How your hospital brand can rise above the noise to increase patient engagement
Patient engagement and survival of the fittest
Survival of the fittest – the natural process by which organisms best adjusted to their environment are most successful in surviving and reproducing – is an apt phrase to describe today’s health care environment. Contrary to popular belief, it wasn’t Darwin who invented the phrase, but an English philosopher named Herbert Spencer who first talked about survival of the fittest in his Principles of Sociology in 1864. Fast forward 156 years, when it comes to being able to increase patient engagement, the phrase is just as relevant today.
The case for a strong hospital brand
If you’re a hospital marketing executive today, life isn’t easy. Because so much has changed, and continues to. You’re competing against consolidating health systems, retailers becoming front-line healthcare providers, health insurance organizations who are now operating medical practices, and technology disruptors servicing patients whenever and wherever they are. And you’re likely doing this with a smaller healthcare marketing budget than you had in previous years. Add it all up, and it’s a battle to remain on your prospective patient’s radar screen.
While having a strong hospital brand isn’t the answer to all your prayers (don’t you wish it was that easy), it sure helps your hospital’s cause. Because without a strong brand, there’s no differentiation. And without differentiation, there’s no opportunity at all to increase patient engagement (let alone build trust and long-term loyalty). Prospective patients don’t have relationships with a hospital, service lines, or a new piece of technology. But they do connect to brands. Brands that they can get behind because they have a point of view that aligns with their beliefs and aspirations and whose story fits into the story of their lives.
Growing a strong hospital brand that rises above the noise and increases patient engagement requires orchestrating an end-to-end experience. Because the sum of every one of these experiences equals the relationship that patients have with your hospital, which ultimately equates to your brand.
This experience needs to be orchestrated from the inside out. Starting with your purpose and story. And then aligning strategy, culture, design, marketing, and digital – so everything comes together to build value for your hospital brand and your prospective patients. It’s brand-building in a way that achieves what advertising alone can never do. If you want some proof of this end-to-end brand-building power, just look to brands that have become famous without big advertising, like Starbuck’s, Kiehl’s, Lululemon, and Nordstrom. The secret sauce is baking your brand into every facet of your business.
Tips for rising above the noise
Here’s some more texture about how to build a strong hospital brand that rises above the noise and can increase patient engagement:
Brand Purpose (Your Big Energizing Idea)
Great brands define their purpose and deliver on it fully. At Trajectory, we refer to purpose as a Big Energizing Idea. Big in that it is an idea that transcends categories, can travel everywhere, and is inherently relevant. And Energizing in that it has the power to rally and align audiences. Think of your Big Energizing Idea as the invisible thread that holds everything together. Which makes it a lot easier for customers to get behind you. Here are a few quick examples:
- Nike inspires people to be their best, regardless of their level of best
- Disney creates magical moments that everyone can feel a part of
- Trader Joe’s turns (typically ho-hum) grocery shopping into an experience that customers really enjoy
- Oscar puts a human face on health insurance and delivers a personalized experience every step of the way
Every organization needs a story that’s clear, compelling, and memorable to be successful. Look at any list of the world’s most valuable or fastest-growing companies, e.g. Apple, Amazon, Netflix, Starbucks, Tesla. Common across all of them – regardless of size, industry, or age – is that they know the story of their brand. These companies also know that a compelling story is not just a driver of marketing campaigns, but rather the engine underneath their success. A core story motivates employees, defines company culture, creates strong emotional ties with customers, and provides a vision to attract investors and partners.
Over time, the companies with the best stories win. Consider Warby Parker, fighting the enemy of overpriced glasses, offering designer eyewear at revolutionary prices, and creating a better world through its socially-conscious business. IKEA, who has taken a different path by being on the side of the many instead of the few who can afford a beautifully designed home, to help people improve their everyday lives. Or SoulCycle, whose narrative and inspirational, meditative fitness experience has built a tribal-like following by making their riders feel empowered, hungry for more, and connected to something larger than themselves.
