Hospital Branding…What works?

Branding in the traditional sense is expected to generate more awareness and thereby more customers having an orientation to buy the product. Applied to a tertiary care heart hospital this could mean telling customers about your great facilities and doctors and asking them to visit you for surgeries. By imputation it would also imply that you want more customers to have heart problems that would lead to more surgeries and business for you!

It is therefore needless to add that traditional communication does not really work when you have to promote a hospital, clinic or nursing home.

Lets see if direct communication principles would work here instead. While running various direct marketing programs for a car company, you could send a mailer telling them about the features of the new car that your company may be launching. If applied directly here it could mean “Please visit us again for your next heart surgery” or “Great limited offer with 25% discount for your next surgery. Act Now”. These offers don’t just sound ridiculous, they could be very hurtful instead. A nursing home recently sent a birthday card to a patient who had expired a month back.

Does this mean that branding a healthcare facility is impossible?

Not at all! Several healthcare facilities have shown us the difference branding can make in developing a successful healthcare business.

Successful branding for a hospital is a function of “Sensitivity and Empathy”. It is about communicating “care” through your staff, facility and collateral.

What do you need to do?

Go beyond traditional media – Understand that for a hospital external communication is not a key driver to building trust or business. More than anything else it is the experience that counts. So first – develop a poster that says that “Hospital branding isn’t just about advertising, marketing and public relations” and place it prominently in all staff lounges.

Design the Experience – Decide on your core values and build the experience around these.

Designing a brand experience is about designing a facility that promotes wellness through not just its great doctors and technology but through patient friendly layouts, well lit and friendly environment, music that blends in and staff behavious that genuinely showcase your brand values.

Traditional marketing heads sometimes balk at the mere thought of going beyond print, TV and digital communication, but for a hospital brand what we say and how we behave are as much part of branding as is traditional print and TV communication.

Implement the experience – While most experience design looks great on paper. The concept to actual execution is typically marred by several issues.

Facility Design – The first challenge you may face could be about designing the facility where architects and interior decorators will need to be explained your values and vision.

Internal branding – The second ongoing challenge is about developing internal belief systems in your staff who will actually deliver the experience and impact brand perception. Most health practitioners think of “patients” and not “customers”. A shift to the mindset of treating a demanding customer who can go elsewhere is the toughest challenge in developing a successful brand.

Getting the right partners – Most Indian agencies do not have specialist healthcare arms and the ones who have these special cells are used to doing Pharma advertising. A lot of time needs to be spent in briefing the agency about the context in which their beautiful creatives may be seen.

Technology – Most modern hospitals have digital patient records. For marketing purposes these records cannot be shared in their entirety with marketing teams because of patient privacy issues. A bridge needs to be developed between patient records and marketing data that can hide personal data and yet be usable for one to one marketing.

Web – The web is now much more than a communication platform that houses your brochures, use the web to talk to your customers and make your services available online. While net usage is still small in India, it provides you with an opportunity to keep your customers engaged. Companies are also successfully using the web to attract overseas customers.

Programmes – Traditional loyalty programs are again not the way to go for a hospital. What works is small niche focussed programs that either focus on a audience or a specific service – Mother and child programs, Executive health checks etc.

While all these concepts do make a tremendous difference in your brands market perception, what is crucial is a wholistic framework that needs to be implemented with consistency and genuine care for patients. Customers know when there is lack of transparency and empathy and begin to lose trust in such brands. Unlike any product business, a hospital is a service brand that directly affects your well being, great ambience and great communication will always defer to – Genuine Empathy and Care.

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