As healthcare industry leaders look to increase efficiency, grow market share, improve outcomes, and meet consumer expectations for health and life services, many are finding solutions through consolidation and integration.
Predictably, when organizations join forces, they experience a cultural transformation that affects all aspects of the company, including its brand. At a pivotal time like this, it is essential that leaders skillfully align company culture with the business strategy and brand strategy. Of the three, the latter is the most often undervalued or overlooked by companies that fall short of their full potential post-merger. Those who address all three with equal importance are the ones who succeed…the ones who lead.
Case in point: CVS Health. Once a traditional pharmaceutical retail chain, the company now owns 50 percent of market share in the retail clinic space. Cited as “arguably the country’s biggest health care company” by The New York Times, CVS Health’s business model has positioned the company to deliver on its publicized promise of “helping people on their path to better health.” A series of consolidation moves over the last decade set the stage for the organization’s transformation, including the 2006 acquisition of MinuteClinic, the 2007 merger with pharmacy benefits provider Caremark, and the 2013 purchase of Coram, a home infusion services company.
Incidentally, CVS Health further bolstered its brand promise in 2014 when it announced the discontinuation of tobacco sales. In doing so, the company forfeited $2 billion in annual revenue but moved the dial on something priceless: brand authenticity.
And that’s where the rubber meets the road, so to speak—brand authenticity is the much-coveted marriage between what you say you do (e.g., helping people on their path to better health) and what you actually do (e.g., providing highly convenient access to healthy products and services). Aligning words with actions across an entire enterprise is no small feat, especially post-merger, but it is as possible as it is imperative. The most important ingredients are skills, experience and a unified commitment to the new brand promise.
Increasing Capabilities through Consolidation
According to a report from the law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, healthcare is currently the third most active industry in mergers and acquisitions (behind only computers/electronics and professional services). The healthcare industry announced more than 1,000 deals valued at $176 billion in 2016, and more than 1,200 deals valued at $417 billion in 2015. This trend is expected to continue. According to Kaufman, Hall & Associates, 63 percent of hospital and health system leaders surveyed for Futurescan 2017-2022 predicted their organizations will consolidate with another hospital or system within the next five years.
It’s not just health systems. Companies all across the healthcare industry are consolidating, often bringing together unexpected partners to create a platform of products and services that engage consumers in innovative ways. As healthcare organizations expand their footprints, diversify into new business segments, and bring innovative products and solutions to market through consolidation, they will likely find it challenging to integrate cultures from two companies into one. Is it a big undertaking? Yes. Does that mean it should be bypassed for efficiency sake? Definitely not. While difficult, transforming the culture to align with the new promise is essential for delivering an authentic brand experience, which is, in its own right, essential for customer satisfaction, loyalty and trust.
Just look at how others are broadening their capabilities through consolidation:
- Nonprofit entities Dignity Health and Catholic Health Initiatives announced last year they were exploring a merger that could be one of the most sizeable deals of 2017, creating the largest not-for-profit hospital system with revenues of $27.6 billion.
- Roche, the world’s largest biotech company, made six acquisitions and investments in genomics companies in just over a year to boost its standing in the drug discovery arena. By acquiring organizations with operations that complement its own, Roche is positioned to accelerate its understanding of genetic causes of disease and further establish itself as a leader in the field.
- UnitedHealth Group, a leading managed care company, announced in 2015 it was combining OptumRx, its freestanding pharmacy care services business, with Catamaran Corporation, a provider of pharmacy benefit management and technology solutions. The combined company links data typically found in disparate systems—including demographic, lab, pharmaceutical, behavioral and medical treatment data—enabling clients and consumers to make better decisions regarding care effectiveness and pharmaceutical compliance.
- In January 2017, Optum and Surgical Care Affiliates (SCA) announced a merger to create a comprehensive ambulatory care platform that will operate in 75 markets, representing about two-thirds of the U.S. population. Together, Optum and SCA will serve millions of consumers each year through 20,000 affiliated physicians and hundreds of care facilities.
The Power of Brand
What do all these examples have in common? Through mergers and acquisitions, they are creating new opportunities to broaden their scope of capabilities, and as a result, extend their promise. They are thinking outside their own enterprises and finding innovative ways to make a deeper impact on health and healthcare. However, even the most experienced leaders and smartest strategies can only take the promise so far. In the end, the authenticity of the actual experience becomes the most critical success factor.
Creating a brand strategy—in preparation for consolidation or anytime—involves defining how the brand resonates both internally and beyond: what should the customer experience look like post-consolidation, and how will the new brand promise be communicated—and kept—for customers? Finding the right answers takes a significant investment in time and resources, but it is well worth it. A newly consolidated company has much to communicate and even more to do, and success depends on doing everything well.
For expert guidance navigating your own organization’s brand strategy, discover brand scout+.
