As competition and consumer choice in healthcare providers continue to grow, healthcare brands are more important than ever.
Brands, at their core, are key to differentiating one provider from another. A brand is shorthand for everything a provider organization stands for – particularly the promise of what it delivers to its consumers and its reputation for sticking to that promise.
When a healthcare brand builds strong recognition, differentiates itself from competitors and creates preference among its audiences, that brand is in an enviable position for growth.
Growth for healthcare organizations often happens by expanding service lines to a broader continuum of care and/or increasing a geographic presence with a bigger service footprint or adding service facilities.
If a healthcare organization plans to expand, it needs to do a gut check on whether its existing brand can effectively translate into the potential new areas of growth. Does the overall brand name make sense for the new extensions? Does the equity of the brand in existing services translate credibly to new services or geographic regions?
A Case Study for Change
Decades ago, it was common for healthcare providers to establish their brands with a specific geographic reference as part of their names. Just think of how many hospitals started with the word county or even a specific city as part of their brands – such as Cleveland Clinic – and still retain that reference in their name.
“Our organization was founded as Community Hospice of Lexington back in 1978,” said Liz Fowler, CEO, Hospice of the Bluegrass. “As we expanded our service regions to other parts of the state, we changed our name to Hospice of the Bluegrass in 1986,” Fowler added. “And that name has served us well, until now.”
The challenge, according to Fowler, is that the organization now provides a growing range of services in addition to hospice care, with expertise appropriate for patients prior to a terminal diagnosis.
“In addition to expert hospice care, our team provides non-hospice services, including private duty nursing, case management and palliative care,” Fowler said. “Yet our organizational brand name is still currently Hospice of the Bluegrass, which no longer accurately reflects the scope of services we provide or plan to provide in the future. So we’re in the process of evolving our organization’s brand name to expand on just ‘hospice’ and allow the flexibility to extend service lines while retaining a cohesive and consistent brand.”
Changing your brand name is a big deal. The prospect often raises major concerns because a healthcare brand may be decades or even a century-plus old and leaders assume there is deep attachment to the established name.
Tips for Brand Revolution
Start with research among your key audiences. Partner with a professional market research firm to measure awareness, preference and other valued attributes of your existing brand. To be valid, market research must be based on a statistically significant sample size, and a research firm can help you determine the logistics and meaningful questions for your survey.
“We measured both aided and unaided awareness of ‘Hospice of the Bluegrass’ in all our service regions,” Fowler said. “That information was helpful. Also, our market research confirmed that families were open to receiving other healthcare within our scope of expertise earlier than the last months of life.”
Research may show that audiences are less attached to your existing brand than you think. And other attributes that audiences value may provide insights into what a new brand name should convey.
Evaluate carefully the credibility of your brand evolution or extension. Make sure any service extensions of your brand will be credible among your key audiences. Just because you have expertise and recognition in certain specialties of healthcare doesn’t mean audiences will assume competency in other areas without building a reputation or proof.
“Elements of our core expertise in hospice – such as pain and symptom management, a heavily home-based care model and support for the patient’s family – translate well in our audiences’ minds to care upstream from end of life,” Fowler said.
Have a thoughtful strategy for the brand transition over time. Of course, you won’t just throw a switch and change your brand name overnight. Plan a schedule to methodically roll out your name change to key stakeholders, such as your employees, referral sources and major donors, before announcing the name to the public. Even after unveiling your new name, include references to your former name for a 12 to 24-month period to help audiences make the connection from your legacy brand to your new brand name.
So … what will Hospice of the Bluegrass brand evolve to for the future? “Stay tuned,” said Fowler. “We plan to announce our new brand in Q4 of 2016.”
-Cassandra Mitchel is vice president of Marketing & Business Development Hospice of the Bluegrass.
- Start with research among your key audiences.
- Partner with a professional market research firm to measure awareness, preference and other valued attributes of your existing brand.
- Evaluate carefully the credibility of your brand evolution or extension.
- Make sure any service extensions of your brand will be credible among your key audiences.
- Have a thoughtful strategy for the brand transition over time.
- Plan a schedule to methodically roll out your name change to key stakeholders, such as your employees, referral sources and major donors, before announcing the name to the public.