How to Build a Powerful Healthcare Brand

By Brian Lischer

I work with companies in a range of different industries, and not one of those industries cries out for branding quite like healthcare does. Sweeping legislation and far-reaching industry trends have put the healthcare consumer in the driver's seat.

Health insurance subsidies mean that healthcare consumers are more empowered and have a broader range of providers to choose from. Not only are healthcare brands now forced to compete for patients, the funding they receive from federal and state authorities is increasingly dependent on value-based performance metrics like patient satisfaction. When it comes to healthcare, the customer can no longer be ignored--and neither can branding.

For example, one of my recent clients, a regional healthcare provider that had served the community for over 40 years, saw the writing on the wall. With a dated, lifeless identity and a website to match, the organization knew it would be difficult, if not impossible, to expand their services to new patient demographics. A comprehensive rebrand followed by a targeted social media campaign that leveraged compelling patient stories enabled the brand to surpass their strategic objectives around growing their patient base.

So, what's the secret? How do you build a powerful healthcare brand that gets the results your company is looking for? The following five phases -- each critical to a successful rebranding initiative -- will give you the best chance to do just that.

1. Brand Research

Like all practices in the healthcare field, the best rebrand is one that's based on evidence. And the best way to get that evidence is through in-depth brand research. An audit of your brand's top competitors will give you a better understanding of the market landscape, revealing valuable opportunities for differentiation. The recent wave of mergers and acquisitions has left the healthcare industry in a confused and befuddled state. There's no shortage of opportunities to set your brand apart with a cohesive and consistent brand experience.

In addition to a competitive audit, online surveys and in-depth interviews with your employees and customers give you insight into how your audience perceives you: the definitive measure of your brand's performance. Carrying out this research is imperative if you hope to position your healthcare brand for success.

2. Brand Strategy and Positioning

The goal of positioning is to define the fundamental building blocks of your brand; while strategy is the process of charting a course for success. The framework that emerges from brand strategy and positioning clearly articulates who your brand is, why it exists, and how it engages with the world.

Critical to strategy and positioning is building consensus around your brand's core messaging. By defining elements such as your organization's purpose, vision, mission and values, you create a brand compass with which to navigate the road ahead. In addition to core messaging, strategy and positioning enable you to clearly articulate elements like your brand's personality, key differentiators, sub-brand architecture, and the tenable marketplace position that your brand will stake out.

3. Brand Identity

Identity is what many people envision when they think of branding. It comprises your logo, color palette, typography, iconography -- all of the visual elements that embody your brand. Your identity should be deeply informed by the research and strategy that you've already done. It should capture your brand's purpose and personality while meaningfully differentiating it from your competition.

The larger continuum in which your identity exists, known as brand expression, is where the story of your healthcare brand truly comes to life. It's the verbal language that communicates your value propositions and the visual imagery that captures your brand's essence. It plays out on your website, in your marketing collateral, and every other initiative where your brand engages with your customers.

4. Brand Activation

The final step in your healthcare rebrand is the activation of your brand, both internally and externally. Your internal stakeholders -- executives, employees, and board members -- are the living, breathing face of your brand. It's critical they understand your brand at the deepest level if they are to serve as its ambassadors.

External activation is an ongoing process that begins with the rollout of your brand. Activating your brand through a strategic deployment of marketing and public relations initiatives gives you the ability to influence how your customers experience your new brand. True activation occurs when your target audience aligns with your brand's purpose and promise and engages with your brand in meaningful ways that foster long-term relationships.

Today's healthcare industry is in a unique state of flux. Companies within the industry can view the current state of affairs as either an impediment or an opportunity. Those that see it as the latter, and invest in branding so as to further align themselves with their customers, will have a distinct advantage over the competition as the industry moves forward.

Brian Lischer is founder and CEO of Ignyte, author & speaker.