Hospitals and Branding?  More Exciting Than You Think
I debated whether to write this blog, because I know many will pass on it as they think the topic is BORING. Hospital brands may indeed be boring (today), but how they got there and why they need to change is incredibly interesting. A powerful hospital brand can actually strengthen the healing process. (tweet this) Therefore, every hospital should strive to have a one, yet most do not. Most hospitals focus on marketing their reputation, which is related, but very different. Reputations are largely self-serving and provide professional credibility and esteem; but, they are unable to forge a strong emotional connection with people.  Hospital consumers could benefit significantly from a powerful brand, a conceptual framework that would alleviate the negatives and empower the positives of a hospital experience.
Hospitals are not Tires

Think of the top hospitals you know. Other than location, connection to an academic institution and a reputation for excellence in a specialty area, does anything else come to mind about its unique identity?Hospital branding is truly a paradox. A hospital is one of the most exciting places on earth.  It’s a place of high relevance and high emotions. We often visit in a crisis or peak moment, where something substantial happens in our lives.  The activities within a hospital are so exciting that they make for hit TV shows (HOUSE being a personal favorite). Hospitals are full of real human drama 24/7.   They are not boring like tires. So why are the brands so boring?

Hospital brands are boring because they are largely “marketed reputations” rather than evocative concepts built to add value for the consumer (tweet this).  In addition, hospital communications tend to use a common language creating a blanding rhetoric of sameness that sounds like corporate-speak.  For example, they are all patient-centric and family-centered, are committed to patient safety and quality, improving outcomes and delivering a great patient experience.  Often, emotional words are used to try make an emotional connection, but these words feel hollow without a brand framework.

Why Reputation is Not Enough?
Reputations are important. They provide credibility, add value to practitioner careers and establish trust based on competency and excellence. But, reputation alone is not sufficient in a business where unexpected experiences/outcomes affect human life often resulting in discomfort, stress, pain and on occasion even death. Also, reputation alone is not sufficient in a business where extreme human emotion is FULL ON across the experience.

Third, reputation alone is not sufficient in a market where many seem to have a good/great reputation. The reputation differential among top hospitals is insignificant. Everyone has good US News and World Report rankings, other impressive accolades, top doctors, important research, powerful technology and machines, all kinds of specialization and more. Reputation earns  top tier classification, but does not produce a competitive advantage or distinction among peers.

Above all, reputation alone cannot meet the unique emotional needs of the hospital consumer. Reputations are cold. They are factual. (tweet this) Hospital consumers are in a high emotional state, many feeling surreal, extreme stress, fear, confusion and even shame. Although it is reassuring to know that the hospital has the best this or is the best at that, something much greater is needed. Reputations are not inspirational, nurturing, mind-expanding or transcendent, but brands are. (tweet this) Unlike reputations, brands can make you feel warm, strong and positive.

A Powerful Brand-Part of the Healing Process
A hospital/health services business  is a risky business that asks a lot of its consumers.  It requires people to take chances, experience the uncomfortable and the unexpected, make decisions under high emotional stress and to always have hope.  While a reputation reassures with factual credibility, a powerful brand elevates mood with conceptual fantasy. (tweet this). It has the power to evoke trust, optimism, forgiveness (in adversity), and a leap of faith to try something new (like a new treatment).  A powerful hospital brand can soften the rough edges of the hospital reality by transcending it.  It can strengthen the road to recovery for the patient by strengthening their spirit.  It can reduce hostility evoked by conflict or disappointment by forging a a forgiving emotional bond.
Imagine the abilities of a powerful brand helping patients and families feel less anxiety and frustration when things are not perfect (which is common), feel more confident and self-assured when agreeing to make a bold decision and feel stronger when they are home struggling with a demanding follow-up regimen.
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Think of the strong reputations of Johnson & Johnson and Merck in the world of big pharma, and then think about the brand differential. A powerful hospital brand, like the J&J brand, can decrease anxiety and fear, and increase optimism and maybe even compliance. It also might enable clearer dialog between practitioners and patients/families and more effective decision-making.  

To create powerful brands, hospitals must first understand the need to go beyond reputation. Second, although branding is not a hard science, hospitals must know that branding is not “marketing fluff”. Branding is a potent social science, a strategically designed conceptual framework that makes a positive difference (tweet this) in the patient/family experience and healing process. The brand works in combination with the reputation to help the consumer.  I always say that a powerful brand is a sign of a company that really cares about people, (tweet this) because a brand is made for the consumer as a gift. If hospitals give this gift to their consumers, they will demonstrate they truly care and also help consumers better succeed in a challenging situation.

OVERHEAD SPACE Fact for Thought 
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