For insights to drive a new marketing and positioning strategy, discover maps+.
About the Authors
Carol Dobies, CEO and Founder of Dobies Healthcare Group, has been bringing healthcare brands to life for 25 years. Carol co-authored this blog with Julie Amor, Chief Strategy Officer for Dobies Healthcare Group, who brings more than 20 years of experience elevating healthcare brands to our firm and our clients.
The healthcare industry is undergoing radical and disruptive change, creating unique opportunities for healthcare organizations to “think differently” and establish market positions through innovative new approaches. There has never been a more critical time to lead with a clear and distinctive strategy, and by doing so, dominate in market.
Developing a market strategy requires a full evaluation of market opportunities, as well as operational conditions that must be present to fulfill the strategy. It spurs necessary critical thinking about the future, and requires us to ask questions and challenge assumptions about the organization, as well as the competition and scenarios for the future.
A marketing strategy defines what is possible and gives the roadmap for achieving it.
Think about healthcare transformation. It’s not just the industry that is changing – consumers are transforming as well. Today’s patients are becoming more active consumers of care; they are now more price-sensitive and apt to shop around for the best value. With a dizzying array of options available, patient loyalty is being challenged in ways not experienced before. Moving patients along the traditional continuum of care, once a given, now has hospitals and physicians seeking new ways to attract and retain patients in both inpatient and outpatient settings.
Another factor at play is consumer demand for services to help them stay healthy. Increasingly, these are being offered by non-medical entities. Payers, businesses and community organizations—in addition to health systems and providers—are collaborating to provide services that promote healthy lifestyles. The idea is to prevent illness and injury, rather than simply being available to treat those who are sick or injured. This concept of “lifecare” represents a significant shift from the conventional (and increasingly outmoded) healthcare model.
As the possibilities mount for various approaches to healthcare transformation, has your marketing team formed a strategy to guide your organization in positioning for the future?
Strategy as a Differentiator
Organizations that respond to transformation by adopting smart, strategic approaches to marketing now have the ability to position themselves as market leaders. In a stark departure from familiar methods of attracting and retaining patients, providers now can demonstrate their value and commitment to the everyday health and wellness of consumers, increasing the likelihood of being the top choice when healthcare—and lifecare—is needed. They can build trust and loyalty through physician relations programs, and they can create community advocates by engaging physicians and staff in delivering on the brand promise.
Healthcare marketing professionals understand that leading in today’s world requires more than a clever slogan or catchy advertisement. While creative execution is important, it is critical thinking and a deliberate strategic approach that will define the competitive edge and deliver results. To lead and excel requires a keen understanding of market position and competition. It requires a deep dive into data and market trends, as well as a compelling point of differentiation. And it requires a fundamental understanding of who you are, what you stand for, and why you stand for it. With consumers now seeking services that help them stay healthy, it is imperative to engage people in ways that historically have not been a part of most healthcare organizations’ marketing plans.
Long-held assumptions about how the industry works are now being challenged. With products, services and platforms becoming increasingly similar in their offerings, strategy becomes the competitive advantage. Those who pursue a strategic approach to marketing will stand out among the competition by creating new levels of value…for consumers as well as themselves.
About the Authors
Julie Amor, Chief Strategy Officer for Dobies Healthcare Group, brings more than 20 years of experience elevating healthcare brands to our firm and our clients. Julie co-authored this article with Carol Dobies, CEO and Founder of Dobies Healthcare Group, who has been bringing healthcare brands to life for 25 years.
Dobies Healthcare Group started in 1992 with the goal of creating healthier brands for our clients. Twenty-five years later, we are proud to serve as a thought leader and trusted strategic consult in the ever-changing healthcare environment.
Over the years, I have identified attributes that have allowed our firm to succeed and flourish. I have come to realize that these are integral not only to leading a successful business, but also to living a fulfilling and authentic life. As a business owner, I have found authenticity—that space where our words and actions intersect—to be indispensable. Following are five key attributes for leading and living with authenticity:
1. Be curious.
Curiosity solves problems. It sparks our imagination and feeds our ingenuity.
Changes in the healthcare industry are occurring at a stunning pace. Key to staying abreast of developments and answering the most vexing questions is having deliberate and boundless curiosity. One of our most valuable business tools is the seemingly simply question: “Why?” Ask it again and again. This will help you identify the problems worth solving. Follow it with “So what?” What is the significance of what you learned? Did you identify a new strength or opportunity? Did you discover a differentiator? This is the compelling part of your story.
Step out of your comfort zone. Be bold. Dare to ask the hard questions. You may unearth a hidden gem.
2. Be purposeful.
Purpose provides you with a specific place to go and a way to get there.
