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Healthcare Marketing: 7 Keys to Successful Rebranding

By , Chief Strategy Officer & Partner, Hanson Dodge

June 20, 2014

Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin came to Hanson Dodge (HD) with a unique branding problem. Children's was receiving national recognition for its acute and specialty care, but local consumers were largely unaware of the organization's routine pediatric services.

To fill this gap in public perception, Hanson Dodge turned to the children who are treated at Children’s every day, and the award-winning “Kids deserve the best” campaign was born.

“Our whole campaign was really centered on ideas around telling real stories about Children’s Hospital in the most engaging way,” said Ken Hanson, Founder and CEO of Hanson Dodge. “The fundamental idea was to find a family that needed both acute services and non-acute services and tell the story from the sibling that used the non-acute services.”

The campaign, which launched in spring 2013, aligned with the hospital leadership’s strategic plan and long-term vision for a more emotional and engaging brand platform. It also allowed the organization to more clearly communicate its mission and increase its market share by leveraging its national reputation for acute services to expand into non-acute care.

“We really do have a brand promise to our families. We want them to feel the trust that when they bring their children to our organization they’re going to get the very best care,” said Peggy Troy, President and CEO of Children’s. “We needed to expand that brand and build on that brand so that we could help people realize in this community that we do everything and anything for kids.”

Based on our experience working with Children's and other organizations, we offer the following seven keys to rebranding in healthcare. 

1. Enroll Key Constituents In The Process

Involve internal leadership from different facets of the company in the branding or rebranding discussion. For Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, this meant seeking input from the CEO, the board of directors, marketing leaders, physician leaders, hospital staff, foundation leaders and more.

For an outside perspective, commission an advisory committee of marketing executives and industry specialists to provide input at key junctures in the decision-making process. This additional level of expertise can help confirm where you’re hitting the mark and, more importantly, point out where your collective thinking is straying off target.

2. Have Just Enough Democracy

While it’s important for key constituents to be on board, the CEO needs to own the brand. She or he has to be willing to make the hard calls, break ties and, at times, openly advocate for the best solution. The CEO’s sponsorship of a branding initiative also demonstrates to the entire organization that the brand is a critical part of the enterprise’s broader vision and strategy.

During the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin rebranding, CEO Peggy Troy took ownership early and struck an effective balance between listening, letting the teams do their best work and taking the helm when needed.

3. Go Quantitative and Qualitative

Quantitative market research is the quick and dirty way to find out what internal and external audiences think of a brand. But once you know “what” they think, you need to understand “why” and “how” they think what they do.

Invest in qualitative research: one-on-one conversations with internal and external constituents to go deeper into the “why” and “how” of what audiences are thinking. For Children’s, this was essential to obtaining the kinds of insights that led to a powerful brand campaign.

4. Set Clear Criteria For The Brand Position

A brand position is the single space that an organization is seeking to own in the minds of all of its constituents. Before you define your brand position, develop a list of 10 criteria by which potential brand positions will be evaluated. For Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, the brand position needed to allow the organization and its brand to:

  • Celebrate and inspire internal audiences
  • Stake a unique claim that the organization could clearly and uniquely own
  • Speak to the organization’s strength in acute and non-acute care
  • Launch conversations about a broad set of offerings

Having criteria in place and agreed upon by key internal constituents enables you to bring focus and clarity to your brand positioning work. This same set of criteria can also be used to evaluate the various creative components (i.e. tagline, creative concepts, content, tone and voice, etc.) used to bring the brand to life in the marketplace.

5. Launch The Brand Internally First

It may seem obvious, but it bears repeating: get your internal audiences onboard with the new or refined brand before you launch the brand in the marketplace. The organization—and its brand—are best served by ensuring that staff and advocates understand and embrace the new brand. They need to see themselves in the brand. They need to understand why this brand. They need to know what’s changing and what will never change. And most importantly, they need to know what role they’re expected to play to bring the brand to life for everyone who encounters the organization moving forward.

At Children’s, caregivers and staff appreciated the fact that the new brand celebrated not only the tremendous work they do every day, but also the shared beliefs and values that inform their work.

6. Integrate The Brand In The Enterprise Strategy

Your brand should not merely be about marketing. The real value comes in establishing a reciprocal relationship between the brand and your organization’s broader vision. Leaders at Children’s are adamant about ensuring that not only does the brand support the organization’s strategic path—but also that organizational strategies across the board are executed in a way that reinforce the Children’s brand platform. The results? Better internal alignment and a brand that shows up as genuine and powerful regardless of how or when people experience it.

7. Plan For a Multi-Year Journey

Building an effective brand—or shifting perceptions about an existing brand—doesn’t happen in a year or even two. It’s a journey that takes several years or more. It requires sustained investment, rigorous attention to research and analysis and a willingness to refine the approach as you learn more about what’s working in the marketplace and what isn’t.

Download the infographic below or in the left sidebar to learn more about the seven keys to successful rebranding in healthcare.

Mike Stefaniak, Chief Strategy Officer & Partner, Hanson Dodge

Mike leads Hanson Dodge's efforts to deliver transformational branding, marketing and digital strategies for clients. He brings more than 20 years in strategy and implementation to the agency, including 18 years in functional leadership and executive roles. Over the course of his career, Mike has led more than 85 branding or rebranding engagements for a wide range of organizations.

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