A changing mentality and vocabulary is leading to a reexamination of what system means for health care.

In the past, health care providers have succeeded as a collection of separate entities, clinics, and hospitals. However, times are definitely changing. In today’s health care environment, integration and efficiency are paving the way for system branding. But, what is system branding and why is it so often misunderstood?

The discussion around system branding stems from the growing trend that has seen individually branded hospitals, facilities, and other entities falling under a single owner or through affiliations between them. System branding is a unified approach to branding all of these disparate organizations under a single brand. The main question that the emergence of these systems has posed for leaders is to what extent the overarching brand (i.e., the system) should tie to the individual entities. The people in charge at the system level have a natural tendency to lean towards favoring a naming structure that elevates the system above each of the individual parts, to communicate the connection, and to create a master brand. Individual entities (e.g., hospitals) often lean the other way, believing that their facility carries more equity in their local geography than a faceless mother-brand. Not surprisingly, these opposing arguments fuel confinement and misunderstanding about the topic.

Another aspect of the uncertainty that surrounds system branding is the question around why people should care, which has not been answered effectively or compellingly. When discussing system branding with stakeholders inside your organization their reaction will most likely be negative―the perception of a heavy handed, top-down imposition by the non-clinical corporate entity on the hill. Perception is often the front line of truth and, yet, we know the benefits of systems in creating experience can be huge. Imagine this future state for the industry: integrated, coordinated, accessible care that brings together hospitals, physicians, ambulatory centers, telemedicine, a health plan, and affiliations and partnerships all connected via electronic medical records. And, imagine an experience for patients and their families that is simpler and more predictable―while also providing the life-enriching benefits of right care, time and place. These types of benefits truly matter to people today and will only increase in importance over the next five, 10, and 20 years.

According to our brand research, 69 percent of consumers indicated they were more likely to choose a hospital or care provider that is part of a system. This indicates how consumer perception of system brands is evolving at a rapid pace. Our studies also revealed that individuals believe that hospitals that are part of a system are 27 percent more likely to deliver the benefits that are important to them. Clearly, there is a substantial halo effect for individual hospitals who belong to hospital systems in terms of consumer favorability. However, the challenge for most systems is how to create a true branding strategy: it is time to push reset on the very notion of system branding.

Keeping the system brand at the forefront of the health care experience is no small task. First, system branding needs to be refocused on the end result, which is the future state discussed above. Second, the language must change from one of system branding to one of synergy branding. The best system brands will be defined by the synergy they create through unexpected and tangible benefits to the stakeholders that they serve.

In the journey of branding the system and deploying it effectively, a “better together” mentality must take hold across the organization. Combat the perception of the corporate power play by confidently expressing how unification delivers benefits and ultimately, experience success. Leadership confidence will translate to employee pride and advocacy.

To learn more about our health care branding expertise follow this link.

Kim Hofland is Monigle’s Senior Marketing Director and Mike Reinhardt is Monigle’s Brand Sustainability Director. Visit them in Salt Lake City March 26 – 29th at the Association of American Medical Colleges – Group on Institutional Advancement Conference.  

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March 26, 2014 By Monigle