Rebranding strategy: anatomy of a successful hospital rebranding

Today’s The Day

There comes a time when many businesses, health systems and hospitals included, realize they might need to retool their brand. In this case, your hospital board and senior leadership are uncomfortable and feeling some pain. They’re of the opinion that the usual healthcare strategies alone are not going to be able to move your organization to its desired destination. So rebranding strategy is foremost in their minds.

They believe that they need to expand the organization’s brand meaning to help your communities better locate themselves in your hospital’s story and understand everything you do to promote health in the context of today’s changing healthcare landscape. It’s not just a marketing challenge you’re facing. It’s an experience challenge, a design challenge, an enterprise strategy challenge, a rebranding strategy challenge.

Coming out of the last board retreat, leadership feels confident that a hospital rebranding can bolster market position, help the organization compete into the future and unify your expanded offerings.

Rebranding Defined

To clarify, when we talk about rebranding we mean retooling your brand. Revisiting your story, changing the name of the organization and enhancing all of the core strategic, design and internal cultural components that work together to build organization image, reputation and trust. It’s a combination of four “r’s” — revitalizing (your communications plan and messaging), repositioning (changing perception through integrated campaign efforts), renaming (changing the organization’s name) and redesign (modernize look and feel) all rolled into one long-term change management initiative.

Getting The Discussion Going

As the senior healthcare marketing executive in your organization, you’re tasked with getting the ball rolling on your hospital rebranding. You know how high the stakes are, the countless components and activities that must be considered and orchestrated and in the back of your mind you’re thinking — don’t let this turn into a “de-brand” (where you end up wasting significant time and money and exact a toll in reputation because of a lackluster result).

Your CEO asks you to begin to develop your rebranding strategy playbook and lead an executive branding discussion at next month’s leadership roundtable. He’d like a quick recap of your goal, current situation, rebrand rationale, assumptions, proposed direction and measures of success. But because this is really about getting buy-in and ensuring that everyone understands what’s really on the table — your emphasis will be on the non-negotiable requirements of the rebrand — so there’s no mistaking the gravity of what this means for the hospital, for senior leadership and for board.

As a seasoned healthcare marketer, this is not your first rebranding rodeo. So you know how important it is for this team to align around your rebranding strategy. Specifically the objective business case need for change, the financial commitment it will take to effectively support it (the capital expense, the brand launch and the sustained marketing effort required to make it stick) and the operational commitment to align the organization around its new identity, along with weaving new brand promises and delivery of brand message into measurement yardsticks.

Building Alignment

You start by laying our your specific hospital rebranding goals:

  • help the hospital better progress by retooling the brand (strategically and creatively) to better reflect future business direction and to be more desired by audiences (communities, physicians, donors, etc.)
  • lead a transformation that inspires and aligns all organization-wide internal teams

You then review:

  • current situation (industry direction, competitors, audiences, your hospital brand)
  • the business case for rebranding (versus a more simple repositioning)
  • proposed direction and timeline (discovery, strategy and planning, brand design, brand expression, roll-out)
  • measures of success (internal and external, qualitative and quantitative)
  • preliminary budget (which has already been shared offline with the CFO and board chair)

So far so good. There’s some focused discussion around some of the steps, who should be involved along the way and associated timing, but everyone’s in general agreement. But this team wants to make sure that you’ve thought of everything — because ultimately they know it’s on them if things don’t go as planned. So before they even ask, you present your top requirements to ensure a successful hospital rebranding.

Requirements For A Successful Hospital Rebranding

1. Assembling a cross-functional rebrand leadership team. A rebranding is an organization-wide team sport. Outside of the formal leadership hierarchy, a senior cross-functional team needs to be formed to plan and coordinate activities that couldn’t be completed individually. This team’s role should be that of sounding board, facilitator and change leaders. Ideally, they should be able to win CEO approval for their decisions.

