From Brand Promises to Brand Action

Healthcare is one of the most competitive of US industries; and one of the more complex in which marketing and brand strategies are developed and executed. The growing demand and influence of aging, informed consumers, increasingly tighter integration and alignment between health systems and physicians, complicated reimbursement mechanisms and higher deductibles, widespread shortages of physicians, nurses and other staff, and challenging economics are creating an environment in which brand is growing in importance as a strategic asset.

So how do you turn your brand into the secret weapon of the health system’s competitive arsenal? By embracing the concept that brands are built more powerfully through the customer experience than through promotions alone; that great brands are created by integrated business, brand and marketing strategies.

For too long, health systems have driven brand building solely from the marketing department and primarily through a communications perspective where brand promises are created from positioning themes and communicated through a wide variety of promotions vehicles. Not because marketers covet sole control of brand management – I know plenty that worry daily about their company’s ability to live up to advertised promises – but because the broader organization has not realized the importance of the customer experience in creating powerful, relevant and defensible brands. And consequently, have not aligned services, products, processes, systems, employees and communications to deliver the brand experience consistently – every day, every time. Creating expectations you can’t meet is the fastest path to brand irrelevancy.

I propose that we set aside the idea of a ‘brand promise’ and think of brand as the health system’s value proposition towards its patients, customers and constituencies. Thus, the brand value proposition becomes the sum total of benefits – emotional, practical – which gives meaning to the customer experience and builds stronger, more loyal relationships. As Kent Seltman, now retired CMO for the Mayo Clinic, puts it – ‘our brand is built everyday on the fly by every employee that interacts with our patients.’

In the enduring lyrics of Elvis Presley, what brands need now is a ‘little less conversation, a little more action.’

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