Aligning Lights for Coherence
Photo by Todd Quackenbush on Unsplash

Every Healthcare Organization Needs a “Chief Coherence Officer”

During his presidency, George H.W. Bush called for “1,000 points of light,” spontaneous acts of kindness to ignite a new national commitment to volunteerism. Although his purpose in creating this mind picture was to bring a new level of appreciation to the importance of volunteerism, it is also an intriguing illustration that relates directly to how the strongest healthcare brands are built.

More so than other service industries, healthcare brands gain their definition and meaning from the collective impact of touchpoints—the “points of light” that make up a healthcare experience. Touchpoints might include “word of mouth” from family or friends, advertising, media coverage, and social media reviews, as well as educational events and call center and web interactions that lead to actual care experiences and after-care encounters. These experiences are impacted by everyone from clinicians to housekeeping and dietary, from receptionists and call center operators to the billing office, valet attendants, and more.

The highly experiential nature of healthcare brands is both exciting and daunting. While there are many opportunities to positively impact patients and their families to build the brand, the sheer number of touchpoints that have to be thoughtfully orchestrated in a strategic way can seem overwhelming. It’s a challenge that all healthcare organizations wrestle with.

With brand becoming even more important in today’s era of growing consumerism, these “points of light” can mesh into a beautiful and engaging picture that leads to an ongoing relationship, or they can be harsh, discordant, and impersonal, and lead to an unsatisfactory encounter—one that opens the door to traditional and non-traditional competitors who are doing a better job of managing their brand experience.

Enter the Chief Coherence Officer (CCO)

To master the sheer complexity of the touchpoints that impact the brand, and to orchestrate the often-divergent resources necessary to bring the brand to life, there is a need for a “Chief Coherence Officer”…someone with the vision and discernment to define the brand and to ensure that everyone who has responsibility for the areas that impact it understands what the brand means, how it must perform, how it will be measured to ensure ongoing success, and their role in making it happen.

Under the guidance of the CCO, “living the brand” is advanced as an organizational imperative, not a marketing initiative. The CCO ensures that people embrace their roles and that all the touchpoints work together to form a seamless, brand-compliant experience.

While a Chief Experience Officer (if you have one) would be central to this process, they shouldn’t lead it. The brand experience needs to deliver on the brand strategy, not the other way around. And, without a central and singular voice translating brand strategy into action, the wide range of largely clinical or process-oriented individuals controlling most of the brand touchpoints are likely to lose focus or interest due to “initiative fatigue” or move along their own path of least resistance or greatest historical comfort. The result is a form of brand anarchy.

So, what are the qualities of the Chief Coherence Officer?

For starters, the CCO is the Master Seer. The CCO is responsible for assembling and interpreting the growing body of data available to discern the brand landscape, orchestrate brand communications and activation, and monitor the effects of brand efforts. Inputs include market research, patient and encounter data, patient and employee satisfaction data, and broader cultural and environmental indicators. In many healthcare organizations, this data is collected and processed in different departments. It needs to be released from these silos.

The CCO is also the Chief Storyteller. The best brands capture imagination, elicit emotions, and become part of the life narratives of the people they help and those that provide the help. The CCO conceives, conveys, and protects this story as it is told and retold internally and externally. The CCO scripts the CEO, who serves as the brand champion, and helps everyone else in senior leadership understand their roles as brand co-managers.

The CCO is the Brand Orchestrator. Because the brand strategy serves as “the unified theory of everything” that defines the desired effect of all touchpoints, it is the lens through which an organization views its mission, vision, and values and how to bring them to life. The brand explains what the organization offers, and guides decisions on everything from strategy to hiring and compensation. The CCO’s integration role is to ensure that the operational “lights” are working together to produce the right brand picture.

To do this, the CCO works with the entire range of people who impact the various brand touchpoints. Like an orchestra leader who doesn’t need to play every instrument to know what a full musical score should sound like, a CCO doesn’t need to have deep operational experience to work with those who bring the brand to life; he or she just needs to keep an eye on the “score” to ensure that the performance is right. And, if there is a Chief Experience Officer to partner with on the experiential elements of the brand, all the better.

Finally, the CCO is the Brand Truth Teller. The role of “master seer” completes itself in the role of organizational truth teller; the person who is responsible for establishing, measuring, and interpreting results that indicate if the proper brand understanding, valuation, and performance is occurring. In this respect, the CCO is the brand conscience of the organization.

CCO vs. CMO

You might think that this CCO role sounds an awful lot like the classic definition of a Chief Marketing Officer (CMO). While this may be true of successful companies outside of healthcare, healthcare CMOs  often are limited to the communications side of the brand equation, with little to no impact on operational elements of the brand experience. As many healthcare organizations are realizing, there is a need for a more patient-centered marketing structure. The presence of an empowered CCO can help overcome the structural and, if present, attitudinal barriers that disconnect operations from brand management.

Given the rate and nature of change, there has never been a more important time for healthcare CMOs to step forward into this expanded role. The future of your brand, and your organization, depends upon it.

Exclusive benefit for Forum Members! View Joel English’s session (with Preston Gee and Rose Glenn) from the 2018 Healthcare Marketing & Physician Strategies Summit. Watch here.

Joel English is Managing Partner, Business Development for BVK. In his 28+ years at BVK, he has worked with more than 175 healthcare clients encompassing most aspects of the healthcare industry in the areas of brand and marketing strategy and communications.

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