Brand Story Caveat
We’ve been in conversations with people who have characterized his or her category (in this case, healthcare, and more specifically hospitals and service lines) as “low-involvement.” Their argument is based on the perceived difficulty of connecting with a target consumer who is too involved with other more relevant brands in their daily lives to pay any attention to their category.
Sure there are more engaging forms of communication beyond the typical health system or hospital television commercial, print ad or digital banner. But we’re not buying the low-involvement category argument, because it’s too easy an out. Though not intentioned, we’d point instead to low-effort. Because there are plenty of examples of brands that have found engaging ways to connect with consumers – like Geico, Old Spice, Method Cleaners, etc. – despite living in categories that don’t tend to raise the hair on the back of your neck. The recipe calls for four key ingredients: a meaningful consumer insight, a relevant brand beneﬁt and a compelling story to tell – woven into the fabric of the organization. Mix these ingredients together in an inspiring way and they allow brands to connect with consumers regardless of the category they live in.
If you believe that brands are built from the inside out, then you buy into the power of brand-led culture. It’s where your hospital not only understands what it stands for but where all of your people align around brand values and contribute to delivering their brand promises every day through their work. Particularly in healthcare, employee engagement and alignment is crucial to being able to build a culture of service excellence, where your unique hospital or service-line experience is largely shaped by staff, nurses, and professionals on the front lines who interact daily with patients and who must meet their rising expectations. Together, these internal audiences should create a potent team of brand ambassadors who “live” your organization’s brand – keying off of the invisible thread of a Big Energizing idea – and build momentum from the inside out.
Brand Design & Brand Voice
With shrinking marketing budgets, you need to squeeze all the value you can out of your distinctive brand assets. And EVERY brand should have a toolkit of these assets. We find, however, that clients too often disregard the potential power of their brand design and brand voice assets to contribute to building familiarity and trust. These elements are critical to manage because symbolism is the language of emotion and a key set of triggers for decisions by our fast, intuitive system 1 brain. Daniel Kahneman, an Israeli-American psychologist and economist notable for his work on the psychology of judgment and decision-making, states that “System 1 runs the show. That’s the one you want to move.”
Structures, colors, shapes, logos, images, fonts, tone of voice…all contribute to creating an ownable language to talk directly to consumers’ decision-drivers. Even in your hospital advertising, if your distinctive brand assets are broadly recognized and likable, you’ll increase the odds of engaging non-users with your message and ensuring that they know it’s your brand that’s doing the talking.
An effective (friction-free and engaging) hospital website, and associated mobile-first experience, should be table stakes today. But a prospective patients’ digital journey involves so many more micro-moments that shape their impression and compel them to act. Molly Ware, senior interactive marketing specialist at Goodyear, provides these six tips which can actually help healthcare marketing teams maximize their digital presence: identify the moments that matter most to your organization, understand your target audience, activate branded experiences, know their online language, use site analytics to better understand usage.
Folded into a digital experience, is one game-changing tool that healthcare marketing teams should be thinking about to build their optimal marketing strategy:
AI is all about machines being able to learn, adapt, and improve all of the things that we rely on humans to do (including marketing intelligence). Examples include Netflix recommending a show to watch based on your viewing habits, Google Maps rerouting you around an accident, Siri answering your questions, and Amazon providing suggestions about what you might want to buy next. AI is making our lives better by making things more convenient and personalized, and its future as embedded in marketing (and contributing to increasing patient engagement) is going to be massive.
Since 1999, Trajectory has created one-of-a-kind brand trajectories across the healthcare and wellness continuum – to help clients rise above the noise and drive value and growth. We do this by crafting purpose and story, and then aligning culture, strategy, design, marketing, and digital experience – so every interaction from the inside out comes together to connect and advance a brand and its audience. Let’s talk about how we can do the same for your organization.