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Branding for success

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Oftentimes, healthcare marketing departments find themselves between the proverbial rock and a hard place when it comes to developing a strategic marketing plan and bringing it to fruition.

While the desire to design a well-thought out strategic plan exists, resource and time constraints curtail marketers from putting their efforts in the strategic framework needed to guide them in carrying out their plans therefore ensuring success.

Marketing strategy is about resource allocation. Unfortunately, in many healthcare organizations “strategy” devolves into responding to the squeakiest wheel.

This quarantine time has driven every business enterprise to a complete halt. Even hospitals were left only with suspect or confirmed COVID-19 patients, with census and revenues plunging, leaving empty beds during the entire lockdown. Clinical and administrative staff stayed home, many with either no transportation access or fear of being infected. Filling back those beds or the doctors’ clinics will be no easy task, as the scare of being infected just by stepping into a hospital facility, or any venue where groups of people normally gather, is still real for many months to come.

THE healthcare industry is among the most in-demand yet least appealing sectors during this pandemic.
PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF UNSPLASH/MARCELO LEAL

Business as usual in the new normal has become a matter of urgency for many, including hospitals. But how and where to begin after this devastating injury to business attacked with instant force by a worldwide pandemic?

Let’s try this for starters. Perhaps this is the way to go. Perhaps it isn’t. It’s good to remind the public who we were before the pandemic, and who we are in our better normal.

Marketers are often told that storytelling is the key to branding. That your brand needs a story in order to give your products context, meaning and emotion. The concept of “content marketing” often gets thrown into the argument since it’s such a good instrument for storytelling. Some marketers buy it, others don’t.

Well, I do. I believe that a compelling brand story can deliver growth.

My inspiration comes from an unlikely model for healthcare. It’s an organization not spared by the business woes of coronavirus. I would have never imagined the “happiest place on earth” without a single visitor at any time. COVID closed them down.

‘Happiest place’ bounces back

Disney’s profits plunged 91 percent during the first three months of 2020. As the theme park announced its reopening schedule in July, it also unleashed “images” that brought the public inside its closed operations.

Disney had essential workers that kept small operations moving: phone agents handling transactions and reservations, event planners who organized future celebrations and a security team who guarded the premises while making sure the American flag was raised and lowered each day. Even security’s job of raising and lowering the American flag seemed like an emotional story at a time when many had deep feelings of depression.

The 2,000 animals that live at their Animal Kingdom and 4,000 sea creatures at EPCOT’S Sea Base were tended to by Disney Animal Care, wildlife experts equipped to work with the 360-plus species there.

Most notably during the pandemic, Asha, a Hartmann’s mountain zebra, was born at the Animal Kingdom on 21 March, five days after Disney theme parks closed. The zebra and its mother are currently set free in the savanna of the Kilimanjaro Safaris area, according to the Disney Parks Blog.

In California, a Victorian-style lamp reportedly glows as a symbol inside Walt Disney’s second-floor apartment, which is visible from the ground level of Disneyland’s Town Square.

“It glows as a source of inspiration to our cast and our guests as a remembrance of the man who once looked out that window to the sights of happy families making memories below. Today, even in a world filled with so much uncertainty, that light still shines, bright as ever. I’m looking forward to the day when families can make memories once again.” This is what Rebecca Campbell, the president of Disneyland Resort, wrote in an Instagram post.

A PATIENT’S compelling tale can be a hospital’s winning brand story.
PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF UNSPLASH/ISAAC QUESADA

And that’s when it hit me. It wasn’t just an in-your-face “we’ll be back” message. They narrated stories to prelude the reopening announcement.

Disney’s content marketing strategy goes in reverse compared to most brands. Where most brands start with a physical product and then build a story around it in the form of content marketing, companies like Disney do exactly the opposite. They create a brand story, and then build products around that story.

When a brand has a powerful storyline — in the case of Disney it’s in the form of a literal storyline, a movie — products are invented, experiences naturally happen and the right employees for the brand suddenly appear. Like the “merchandising” of a movie, everything just falls into place.

No, it’s not a small content marketing strategy. It’s simply a powerful brand story expressing itself in many different ways that are natural to that brand.

If Disney can create an epic storyline and then express it with corresponding products and experiences, why can’t a hospital’s products and patient experiences be expressions of our own epic storyline?

I’m not saying every healthcare institution needs a movie. But I am saying every hospital needs a story that tugs at the heart. I strongly believe that a patient’s positive experience is the most powerful hospital marketing material.

Nike’s story is one about determination and drive in sports. UPS is a story about efficiency, and their obsession with it. Coke’s story is about happiness and its role in perpetuating that emotion around the world.

When it occurred me that companies like Disney start with a story and reverse engineer products out of that story, I was inspired. As hospital marketers constantly promoting product without compelling stories, we have to do the reverse: look at everything our institution is today and reverse engineer a compelling brand story around it. After all, isn’t every hospital filled with every type and level of emotions that run high at every point of contact that a patient walks through?

In the years that I led the groups that created the marketing directions of two major hospitals in the country, there was a constant nagging question in my mind as we were in the war room creating growth scenarios: If our hospital brand story were, in fact, a Disney movie, would you go see it?

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