Crafting a Leading Brand Architecture Strategy

“How do the leading brands do it?”

That’s a question healthcare brand leaders consistently ask about brand architecture strategy.

Brand architecture—the way you organize and present your portfolio of offerings based on how consumers want to engage with you—is far and away among the most political and complex branding considerations. It directly impacts organizational structure, profit and loss management, consumer experience, and internal and external perception of the brand. The topic is especially relevant in healthcare, considering the environment of ever-increasing mergers and strategic partnerships within the industry today and for the foreseeable future.

In an increasingly competitive marketplace, brand architecture is a key tool to navigate complexity and differentiate your organization. As consumers demand higher levels of participation and engagement, a consumer-centric brand architecture drives awareness, consideration, satisfaction, and revenue.

In a recent Forum for Healthcare Strategists webinar, brand leaders from two healthcare systems weighed in on how they do it. The webinar featured Elizabeth (Beth) Kistner, Executive Director, Brand Strategy & Consumer Research at Mercy; Kim Vecchio, Director of Brand at UCHealth; and Gunnar Jacobs, Executive Director at Monigle.

As a follow-up to the webinar, the panelists were presented with several questions submitted by webinar participants. Following are their responses.

1. How did your marketing departments convince administration to back them and make the change?

Kistner: Our decision to pursue a rebrand originated with senior leadership. The rebrand processing itself was a transparent, collaborative effort that involved a broad group of Mercy stakeholders, including local and enterprise-wide leaders, Sisters of Mercy, board members, and physicians. Although Marketing was a key player and certainly had responsibility for key aspects of development and execution of the new brand, senior leader buy-in was already there.

Vecchio: UCHealth had merged as three separate systems in 2012. We didn’t have a consistent brand or identity across the region. We were still operating as three separate regions. The rebrand was driven by our executive leadership and had full support all the way up from the CEO.

2. What was the biggest objection from physicians the Mercy team had to overcome in order to fully get them onboard as collaborative partners?

Kistner: Naming was probably the biggest objection from physicians. There were concerns that giving up local physician organization and individual practice names was an unnecessary loss of equity and would confuse patients. Three things helped overcome these objections: getting physician leaders onboard to help make the case, running an ad campaign right after the rebrand campaign to introduce our communities to the new Mercy Clinic, and the positive lift that came from seeing a very vibrant new logo appear seemingly everywhere and all at once as the new brand rolled out in each community.

3. How did UCHealth work through physician buy-in when renaming practices? Or, did administration ultimately give the final word that the name would be changing?

Vecchio: In some cases, the buy-in was easy as we weren’t changing their name or practice. Other groups had different levels of participation. Heart and Vascular Care had a large meeting that included many of the providers weighing in, and in other cases we had one or two docs that needed to approve. We discussed service line names with clinical chairs and other key physicians before we updated all clinic names. When we had those finalized, we shared final names with the Chief Medical Officers and Chief Executive Officers at each hospital and for UCHealth Medical Group to approve before we rolled out the final clinic list name. We then shared the names with all clinic directors to make sure we hadn’t missed anyone. This took us about six months to finalize.

4. Did you produce an external brand campaign to launch the new brand?

Kistner: Yes. We did short, big-bang name change advertising blitzes in each community as we rolled out the new name. It focused on a simple message that our name was changing but our mission and identity was the same. Channels included TV, billboards, radio, print, and online. Following these campaigns we ran a similar campaign introducing our newly-named physician organization, Mercy Clinic, and featuring our doctors.

Vecchio: Yes, we had a new campaign launch about two weeks after we announced our name and new logo. It was well received.

5. How do you handle the natural drive to initialize names, especially for clinic locations? It seems so often computer systems only allow so many characters, so things get muddled and the brand gets lost with long names.

Kistner: This really hasn’t been a problem for us. Our public-facing names are fairly short; for example, Mercy Clinic Internal Medicine or Mercy Hospital, which the public generally shortens further to just “Mercy.” Any need to shorten or initialize for computer systems is just an internal convention that doesn’t affect how our names appear to the public.

Vecchio: We allowed the internal naming structure to stay the same for abbreviations and how they represent the clinics. We did have to update PVHS and CHMG to our new naming structure but those were needed. We did not change Card for Cardiology to Heart and Vascular Care. Epic had been set up in a way that makes sense for the providers and to change it now would have been disastrous in changing their work orders, names, etc. We did change the external-facing name that comes out of Epic so that the external name matches our clinic names for consumers. The external name would show up on receipts, surveys, etc.

Jacobs: By nature humans try to shorten and simplify everything, and in branding this can unintentionally reduce your brand value and create a road to anonymity. Initials quickly get lost and lose meaning, unless enough time and investment has gone into driving meaning into those initials (i.e. GE, IBM, PNC, etc.). Creating this level of equity in initials is extremely challenging, expensive, and takes a very long time. There are a few tactics to help minimize this:

  • Create a comprehensive nomenclature strategy that drives consistency and works to create short and simple names. The shorter and simpler the name, the less likely people will be to initialize it. The long names you see in healthcare often have extra words that are not needed, create complexity, and encourage consumers to shorten.
  • Use consumer-friendly language that people are familiar with and comfortable using. Healthcare has a lot of lengthy, academic and scientific terminology that consumers don’t understand, which only encourages them to abbreviate it.
  • Be disciplined internally to set an example of how to use names. If our internal teams use initials, that leaks externally and gives people permission to shorten names. Define clear rules on how to refer to names verbally and in writing, including first mention and second mention, and provide clear rules for media to help ensure they use the correct names.

Want to learn more? Listen to the webinar — and check out Monigle’s white paper, “How to Craft a Leading Brand Architecture.”

By Erin Engstrom, Director of Content Strategy, Monigle Associates Inc.

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