Our firm’s purpose is to make a difference in how people think about health. In 1992, my goal was to take healthcare marketing to the next level by delivering creative work based on sound strategic principles. Our work communicated our customers’ brand promises and conveyed authenticity. Leading with strategy continues to be our purpose. It differentiates us and drives our work.
Discover your purpose. Articulate it, make it your promise, and pursue it relentlessly.
3. Be absolute.
Conviction in your purpose keeps your batteries charged. It gives assurance you are on the right path and your direction is true.
In a world of large, big-box consulting houses and agencies, I used to be distracted by the fact that our firm was smaller than some of our competitors. I came to realize size does matter, but not in the way I expected. From the outset, I built a virtual network of exceptionally smart and talented professionals whose advice and counsel I respected. This virtual business model showed promise. I became confident that as a boutique firm we would have as much firepower—if not more—than our larger competitors. This has proven true. Our team of accomplished strategic and marketing professionals, coupled with a network of highly skilled independent associates, means we bring only A-team players to the table. We are agile and quick. We never lose sight of our mission; we live and breathe it every day. All of this translates to better results for our clients.
Lead with confidence. Be absolute in your convictions, and be confident in your direction.
4. Be passionate.
Passion generates emotion and intensity. It creates energy that is palpable and contagious. It feeds your mission and gives you staying power.
From the beginning, our purpose was to deliver decisive results for our customers. As our firm grew, it became evident that we were making an impact far beyond our original intentions. We were working for a greater good—to help people make better and more informed health decisions, leading to more fulfilling and productive lives. The power of that realization was significant. This became our passion and our mission. It motivates and inspires us every day.
Find your passion and evangelize it. Infuse it in your mission and make it the essence of your culture.
5. Be open to possibilities.
#ToutEstPossible – it means everything is possible. At Dobies Healthcare Group, we believe this to be true. It is more than a slogan; it is our guiding principle.
As we embarked on our 25th year this month, we paused to affirm our business plans and strategies, to validate our direction and purpose. We challenged ourselves to think beyond what is plausible to what is possible. This created a stark moment of clarity. Our mindset shifted. We discovered that everything is possible because we are unwavering in our mission and certain in our strategies.
Be authentic in work and life. Lead and live with curiosity, conviction, passion and purpose, and everything is possible.
Ambitious goals are more achievable when others share your purpose and passion. I am thankful for the bright, enthusiastic and dedicated individuals—mentors, staff and clients—whose advice and support are a continuous source of inspiration. Thank you for being part of our journey.
About the Author
Carol Dobies is the CEO and Founder of Dobies Healthcare Group, where she has been bringing healthcare brands to life for more than 25 years. Share your thoughts with her by tweeting @DobiesGroup or by commenting on our Facebook page.
No other industry has seen quite the magnitude of change as healthcare. Today, nearly every facet of the industry is radically transforming as our core business focus shifts from illness to prevention. Providers and vendors are forced to transform their practices as they secure a meaningful role in the industry.
As I recently shared in an interview with the Kansas City Business Journal, “It always used to be about healthcare, and now we’re seeing it morph into life care … being able to take care of patients beyond just when they’re ill, but keeping them healthy for a lifetime.”
To build a sustainable and adaptable healthcare company in the midst of this changing market, healthcare executives should focus on strategy in three core areas: leadership, culture and fully integrated, consumer-centric care models. Let’s examine each of these three areas in more detail:
1. Complementary and strategic leadership
The right mix of personalities in the right executive positions at the right stages of growth is critical, especially in an industry undergoing widespread disruption like healthcare. In the book, Rocket Fuel, authors Gino Wickman and Mark C. Winters describe the explosive combination of two seemingly opposite roles: the Visionary and the Integrator.
The Visionary is the dreamer, the champion for innovation, the person who looks at the big picture and provides passion and inspiration to others. The Integrator is the complementary force to the Visionary, responsible for governing day-to-day issues, aligning the team with goals and engaging with clients. As the degree of market complexity increases, so too does the organization’s need to be a “visionary” in its approach and an “integrator” in its execution. By clearly defining these roles in your organization – and delegating responsibilities that take advantage of each individual’s strengths – will you be able to clear the obstacles keeping you from achieving your strategic goals.
2. Focus on culture
Chances are the vast majority of your employees come to work each day motivated by the good they can do in the lives of patients and those seeking information about healthcare. That mission to make a difference is a powerful ally because your culture is closely connected to your brand.
The rise and influence of the Millennial generation in the workforce is making the need for that cultural connection more prevalent than ever before. A 2015 Fast Company article reports that 50 percent of Millennials would take a pay cut to find a job and/or company that matches their values, and 90 percent of them want to use their skills for good.
The opportunity to use social responsibility as a brand platform is potentially very powerful, both externally and internally. Healthcare organizations can embrace corporate social engagement as a strategy for building brands, fostering loyalty and enhancing employee recruitment and retention. Your mission hasn’t changed despite the market transformation, but now is the time to truly integrate your mission with your culture and live your brand.
