Has Your Healthcare Organization Outgrown its Brand?

Here’s how to decide when to refresh or rebrand.

Much like your buildings, uniforms, vehicles, and signage, your brand needs regular maintenance. And, periodically, it probably needs something more like a major overhaul. In a world where competition is fierce and customer expectations are higher than ever, branding is a critical thing to get right. After all, it’s often your first chance to make an impression – positively or otherwise. But deciding to refresh or rebrand a health system is not a decision that should be taken lightly.

Is it time for a change? Ask yourself these five questions:
  1. Has your competitive environment changed?
    If you are feeling pressure from competitors, losing market share, struggling to recruit and retain employees, or experiencing competitive encroachment into your market area, it may be time to look at your brand. A powerful brand helps you recruit patients and staff and protect market share by helping you look competent and strong. When you project a professional image, patients see you as their best choice for care, employees are proud to work for you, and competitors choose to look elsewhere for opportunities.
  2. Has your audience changed?
    It’s important to remember your current customers, but don’t forget the future. Sure, older people consume more healthcare than younger ones, but the younger ones won’t be young forever. Your brand should speak to them now, so they’ll have a positive opinion of you when they start families and begin “feeling their age.” Your next generation of customers might choose a retro t-shirt based on its cool ‘90s vibe. They won’t choose a hospital that still looks like it did 30 years ago. Win their business with a modern looking brand, good online reviews, and a great mobile app instead! People of all ages appreciate those things.
  3. Have you changed?
    Your organization has probably expanded core services and added new ones over the past decade – to meet the changing demands of your market and to keep up with the competition. Make sure your brand also evolves to match. A strong theme that powerfully articulates what you stand for is a good place to start. Clear and concise messaging and photography that’s representative of the people you care for will also serve you well. That’s all part of branding!
  4. Are people “meh” about you?
    Like any organization, health systems have their ups and downs. Hopefully yours has more ups, but you can’t ignore the downs. Don’t assume your internal perceptions of how people feel about you are accurate. If you haven’t done a brand strength study recently (in the past 3-5 years), make that your very next step. Hearing what people really think can be painful, but knowledge is power. Understanding public opinion is the first step toward changing it. Refreshing or rebranding might be a great place to start bringing new energy!
  5. Are people confused about you?
    Many health systems accidentally confuse their customers by insisting on “inside speak” or unnecessarily sub-branding, co-branding, or “no-branding” services and locations. If you are using location names like “ACB-3, Springfield West Annex” in patient facing communications or allowing every practice and service to develop their own logos, you’re guilty. This often happens over time, by the way. Nobody sets out to confuse their own customers. Rebranding your organization can create opportunities to fix these problems. Branding is more than visual. It’s defining a voice for how an organization speaks and encouraging the use of clear, concise language customers can understand.
Ready to get started? Here’s a step-by-step plan for fixing your brand.
  1. Analyze
    Start by taking a scientific look at your current brand. Conduct a brand study to assess how people feel about your current brand identity, messaging, and visual elements. And measure aided and unaided awareness for yourself and competitors. Remember, right or wrong, the public’s perception is their reality. This phase should also include an analysis and anticipation of your competitive environment and industry trends. Understand your current situation in order to plan appropriately and quantify future success.
  2. Prioritize
    Once you know where you are, you should clearly identify your goals for this project. In addition to updating your visual and verbal brand, you may need to reposition yourself in the minds of consumers, clarify what services you provide, or overcome negative opinions.
  3. Strategize
    Based on the analysis of your current brand and the identified objectives, develop a strategy for the refresh or rebrand. Creative workshops with leadership, board members, providers, front-line staff, volunteers, patients, and other internal and external audiences can be great ways to discover your new brand. Collaborating with an agency that has experience branding health systems is also recommended. The eventual output should include a positioning statement, message platform, visual identity, brand voice guidelines, and a plan for implementation. Our ChristianaCare case study shows how the right strategy can reinvigorate your brand.
  4. Operationalize
    Once your shiny new brand has been created, it’s time to introduce it to the world. You’ll want to make the changeover happen as quickly and cleanly as possible, but there will be a lot to do. Of course, you’ll need to infuse it into all the obvious places; your signage, uniforms, website, collateral, advertising, and such. Be sure to include your employees and volunteers in the excitement, too. Done well, a rebrand can turn them into an outreach team of brand ambassadors. Share with them the strategy behind the new brand and give them the language they need to celebrate it with the community. Finally, work with the local press to earn exposure and accolades for your new brand – and therefore, for the good work that you do! The story shouldn’t be, “Local Health System Has New Logo.” It should be, “Local Health System Positions Itself for Continued Success and Service.”
  5. Analyze (Again)
    Once the excitement (and work) dies down, and it will eventually, remember to check-in on your brand at regular intervals. An annual longitudinal brand strength survey is a good choice. Measuring brand strength and perception each year helps you adjust to any needed changes and react to external forces. It can also, when done well, be a great tool for informing strategic decisions about adding or modifying services, expanding or contracting market geography, and other operational imperatives.

Ultimately, refreshing or rebranding a health system is a complex decision that should be based on careful analysis and strategic planning.

It can be a daunting task, but hesitating too long can be a catastrophic mistake. If you’re not sure your internal resources are robust enough to tackle such an undertaking, consider working with a research partner, PR professional, strategic consultant, and/or experienced branding agency. You’ll know when you need a new brand. They’ll know how to help you get it done.

Wax Custom Communications has 30+ years of experience in healthcare marketing and branding, and we are committed to helping health systems create brands that powerfully and authentically represent them to the world. Let us help you create a brand that not only stands out in the sea of sameness that is healthcare marketing, but that also resonates with your target audiences and builds trust with your patients.

View our case study library to see our work brought to life.