rebranding a few years ago. So who would have thought that settling in to watch Parks & Recreation this past week, we’d see our logo – adapted for the fictitious Montesian Memorial Hospital.

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I’m hoping that one of the director’s from the show can give me the name of one of the senior executives from Montesian, as they really need a new logo

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