3. Emerging care models expand to focus on health and life
The visionary leader goes beyond the “sick care” model to establish a fully integrated, consumer-centric model of health and life services. Organizations must pivot to offering community-based services that encourage consumers to adopt new, healthy lifestyles. This means digitally connecting with consumers where they live, work and play using innovative telehealth options.
Think of it as putting a personal care provider in everyone’s pocket, extending care via smartphones to where it is most convenient for consumers. Or envision building a community-based continuum of healthcare and life services through public-private partnerships to emphasize access to healthy foods, fitness and health education—so much so that it becomes pervasive in people’s lives.
Virtual connectivity also encourages thinking beyond your immediate neighborhoods and examining the potential to directly contract or build referral agreements with specialty care centers across the U.S. for high acuity and complex chronic care conditions. As your organization embraces these and other new models of care, it is imperative that leaders adapt your organization’s culture and brand accordingly while empowering the whole team to skate to the new puck.
Look to the Future
Healthcare leaders must watch trends and study data to learn more about the market’s evolution—but they must also go further to find insights buried deep in the data and figure out what to do with them. In other words, you must be able to answer the age-old question, so what? Determine what matters amidst all the change and disruption. Take time to understand the transformation in the market and how best to adapt. Then, use that knowledge to drive results-oriented and future-focused change at your organization, and bring this new health model to life. The successful organization in the new healthcare world needs the vision to see the future, the flexibility to adapt to it, and a clear strategy to bring itself safely through it.
Carol Dobies is the CEO and Founder of Dobies Healthcare Group, where she has been bringing healthcare brands to life for more than 25 years. Share your thoughts with her by tweeting @DobiesGroup or by commenting on the Facebook page.
Optimize your share of voice to grow market share
As a healthcare marketing leader, you know how noisy the competitive landscape can be. As the industry shifts toward a consumer-centric healthcare marketplace, it seems every hospital and health system is vying for the same patients—and they all have advertising dollars devoted to buying the largest megaphone.
In today’s hyper-connected world, consumers are bombarded by advertising messages at every turn; one estimate suggests consumers are subject to 3,000 to 5,000 messages each day. Healthcare is no exception, so what is your strategy for determining reach, frequency, and key messages to best position your healthcare organization? After all, if you’re in the orchestra, it’s better to play the trumpet than the piccolo.
Amplify Your Voice for Bigger Gains
Clever ads alone rarely produce sustainable results, so the relationship between your ad buying strategy and your market share growth should be treated with care. It is important to understand the correlation between share of voice (SOV) – defined as your organization’s percentage of the total media buying in your industry for a specific time period – and share of market (SOM), which is your percent of the total revenue for that same time period. You probably already know your market share, but your SOV can be more complex. Knowing your SOV relative to your competitors, however, can be critical to your strategic advertising efforts for top-line growth.
The Nielsen Company published research that sheds light on this relationship between SOV and SOM. They found that with everything else equal, you are more likely to gain market share if your SOV is larger than your SOM. This “excess” share of voice is shown to have a very direct effect—an increase of 0.5 percent additional market share when your SOV is 10 points higher than your SOM.
Of course, rarely is the math that simple. The same research found that a lot of factors play into this, including the size of your brand, whether you are the brand leader in your industry or a brand “challenger,” and of course, the level of sophistication in your creative campaign. If you are the brand leader, for example, a 10-point differential can net you as much as a 1.4 percent market share boost.
Even with multiple variables, savvy healthcare organizations can still make this research work for them. Dave Beckert, a media planner, gives this advice:
“Smart marketers investment spend (SOV slightly exceeds SOM) to some degree to deter attack. To show major gains in SOM, you must create or exploit disequilibrium … using advertising spending as an offensive weapon, based upon an analysis of the competitive situation.”
Use the Right Tool for the Job
As the former VP of Marketing for a major academic medical center, I cannot overemphasize how necessary it is to have competitive market data driving strategic recommendations for media planning and creative concept development. In addition to providing the foundation of those recommendations, I needed the competitive data to secure support for the marketing and advertising budgets I proposed. The only problem was that collecting a comprehensive market analysis of competitors was incredibly arduous and time-consuming.
Now, that’s no longer true. The need for robust competitive market data is still great, but the work that goes into creating those market profiles is not, thanks to an innovative product called ad atlas+.
Custom designed for hospitals and health systems, ad atlas+ packages comprehensive competitive market profiles into a single interactive tool, empowering you to view and compare what competitors are saying in your local market with only a few clicks. ad atlas+ lets you watch competing television spots, click through banner ads, hear radio promos, view print ads and more. Additionally, ad atlas+ provides a market analysis of each hospital’s key positioning messages, SOV and ad spend. These analyses provide much-needed clarity and the competitive advantage to aid in capturing a larger SOV for your healthcare organization.