2. Identifying and managing the impact on people across departments. A healthcare rebranding can easily consume the time of senior resources across Facilities, Legal, IT, HR and more — executives who are already stretched without the added weight of a full rebranding. Think ahead about all the processes, systems, and people a healthcare rebrand impacts. Otherwise, this can lead to uncoordinated decisions that erode cost, impact, quality and consistency.

3. Considering rollout planning early enough in the process. Should begin at the very early stages of the rebranding process so you have enough time both to strategize and execute. Everything that you use to communicate internally and externally at every brand touchpoint – needs to be updated. Work backward from the desired launch date to ensure you allow ample time for both design and production.

4. Dimensioning all the costs and operational implications of a rebrand.
The stumbling block isn’t typically the lack of funding to properly implement the rebrand. Rather, it’s the lack of accurate information about brand assets and alignment on how each will be converted. It’s common to overlook the extent of the many signs, forms, IT systems and other branded assets, as well as some of the legal implications, vendor and outsourcing relationship implications, and other dependencies. In a program of this magnitude, errors in estimating add up fast.

5. Capturing the opinions of those that matter. Which internal and external voices need to be heard throughout the process? Either because they really are important to creating an actionable, market-based outcome or because capturing their opinions (as key decision-makers or influencers) will help with buy-in throughout the process. Shape this research plan as early as you can, because it’s going to take more time than you think to capture all of these opinions, synthesize findings and report back to leadership.

6. Actively managing a name change. Selecting a new organizational name is a subjective process. Regardless of all the rigor that goes into it, including possible evaluation both inside and outside, not everyone will initially buy-in. So messaging needs to be developed that communicates the name in conversation and develops it into an elevator pitch — extolling all the reasons why this name is the right one for the organization. You may also need to develop a strategy for phasing out the old name – for example, referencing it as “formerly” for a short period of time following the brand launch to effectively transfer reputation.

7. Updating the brand architecture. Updating your name and meaning requires managing the naming, structure and hierarchy of all of your offerings within your hospital portfolio. As the face of your organization, it helps employees and customers better understand the relationship among your parent brand, facilities, service lines, etc. As these are the everyday pathways into your brand, it’s important that the names and relationships reflect the strategic intent of your rebranding.

8. Planning and acting in a series of deliberate phases. Done right, a rebranding must pass through deliberate internal phases: launch (where employees here it/feel it), post-launch (where employees learn it/engage in it) and ongoing (where employees live it). This change program is not a one-time, brief display of fireworks. It‘s a long-term process – and you don’t want stakeholders to view the initiative as merely a healthcare marketing campaign with a supporting face-lift.  This is the one opportunity you have to drive home the changes made, promote buy-in and build participation in your organizational transformation.

9. Developing a communication plan for each audience. Make sure you’ve identified all of the hospital’s internal and external audiences. Determine the order in which they will need to be introduced to the new brand and which stakeholders will require a more personalized approach. Internal audiences are always first; although the board, leadership and select employees will likely be part of the rebranding process, the rest of the organization will need to understand and embrace the new brand before it’s revealed to the outside world. Each audience should have its own communications plan with release dates to ensure that you allow adequate time to create all communications. If anything, err on the side of over-communicating with each audience.

10. Maintaining post-launch momentum. Prior to, and during launch, there’s anticipation, excitement and action. But after the launch, momentum needs to be sustained. Because this isn’t business as usual. A rebrand must be looked at as a stepping-stone to creating long-term change within your organization and broader impact externally. To achieve this, there needs to be measures, incentives, guidelines and mechanisms for training and feedback – to increase buy-in and to help each individual play their role in delivering on your repositioning and promises. In summary, your rebranding strategy must be operationalized.

11. Building a brand-led culture. There’s only one way to ensure that your health system or hospital rebranding has the power to unite your stakeholders in creating new and greater value. It requires your brand be center stage and in alignment from the inside out. It requires a brand culture. Where you squeeze every bit of meaning, purpose and direction out of your healthcare brand to drive the everyday actions of the people who drive your business performance.

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Are you considering a rebrand? As a healthcare marketing agency with numerous rebranding’s under our belt, we can help you succeed. Reach out for a conversation.

 

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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.