Less than 30 years ago the concept of marketing healthcare services was not only foreign but also seen as a questionable activity. Today more healthcare companies understand the importance of brand management and have begun to incorporate these initiatives into their company marketing strategy. Linking the branding strategy to the business strategy is essential because one key component of a successful branding strategy includes the commitment and involvement of executive management. "Once all key players understand the institution's brand identity and framework, documentation of the branding system can begin." (Thomas, R. K. 2010 Marketing health services. Chicago: Health Administration Press.)
The term branding may be the most misused term in marketing. Branding is often confused with corporate identity or corporate image but these three terms have very different meanings. Corporate identity refers to a company's name, logo, or tag line. Corporate image is the public's perception of a company, whether intended or not. By contrast, corporate branding is a business process that is planned, strategically focused, and integrated throughout the organization and establishes the direction, leadership, clarity of purpose, and energy for a company's corporate brand. "A brand identity is the visual, emotional, rational, and cultural image that a consumer associates with a company or a product." (Rod Gapp,&Bill Merrilees.2006).
A company's branding strategy often has a large impact on the success or failure of a particular product. Given the cluttered health product market, a public health campaign should be infused with brand attributes so that the target audience is able to experience the product and its value, and is able to accept and adopt the message and behavior adopted by it. A brand helps to identify a product and its producer and to differentiate it from competition yet branding is used very little in health campaigns when building a marketing strategy. Traditional healthcare campaigns do not always take into account the contemporary marketplace condition where there can be no denying that health is sold as a product and where consumers call the shots. Most campaigns only use the 4Ps in marketing to advertise their products through media channels in an effort to widen and deepen exposure. Little effort has been made to brand services and use branding strategies to communicate value to their target audience in the hopes of ensuring a longterm relationship.
Branding is critical because it creates the identity for a product. It is the perceptual entity that resides in the minds of the consumers but is rooted in reality. (Ambar Basu,&Jian Wang.(2009).
Whether a business is based on the new or old economy, an effective branding initiative should play a critical role in a strategic business plan. Successful branding can provide both business-to-business and business-to-consumer organizations with a competitive edge in the minds of the stakeholders. Conversely, if a company does not own a focused, meaningful branding expression, relationships and loyalty levels with stakeholders will become vulnerable, particularly during tough economic times.
Branding and marketing plans are distinct yet closely intertwined and highly synergistic partners in influencing stakeholder relationships and loyalty levels. Branding may be viewed in different ways within the same company. It could be viewed as simply a corporate name and logo or as an advertising campaign. In reality, the essence and goals of branding are much more inclusive. Branding cultivates intimate, credible and trusting stakeholder relationships for a corporation's products and services, and combines with supporting marketing plans to influence purchasing decisions and ongoing loyalty levels.
Strong brands have a clear, unyielding, unrelenting focus on their end user. You need to have a clear vision of what you want to stand for. This is extremely difficult in healthcare. Convincing healthcare clinicians that internal branding is an effective long-term use of resources in the area of treatment and delivery of healthcare is even a greater step for most to take. It is important to gain a greater understanding of how to integrate branding and through aspects of organizational transformation to improve quality and innovation.
According to Branding 101, establishing a brand identity requires several steps. First, you have to decide what to brand. This means considering the services to offer, the people who provide the service, the competitions services, and the population served. A healthcare organization may choose to brand any of the following: the entire health system, outpatient services, a prominent department, or a medical group. In addition, it may choose to focus on products and services that have a high demand, but are difficult to emulate. No matter what area a healthcare organization decides to brand, effective brands have shown to almost always be linked to a specific target audience such as women and senior citizens.
The second step is defining the brand message. This encompasses deciding what message it wants to communicate about the service it has decided to brand. For example, a healthcare organization may choose to focus on quality of care, convenience, or its technology capabilities. Each of these aspects can be effective if the brand message relates to the target audience and the service that's being branded. Next, the brand must be communicated-both internally and externally. Internal communication is important to ensure both staff acceptance and staff enthusiasm which is necessary for brand success.
Today's savvy healthcare consumer has more choices than ever so it's important for healthcare organization to differentiate their products and services from those of their competitors. Healthcare branding can help organizations achieve this goal. By focusing on branding they can differentiate themselves from the competition by using their name, products, services, symbols, and slogans.
Although creators of healthcare branding strategies still lack the expertise and success seen in other industries, they can learn a few lessons by looking at the techniques that have worked in other areas. In today's highly competitive environment, they may have no other choice. Influencing consumer choice holds the key to success in a changing healthcare arena and branding can be a smart way to do this.
- Thomas, R. K. (2010). Marketing health services. Chicago: Health Administration Press. Second Addition.
- Rod Gapp,&Bill Merrilees.(2006). Important factors to consider when using internal branding as a management strategy: A healthcare case study.Journal of Brand Management,14(1/2),162-176. Retrieved March 2, 2010, from ABI/INFORM Global. (Document ID:1195960991).
- The Role of Branding in Public Health Campaigns - Ambar Basu,&Jian Wang.(2009). The role of branding in public health campaigns.Journal of Communication Management,13(1),77-91. Retrieved March 2, 2010, from ABI/INFORM Global. (Document ID:1866203431).
- Building your brand - Michel Viau. (2001,April). Building your brand.CMA Management,75(2),26-29. Retrieved March 2, 2010, from ABI/INFORM Global. (Document ID:70002712).
- Mary Kate Mangini. (2002). Branding 101.Marketing Health Services,22(3),20-23. Retrieved March 2, 2010, from ABI/INFORM Global. (Document ID:155769171).