I recommend ad atlas+ because it was designed for healthcare marketers by healthcare marketers, and it offers meaningful insight to guide healthcare advertising strategies. You can finally answer such questions as, Should we be buying magazine display ads? and Will that many TV spots even make a difference? ad atlas+ gives you the power to see your local market differently – and when you can stand up and see who is playing in the orchestra, you can finally decide if you need to pick up a louder horn. If you’re a healthcare marketer, that should be music to your ears.
Julie Amor is the Chief Strategy Officer for Dobies Healthcare and has more than 20 years of experience elevating healthcare brands. Share your thoughts with her by tweeting @DobiesGroup or by commenting on our Facebook page.
Insights from Carol Dobies, CEO and Founder of Dobies Healthcare Group
As a member of the 25 Under 25® Class of 2016, Dobies Healthcare Group was proudly named among several outstanding Kansas City small businesses earlier this year. Recently, CEO and founder Carol Dobies, MBA, spoke with Kelly Scanlon on Smart Companies KC Radio to discuss the driving force behind Dobies Healthcare Group and its success as a specialized healthcare marketing and branding firm. You can listen to the full broadcast below:
Highlights from the on-air discussion include:
Strategy-First: The Driving Force for Dobies Healthcare Group
Carol and her team have always championed a strategy-first approach to healthcare marketing. Unlike creative agencies that traditionally offer a new logo or advertising campaign focused on product promotion, Dobies Healthcare Group says, ‘First, let’s talk about who you are and what you do’ before the creative work begins. The idea is to initiate meaningful conversations with clients about their brands – a process that begins with insightful questions about how they interface with customers and employees, how leadership impacts and drives culture, and how they “deliver” on their brand promise. The ultimate goal is to tactically align client operations (what they do) with their communications (what they say). Brand authenticity is deliberate, and therefore, the work that goes into it must be highly strategic.
The Greater Good: A Passion for Making a Difference
Both professionally and personally, Carol has long understood the need for expert information and guidance that drives smart health and healthcare decisions. She has always had a passion for making a difference by connecting consumers to providers, providers to partners, and so forth – and she fosters the same passion within every member of her team. In fact, the notion of inspiring better, more informed decisions about health and contributing to improved care and quality of life for patients is at the very heart of the company’s mission. “We come to work every day because we believe we can help people make better, more informed healthcare decisions—and the power of that is pretty significant,” says Carol.
A Forward-Thinking Business Model
It’s not easy being a small business, but Dobies Healthcare Group embraces a smart and innovative business model that focuses on using talent and time wisely. From the beginning, Carol chose to embrace a virtual agency model, employing a small team of in-house healthcare marketing experts while strategically extending capabilities and reach through a national network of highly skilled, independent strategy leads. “The virtual model has really served us well,” she said. “It’s helped us play just as well, if not better than, any big business.”
Carol noted she has learned a lot since she founded Dobies Healthcare Group in 1992. Although it hasn’t always been this way, the company now has a C.P.A. on staff to proactively advise the company on finances, ensuring financial health. They are now “papered up” in ways they never were before with smarter, more binding contracts with clients and employees alike. Most importantly, Carol learned along the way the value of having a plan and vision for the company’s future. Looking forward, she anticipates continued growth for Dobies Healthcare Group – particularly with the launch of three strategic marketing and branding products last year and another new product on the horizon.
For more information about who we are and what we do at Dobies Healthcare Group, contact us.
About Dobies Healthcare Group
Since 1992, Dobies Healthcare Group has offered highly specialized expertise in healthcare marketing strategy, branding and creative communications. Our Kansas City-based company serves the marketing and branding needs of the entire healthcare industry, from hospitals, health systems and payers to medical device manufacturers, associations and certifying boards. We combine strategic marketing with creative communications to create healthier brands.
Why Healthcare Marketing Leaders Need to Inspire Others in the Organization to Deliver on the Brand Promise
When we present a strategic marketing plan to a hospital, for example, we start with a simple statement that has enormous value. It sets the tone for the entire data-driven document:
“The strategic marketing plan is a blueprint to support organization-wide growth. It is used by hospital and physician leadership, practice managers and the marketing department to guide the execution of organizational and marketing initiatives that will contribute to market share growth.”
In other words, marketing is not a department. While the quote above is specific to hospital marketing, the overarching concept is true for any healthcare organization. And our brand plans carry a similar message: brand is all about what an organization does. Everyone in the organization has a role in delivering brand authenticity – the behaviors and actions of everyone in the company come together to form the brand. When we emphasize this to clients, we see heads nodding, but few really understand what it means. Our job as healthcare marketing and branding experts is to make certain that leaders at our client organizations understand that brands are symbiotic with culture. Or, stated another way, brand building is not an initiative that belongs solely to the marketing team.
