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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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It’s an exciting, fulfilling and proud day here at Trajectory, and for one of our clients – as The Reading Hospital is now Reading Health System.

We rebranded and relaunched them today, after more than a year’s worth of branding and marketing discussion, debate, planning and creating.

By unveiling a new system name, logo and tagline, a simplified brand hierarchy and naming structure, and a more compelling set of promises and market positioning that better reflect the organization’s collective vision, they’re building on their strengths to more effectively advance in the changing world of healthcare.

The new tagline – Advancing Health. Transforming Lives. – conveys the essence of the Reading Health System brand. It’s genuine to their desire to advance the health of their communities beyond “sick” care, and conveys their desire to transform lives by being a source of energy, optimism, knowledge and support.

Congratulations to our client, Reading Health System – and to its wonderful physicians, nurses and staff. Not only for the previous 144 years of service to your communities and your region, but for the many years of Advancing Health and Transforming Lives to come.

You can see our internal brand vision video, along with some of the new external marketing campaign television, on our YouTube channel.

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It’s not often that a health system CEO shares his perspectives about rebranding.

So I’m glad that Thomas Kleinhanzi, President and CEO, Frederick Regional Health System wrote this wonderful article that appeared on Becker’s Hospital Review website – Rebranding as More Than Marketing: Frederick Regional’s Journey to Excellence.

He writes about his recent rebranding of his health system. And it’s a wonderful testament to the value that a true strategic re-branding should deliver both inside and outside of the organization.

Here are some key points from Thomas’s article, woven in with some of my own. Good rules of the road from a CEO about how healthcare system and hospital marketers should approach rebranding.

1. No goals, no reason. It’s unfortunate that too many rebranding initiatives, lacking firm strategic goals and a strategic process behind them, result in not much more than a name change and a logo update. So how to help prevent this? It’s critical at the outset of any branding initiative that a healthcare system or hospital marketer first be able to answer this basic question – “what’s the problem that this rebranding will solve”? If there’s no good answer, there’s no good reason to proceed.

2. Brand and business alignment. According to the CEO, this particular rebranding didn’t signal a new start or an effort to reposition the organization. Rather, it was the culmination of nearly a decade of changes that took place, all of which were driven by a desire to define the organization as a regional leader in the delivery of progressive and innovative healthcare. So in this case, it was a matter of finally, and importantly, aligning brand and business strategy.

3. United by purpose. The focus of the organization’s efforts are now guided by its vision statement – “Superb Quality. Superb Service. All The Time.” But Thomas states that beyond guiding the organization’s activities and priorities, the words have come to reflect the who, what and why of the organization itself. These words are now part of its DNA. When this kind of clarity exists internally, it paves the way for cross-functional teams to align around, and deliver on, common goals.

4. Magnet for physician talent. With each step forward in the delivery of its vision (internally and for its communities), FMH attracted interest from more doctors and medical personnel interested in working there. The health system also began to draw national attention – accreditations, CMS “top performer” recognition, etc. Success builds on success.

5. Buy-in. A solid foundation was laid from the start, with the goal of both hospital team and community believing and buying into “Superb Quality. Superb Service. All the Time.” It was always meant to be more than just a slogan, but a way of life. According to the CEO, the “secret is to garner support, buy-in and belief in the cause.” And the benefits of that realization are evident every single day across FMH. It’s a case of actions speaking louder than words, across an entire organization.

6. A journey, not a race. This CEO urges any organization to remember that “rebranding can’t be a quick fix”, and that it “should never be reduced to simply slapping a new name or a new logo on the organization and then moving on. Rather, it should capture the essence of all that the organization is and aims to be in the future. It should represent what the organization means to the board of directors, its leadership team, employees and the people it ultimately serves. Branding is the culmination of a multidisciplinary process that honors the organization’s rich history and background, and captures the excitement of possibilities.”

Back To Vision. In the end, Thomas states that “it’s all about vision.” I’d agree, as vision is one of an organization’s most sustainable competitive advantages.”

On behalf of all healthcare system and hospital marketers, thanks for sharing your comments Thomas.

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“Culture,” as Peter Drucker once said, “eats strategy for breakfast.”

Featured in July/August Harvard Business Review is the article Cultural Change That Sticks, written by Booz & Co. execs Jon Katzenback, Ilona Steffen, and Caroline Kronley.

Leading with a story of Aetna’s (not so unique) struggles in the early 2000’s, they point to the fact that “it takes years to alter how people think, feel, and behave, and even then the differences may not be meaningful. When that’s the case, an organization with an old, powerful culture can devolve into disaster.”

