The financial gain in humanizing Healthcare Company Brands

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Written by Charlie MacLeod Whats in a brand? The American Marketing Association (AMA) defines a brand as a "Name, term, design, symbol, or any ot...

Written by Charlie MacLeod


What’s in a brand?  The American Marketing Association (AMA) defines a brand as a "Name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller's good or service as distinct from those of other sellers." The AMA definition doesn’t convey what a strong brand should do for an organization. That is to:

·         Communicate your value proposition – your brand promise – clearly,

·         Create a positive relationship with your market,

·         Motivate prospective customers/patients to use your products/services,

·         Build institutional and product/service credibility, and

·         Instill loyalty.


It sounds simple enough, but it is not. Especially for organizations in the healthcare industry.  Today, healthcare providers, product manufacturers and others on the healthcare continuum are being challenged by the complexities of healthcare reform, new technologies, new models of care, changing market demographics (e.g., an aging population and the nation’s growing multiculturalism, and physician shortages. Under these conditions, branding is anything but simple. These many challenges, however, are precisely why healthcare organizations need to brand effectively. It’s the only way they will connect with and stay connected to their markets. The surest way to “connect” is to humanize their brands. It’s also the route toward achieving a competitive edge, other benefits and financial gains.

“What Consumers Think about Healthcare”

The Deloitte Survey of U.S. Health Care Consumers (2012) found that to U.S. consumers, health care is intensely personal and that consumers’ perceptions are based almost entirely on their personal experience. Many health care service and product providers probably already know this either on a conscious or subconscious level although most healthcare brands don’t reflect this insight. If you consider current trends in healthcare marketing, you will see much more emphasis on leading-edge technologies, claims, procedures, results and scientific data versus the human element. Further, healthcare marketing today is largely directed not at the consumer/patient, but rather at physicians.

In the Medical Marketing & Media (MM&M)/Oglivy CommonHealth Healthcare Marketers Trend Report (2013), the 200 senior executive-level healthcare marketing directors surveyed indicated that they allocated approximately 75% of their total  marketing budgets to healthcare professionals and 25% for consumer marketing. Regarding the healthcare marketing to consumers, an observation cited was that it often was not patient-friendly and did not foster long-term relationships with customers. Even everyday observers would probably agree that healthcare print and broadcast advertisements often fail to make a real “human” connection with their viewers.

“Humanizing Your Healthcare Brand”

At SMM Advertising, our humanizing brand approach enables us to help healthcare marketers better define and share their values, culture and personality with their existing customers/patients and future constituents. To humanize a healthcare company’s brand, we take a holistic approach. We consider the organization’s environment, core values and historical marketing within the context of an expanded and deeper understanding of its customers; their needs, their experiences and their feelings. Then, within our branding “lab,” we test these customer insights in conjunction with market research relating to healthcare consumer behaviors and psychographics (i.e., attitudes, values, interests and lifestyles). Our goal is to develop a laser-sharp understanding of the customer. This data is then merged with effective marketing strategies, creative approaches and content designed to enhance the organization’s brand so that it will resonate on a human level with authenticity and sincerity.  Once we have humanized the brand, the next step is communicating it effectively through various marketing channels.


“From Traditional to New Media –Conveying the Humanized Brand”

We can convey humanized brands through print advertisement, television and radio advertising, transportation display advertising (i.e., billboards, rail cards, bus stop posters, etc.), brochures and pamphlets, as well as on an organization’s website and its social media pages. Regardless of the channel or the creative approach used, the common thread is relating to the audience on an emotional, human level. The emotion could be anything - heartfelt, humorous, sad, proud, etc. and the creative could range from a super-hero concept, Main Street/small town setting, futuristic journey or real life vignettes. Whatever the creative, it will evoke an emotion in the viewer that sends the message sublimely or directly that this healthcare organization understands what the customer/patient cares about and is dedicated to addressing those concerns.

Social media, in particular, enables healthcare brands to build emotional connections with their customers. It allows a hospital, physician group, pharmaceutical company or medical device manufacturer to become a part of their customers’ lives…in their homes, on their mobile devices and, when done right with a humanized brand approach, into their hearts. It is the ongoing, interactive dialogue that social media facilitates that really serves the humanized brand strategy.

“The Benefits of Humanizing Your Brand”

By building relationships based on demonstrating a deeper understanding of one’s customers/patients, humanizing a healthcare brand delivers tangible and less tangible benefits to a healthcare organization. Like all branding, there will be better alignment within an organization with personnel galvanized behind a clear brand and its value proposition. This better alignment, in turn, creates better communications (internal and external), improved focus, efficiencies and productivity on the parts of all staff, from clinicians to those with direct sales and/or customer/patient relations roles.  Increased productivity can be equated with lower operating costs and higher profit margins. Re-branding also has been shown to improve staff morale along with projecting an organization as progressive, innovative and more committed to its marketplace.   Where humanizing your brand distinguishes itself from traditional branding is in creating a stronger connection between healthcare organization and customer, easing the path to increased sales and greater brand loyalty which go straight to an organization’s bottom line and long-term viability.

“Benchmarking the Branding”

Measuring the financial benefits of marketing in all industries is challenging, but in healthcare, it is especially difficult given several factors. For instance, the goals of a healthcare organization may not be as clear cut as those in other industries not affected by conflicting objectives ranging from regulatory compliance and insurance issues to medical ethics. Further, many healthcare organizations may be less inclined to measure success on a “profit” basis given that their broader mission is centered on human lives and not profits. Finally, measuring the result of a new branding campaign may be hampered based on the fact that there is often no clear line between an ad, the purchase of a healthcare product/service and the resulting revenue it generates to an organization. For example, a consumer may have seen an ad, been motivated to call an 800#, which then directed the individual to reach out to their primary care physician and/or a list of multiple facilities for further action. In other words, healthcare purchasing decisions are more maze-like than direct lines.

There are tools which can be applied to gain some metrics for benchmarking the results from a branding campaign. By timing and integrating a branding campaign with sales activities, some metrics can be established. Further, tools such as customer/patient surveys, website analytics to track visitors to websites, and the use of Quick Response (QR) codes on marketing materials and mailings can help establish some means for measuring the effect a branding campaign is having on customer inquiries, new relationships, sales and/or revenue streams.

 By humanizing their brand, healthcare organizations can create a new understanding and closeness with their customers causing loyalty to rise and giving their team members a new mission to rally behind.


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