Today’s competitive healthcare market requires engagement throughout the organization to deliver on the brand promise. While the marketing department can strategically share the right message with the right audience using the right method, it is the experience each customer has with the organization that creates the brand. That’s because purchasing healthcare isn’t like purchasing your everyday product – it is far more complicated, involving far more moving parts. Before selecting a doctor or a hospital, consumers have to piece a lot of information together. They look at online ratings and reviews, social media posts from friends and neighbors, and content on health-related websites. They also have conversations with multiple people at the various hospitals and practices they are considering. Some of the information they obtain comes from communication created by a marketing department, but the vast majority is organically assembled by the experiences consumers have with the brand.
So, isn’t it logical for each person in your health organization to have a role in ensuring the right purchasing decisions are made? Logical, yes…but few outside the marketing team will claim responsibility for customer engagement, much less marketing.
A 2011 McKinsey Quarterly report summed it up nicely: “At the end the day, customers no longer separate marketing from the product—it is the product. They don’t separate marketing from their in-store or online experience—it is the experience. In the era of engagement, marketing is the company.”
As such, everyone in a given organization needs to be accountable and universally accept that marketing is the organization. This is a notion that continues to challenge many in the healthcare space. For example, recently we were exploring how one of our healthcare clients might better engage his organization to deliver on the brand promise. While the employees were conceptually on board with the notion that everyone in the organization is accountable for delivering on the promise that is communicated by marketing, they expressed concern about who would ultimately be charged with driving market share growth. We explained the marketing leader is the catalyst – the individual responsible for fueling the company’s customer engagement engine, while the marketing team is responsible for designing, building and deploying new customer engagement approaches and brand-building strategies across the organization’s departments. The marketing leader must influence everyone at the organization – not just the marketing team – to row together, getting the organization further, faster. In doing so, the marketing leader creates brand ambassadors who exponentially increase the reach of the marketing team and engage employees in new ways that make them more vested in the organization’s performance.
According to the 2016 Edelman Trust Barometer, there is a clear and compelling business case for connecting with employees as brand advocates. Data show people want to hear from employees more than any other spokesperson on issues like organizational performance and business practices. Plus, an engaged workforce is typically happy to be part of the organization and willing to go the extra distance to help enhance the organization’s overall performance (especially when the company is engaged in societal issues, as our Chief Strategy Officer, Julie Amor, discussed recently in Corporate Social Engagement: What it Means for Healthcare Brands).
In today’s era of consumer engagement, marketing and branding are no longer the purview of a single department. As mentioned, your customers no longer separate marketing from the healthcare service – it is the service. After 24 years of helping healthcare clients deploy strategic marketing and brand plans, I encourage you to build a culture of brand authenticity and engage your entire organization in the role of delivering on your brand promise. It’s time to influence others in the organization—to coach them on effective customer engagement tactics and reward them for building tighter relationships with customers. Your customers will appreciate hearing directly from your employees and your leadership will appreciate the accountability to organizational performance.
What do toothpaste, beer, shoes and hospitals have in common? A mission to do good. If you have been watching television or online ads lately, you may have noticed an upward trend of companies infusing corporate social responsibility into their brands. Corporate social responsibility refers to a business practice that involves participating in initiatives that benefit society. However, it is often viewed as a corporate-driven, top-down, obligatory duty that does not connect employees with the mission of the company.
Thanks in large part to the influence of Millennials (those born between 1980 and the early 2000s) in the workforce, corporate social responsibility is transitioning to a more palatable approach called corporate social engagement—a thoughtful, mission-driven approach that brings companies and employees together to make a greater social impact.
While corporations have a long history of writing checks to support charitable organizations, efforts to truly engage and inspire employees to be part of the cause have historically been lackluster. Only recently has engagement become an expectation for companies seeking to build their brands, improve customer loyalty, and attract and retain talent.
In fact, Unilever—a marketing firm representing some of the world’s most recognized brands—has added social purpose to its own brand positioning, even making it their primary brand platform.
This shift in advertising has been quite apparent, with companies promoting their causes rather than their products. For example:
- You may have seen Colgate® toothpaste recently use Super Bowl 50 to shine a spotlight on the need and value of water conservation. In its 30-second television spot, the company encourages people to turn off the tap while brushing their teeth to “make every drop count.”
- Stella Artois, a Belgian beer company, launched their “Buy a Lady a Drink” campaign, a new initiative aimed at ending women’s journeys to fetch water.
- TOMS® has long promoted itself as a “One for One” company. As explained on the company’s website, every time a TOMS product is purchased, TOMS helps provide shoes, sight, water, safe birth and/or bullying prevention services to people in need around the world.