Through their research, they found that almost every organization that attained peak performance – including Four Seasons, Apple, Micrpsoft and Southwest Airlines – got there by applying these five principles. And they all viewed culture as a competitive advantage and an accelerator of change.

These principles are:

1. Match strategy and culture…as culture trumps strategy every time
2. Focus on a few critical shifts in behavior…change is hard, so you need to choose your battles
3. Honor the strengths of your existing culture…so major change feels more like a shared evolution vs. a top-down imposition
4. Integrate formal and informal interventions…reaching people at an emotional level and tapping rational self-interest
5. Measure and monitor cultural evolution…to identify backsliding, correct course where needed, and demonstrate tangible evidence of improvement

Helping clients to create new energy from the inside-out is important and fulfilling work. But for real change to take hold, not only inside but for customers and partners, it must be genuine to the organization. Starting with its culture.

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We have the wonderful opportunity through our brand work to assist healthcare organizations and their healthcare marketing teams to energize and mobilize internal teams around common purpose and beliefs. It’s important, exciting and fulfilling work.

But as we all know, leadership demonstration is one important barometer of success. Will they walk the talk?

So we were thrilled when we recently presented to a board of a healthcare system whose brand we’ll soon be relaunching. Prior to our presentation, they were discussing a number of community-related topics. And much to our surprise and delight, the context for their decision-making and actions were the promises underlying the new tagline we developed.

Actions always speak louder than words. In this case, our four words are genuinely leading to greater actions. And it’s wonderful to witness.

Pretty cool!

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All healthcare organizations offer basically the same services. But the REAL difference (the only sustainable one) is how well you define, stake out and deliver on your purpose – which drives the employees who drive your company and deliver (or not) the care and feeding of your customers through their experiences.

Your purpose (the highest aspiration of your brand) powers and guides your organization. Regardless of the size of your healthcare system or hospital, there is nothing as motivating to those who deliver your brand than this purpose. It should be the guidepost against which every consumer-facing move your healthcare organization makes is evaluated.

For IBM, purpose is about building a smarter planet. For Zappos, it’s delivering happiness through “wow” experiences. For Disney, it’s magical family fun entertainment. And for FedEx, it’s peace of mind. And for your organization? If you’re answering along the lines of “making our communities healthier”, you’re missing an opportunity for your organization, your people, your communities, patients and their families to all be more fulfilled than they are today.

Everyone wants to be connected to greatness. To feel deep inside that connection of why their organization brand is great, and that they’re part of making that greatness manifest. If you really do believe that people are your greatest asset, you can’t put too great a price tag on inspiration.

But you need to unearth your purpose, your “greatness” first. And when you do, you’ll reap the reward of more motivation and alignment, more momentum and energy and more emotional connection both inside and outside.

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Consider every single way your healthcare organization communicates its ideas.

We’re in the midst of rebranding a healthcare system. Fundamental to the success of this effort are a few ideas that first must be conveyed and demonstrated to internal audiences. While many months away from launch, we’re already starting to capture all of the different ways the organization communicates its ideas – both top down and across all departments, e.g. medical, finance, nursing, operations, human resources, quality, IT, marketing, service lines, strategic planning, etc.

We’re way out in front with our launch planning because we have so many more healthcare communications avenues available beyond what many organizations typically consider. Of course, there are the usual tried and true mass channels. And the ones we pay for. But think more broadly.

Consider each of your departments within the organization and how they get your story, and theirs, out to the world. Begin by highjacking a room. And then start covering the walls. Capture on stickies all of the different ways you communicate, both formal and informal – in meetings, speeches, committees, task forces, retreats, phone calls, texts, reception areas, break rooms, etc. Invite people across every single department to participate.

Branding is ultimately about delivering on the promise of your vision in everything you do. This organization-wide exercise is a valuable way to help you create the alignment you need to get there.

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Healthcare Brands

Everything starts with the desire to be more than you are today. Holds true for your healthcare organization. And your customer’s.

– You want to be a stronger brand. They want to be stronger individuals.

– You want to be more skilled in what you deliver. They want to be able to achieve more than they can on their own.

– You want to deliver a better experience. They want to feel like they’re really cared for.

– You want to be a better employer. They want to be a better parent, sister, brother, individual.

– You want your voice to be heard beyond others. So do they.

Think more deeply about your opportunity. And theirs. The intersection is where magic can happen.

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