By Cassandra Mitchell
As competition and consumer choice in healthcare providers continue to grow, healthcare brands are more important than ever. That was our message a year ago, and remains our message today. We realized our brand, Hospice of the Bluegrass, no longer represented who we were, or the variety of ways we provide care. Our brand also limited our growth beyond our legacy service of hospice. We knew our brand had to evolve to reflect our current service offerings and future services while not losing the historical brand equity we had built in the last 39 years.
Although a challenge, we knew now was the time, and in February 2017, we launched Bluegrass Care Navigators. So, what’s happened with our brand evolution since then? What outcomes have we seen so far? What lessons have we learned?
Consumers, providers and our own team repeatedly told us our hospice-anchored name was a barrier to thinking about and calling for service beyond hospice, sometimes even hospice itself. And during the last 15 years, we’d been evolving into a continuum of post-acute services including personal care and private duty, transitional care, palliative and grief with many outside our organization knowing nothing about them. With consumers and providers pointing in the direction of change, we made the decision to proceed with rebranding. Three key elements have guided us thus far: research, credibility and strategy.
In the fall of 2015 and winter of 2016, we completed a series of focus groups. We asked a variety of questions to understand what was known about our organization and our services, our associated characteristics and traits, barriers and opportunities.
Common descriptors included care, trust, compassion and expertise. We also learned that if folks didn’t know us by Hospice of the Bluegrass, they knew us as Bluegrass Hospice. This set the stage for thinking about our brand name, image and tagline and led us to bringing the legacy of Bluegrass into our new name, using key descriptors in our tagline and designing our icon to represent our pathways to and from care.
We mentioned trust and expertise, and found these components carried through when associated with all our services. Because folks perceived Hospice of the Bluegrass as a trusted source for expert, compassionate care, they also believed we’d provide the same in any other service we offered.
As we began to message our consumers, providers and community at large, we reinforced, “We are still the same folks providing the same great care, with new services to offer.” This message has been woven into every piece of material produced to date, and is part of any conversation we have.
When thinking about how we would bring all services under one umbrella, we decided a master brand approach was best for us. It allowed us to bring an important part of our legacy, Bluegrass, into our new brand while also allowing us to articulate the variety of care services offered. Our comprehensive plan included proactive communication of the pending name change, communication of the name change, and structured messaging through a variety of media including education, outreach, traditional, digital and social.
Now just six months in to the new brand, we know we have at least 12-18 more months of this messaging. It will be a test of endurance rather than a sprint, and the success of the rebrand will be determined by metrics established to measure results along the way.
First, a rebrand is not for the faint of heart. It’s large and complex, requiring tenacity as well as a commitment of human and financial capital. Yet, it is a labor of love when you are confident you can and are a service solution to the needs of so many.
Second, we got a lot of blank stares and then questions as we began to roll out the new brand. Questions like, “You did what?” and “Who are you now?” as well as, “Why… what happened to hospice?” and “Were you sold?” The consistent reinforcement of our “Why?” messaging has been key to answering these questions. We often see the light bulb go off as we explain all the service offerings, including the new ones for 2017 – adult day and home primary care. When you ask folks, “Would you ever have thought of calling a hospice for that?” the resounding response is “No, I get it now.”
Third, we have had to share repeatedly that our legacy hospice service has led us to this evolution and we will continue to serve and grow that program. When folks know us by hospice and suddenly we are named something else, they fear the service is going away. We have had to repeat often that our hospice program is here to stay.
Fourth, we would reinforce, this is a marathon rather than a sprint. We tire of the message long before consumers, providers and our community. Yet, it is imperative to keep up key, consistent messages through a variety of strategies across all audiences for an extended period.
In closing, six months into our new brand, we are continuing to grow. And we firmly believe that, without the new brand, we would continue to be perceived as a single service provider, limiting our ability to collaborate with payers, providers and consumers in our mission to provide care to the seriously ill and their families.
-Cassandra Mitchell is vice president of Marketing & Business Development at Bluegrass Care Navigators.