It is not hard to see the trend. Millennials are driving a consumer economy focused on sustaining the world—and their influence has grown. The Millennial population as a whole has surpassed Baby Boomers as the nation’s largest living generation, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. And in 2015, with 53.5 million strong, Millennials became the largest share of the American workforce, according to Pew Research Center.
So how does all this fit in with healthcare? Hospitals and healthcare companies by nature have a mission to do good. Using social responsibility as a brand platform is an opportunity ripe for the taking. Like the companies featured above, healthcare organizations can embrace corporate social engagement as a strategy for building brands, fostering loyalty, and enhancing recruitment.
Corporate social engagement as a brand and loyalty strategy
Millennials choose products and services provided by companies that are committed to making a difference in the world.
In fact, a recent Nielsen survey found 55 percent of global online consumers across 60 countries are willing to pay more for products and services provided by companies that are committed to positive social and environmental impact. Consumers around the world are saying loud and clear that a brand’s social purpose is among the factors that influence purchase decisions.
Consumer attributes common among Millennials include:
- Active and highly participatory
- Value corporate affiliation with a social cause
- Seek brands with benefits beyond the bottom line
- Believe companies and individuals should work together for greater social impact
- Want to be actively engaged to do good in the world
Healthcare is about engaging consumers and gaining lifetime loyalty, in part, by sharing the story of how your health organization is making the world a better, healthier place. Healthcare organizations can expand their brand platforms by using cause-marketing to drive brand affinity.
Corporate social engagement as a recruitment strategy
A 2014 Bentley University study of more than 3,100 people found that Millennials are not as enthusiastic about entering the business world as they should be, considering the demand for them in the workforce. This could be in part because Millennials have a negative perception of traditional businesses. As a result, Millennials say they seek out employers who are committed to social responsibility:
- 85% prefer to work for a socially responsible or ethical company
- 95% prefer to work for a company with a positive corporate reputation
- 91% prefer to work for an employer based on social impact efforts
We are just beginning to see the Millennial influence in our workforce. What is taking root now is likely to grow and spread and flourish—it’s not just a passing trend. After all, the oldest Millennials are still in the early stages of their careers. It would be surprising if they didn’t bring major changes as they continue to join the workforce and advance into positions of influence. With the healthcare industry facing an impending workforce shortage, healthcare organizations can attract and retain a talented workforce by inspiring employees to become loyal employees, brand ambassadors and engaged consumers simply by doing what they want to do: change the world.
Infusing corporate social engagement into your brand
Corporate social engagement is not simply about making monetary donations. It has to be meaningful to employees and the cause must relate to the mission of the organization. Without a strategy for corporate social engagement, employees can become disconnected from the cause and lose interest in the mission. Based on my experience, the most successful corporate social engagement strategies include a three-way approach, offering employees options: giving money to a corporate-sponsored cause, joining a corporate-sponsored community initiative, and/or extending care into the community through corporate-sponsored community service.
Using this strategic approach in a purposeful, mission-driven manner will position your health organization to do more than provide care, services or products – it will engage employees in becoming brand ambassadors who are happy to be part of the organization and build a brand that extends beyond its core services. As a healthcare marketing strategist, I see infinite possibilities for the healthcare industry to build a brand platform on corporate social engagement. Enlist your employees to expand your corporate footprint by giving, joining and serving in order to make an honest impact in your communities.
As healthcare leaders and marketers, we all know the importance of a healthy brand – and a healthy brand, like a healthy body, requires maintenance and dedication over time. What you convey about your brand – and what you hope others will embrace about your brand – must always align with the brand experience you actually deliver. To continuously build volume, preference and market share, sometimes you need to give your brand a thorough, objective evaluation.
When that time comes, you have two options: you can find a partner who specializes in healthcare branding, or manage and complete the work internally. There is no one-size-fits-all answer – it depends on an array of factors including your in-house capabilities and capacity. Make an informed decision about whether to DIY or outsource using the following checklist and questions to govern the brand assessment and strategy process:
1. Brand Audit: Measure current perception of your brand and your competition
Use surveys, in-depth interviews and local market studies to systematically assess your healthcare brand from these varying perspectives:
- Your customers/patients
- Your community stakeholders
- Your healthcare leaders (executive team and board of directors)
- Your employees (physicians, nurses, etc.)
Next, audit your communications. Ask yourself how authentically your healthcare organization appears in:
- Advertising campaigns
- Promotional materials and sales collateral
- Web content and social media
- Proposals and estimates
- Customer communications
- Internal communications
Then go one step further by assessing your competitions’ communications, which will provide insight to guide your decisions in step two.
2. Brand Differentiation: Create a sustainable value proposition
Based on current perceptions revealed in the brand audit, identify three key attributes that describe how you differ from your healthcare competitors. Ask yourself:
- Do you have a proven process to accurately identify what makes you stand out from the competition?
- Can you objectively determine if the differentiators you identify are realistic and authentically different from the competition?
- Can you readily determine actions your organization currently does that align with the brand differentiators you’ve identified?
- Are you diving deep enough to uncover new opportunities for differentiation based on current gaps among consumer brands in your local marketplace?
3. Brand Strategy: Develop a one-page synthesis of your brand position
This internal use document should clearly and succinctly convey the following:
- Your brand differentiators
- Your brand promise
- How you will keep that brand promise through actions and interactions?
As you create your brand strategy document, ask yourself if it meets these important objectives:
- Can the brand strategy be deployed as the filter for future business decisions?
- Will your executive team use the brand filter when making key organizational/business decisions (e.g. capital purchases, new business development)?
- How can your board of directors use the brand filter?
- Is the document designed for organization-wide understanding and use? No jargon, no rambling – just the brand strategy in simplified terms to engage everyone.
4. Leadership Adoption: Roll out a process for ensuring what you actually do aligns with your brand differentiators
This is a critical step where your leaders outwardly refresh how they live the brand, and where they inspire others to follow suit:
- Give your executive team key talking points and a 30-second elevator speech that stays on point with the brand strategy from start to finish.
- Seize all opportunities to integrate that message into weekly employee communication.
- Embed the differentiators in materials your executive team routinely uses.
- Include your board of directors in this same process.
5. Touch Point Mapping: Devise a plan to ensure your employees live the brand
Create a matrix of current and planned behaviors for each department. Internal brand adoption takes time – and adequate guidance is essential. As you build the matrix, ask yourself:
- How can you guide each department to live the brand throughout relevant daily activities? What your employees DO every single day, and what they say in every single customer conversation, needs to align with your brand promise and differentiators.
- Are there significant changes that need to be made to ensure alignment?
- Do you have a measurement system and/or incentives in place to ensure departments keep their commitments to living the brand?
- Do you have visual aids throughout your departments as reminders of the brand promise?
6. Brand Champions: Identify brand-passionate employees to gain organization-wide support
Brand building extends far beyond your marketing department. Designate a group of employees to serve as brand champions who inspire others to live the brand. Ask yourself:
- How do you want to appoint the brand champions – ask for volunteers or delegate?
- Which employees are your best exemplars of the new brand?
- How can you represent all departments?
- How will the brand champions work together, and who will facilitate their work?
- How will you empower the brand champions to take action and sustain their influence?
- Should you set up a private Facebook group to facilitate virtual engagement with your brand champions?
- What kick-off activities/events can you implement for the brand champions?
7. Internal Communication Strategy: Make a plan for internal roll-out
Establish a strategic and tactical plan for unveiling your new brand to key stakeholders, leadership and employees, and continuously reinforcing the brand across your healthcare organization. Questions to ask:
- Does your plan include a top-down communication component?
- How long will it take to gain internal adoption before you can take the new brand to market?
- What tools can you develop to support the brand, and how can you integrate the new brand into existing employee materials?
- Can you return to your communication audit to adapt internal versus external communication aids with ease?
- How will you engage your brand champions in the internal communication strategy?
- How frequently will executive leaders communicate about brand progress, and what mode of communication will they use?
8. Marketing Strategy: Develop strategies and tactics for external communication
When you are ready to launch the new brand externally, create a one- to three-year strategy and tactical calendar. Once you have collected data-driven insights for market share, market forces and growth potential for the organization and each of its key products or service lines:
- Stratify your key brand messages by audience.
- Align your in-market tactics and media plan with your external communication strategies.
- Integrate across all communication channels.
- Ensure consistency throughout, from external to internal brand elements.
- Remember to use the brand strategy as a filter for your tactical decisions.
9. Creative Strategy and Execution: Bring your new brand to life with integrated creative materials
Create new content, complete with new design elements and visuals that align with the core purpose of your healthcare brand.
- Translate the new brand in ways that communicate effectively with various demographic groups.
- Give your color palette, fonts and images a brand boost.
- Consider a common element or thread necessary to connect your old brand to your new one, ensuring your consumers understand your brand evolution.
10. Market Studies: Continuously measure your efforts and document competitive gains
To maintain a healthy brand, you must monitor:
- Internal brand adoption
- Improvements in external awareness and perception of your brand
- Progress achieved in improving your brand’s competitive positioning
Brand building is a complex, interconnected process that requires authentic insight, objective decision-making and careful, sometimes even calculated effort. Whether embarking on a self-assessment or soliciting professional healthcare branding expertise, it is well worth the extra effort – bringing your brand back to life in the hearts and minds of your customers always is.
For healthcare companies seeking professional branding expertise, we encourage you to learn more about brand scout+, an innovative product that delivers healthier brands.