Good brands make people feel things. When we’re buying sports cars, we want to feel edgy. Luxury cars, prestigious. Minivans, safe (and if at all possible, not too uncool).
When we’re buying healthcare, we want to feel…coddled. We expect our doctors to know our names and genuinely care whether we live or die.
We also want to think that healthcare and money have nothing to do with each other. That hospitals and clinics exist for no other reason than to take care of us and make us feel all chicken-noodle-soup cozy inside. But then why are there multiple competing hospitals and clinics in every city, hounding us with commercials and billboard messages every day?
Because healthcare is a product, just like everything else. As such, it needs to be branded to be noticed, just like everything else.
Above All Else, Healthcare Is Personal
You might think branding is for toilet paper and razors—boring daily items that would have no significance at all in our brains if they weren’t being constantly infused with fake emotions by brands. But highly-ranked, nationally recognized hospitals with state-of-the-art equipment, impeccable success rates, and cutting-edge research programs? Their work should speak for itself.
Unfortunately (fortunately?), none of that stuff really matters to today’s consumers because we already assume all of it. We assume our doctors are experts and will provide top-notch care. We assume that lives are being saved and fancy new equipment is being purchased. What we’re looking for now is a personal connection.
Healthcare decisions are the most personal ones we make. Sometimes, they’re about life or death. To make these decisions, we need massive amounts of trust—and what’s the #1 purpose of brands?
While they’re at it, brands also:
- Make companies memorable. Because healthcare organizations are rarely marketing to people who are actively looking to buy, how can they get people to think of them first when the time comes?
- Differentiate companies from each other. To remember a company, consumers have to be able to recognize it. How is Top Hospital A different from Top Hospital B?
- Allow companies to charge premium prices. Hospitals have to make money too. If you’re the best (or at least, can make people think you are), you can charge more.
- Establish how companies fit into society by contributing to the greater good. (Studies have found a cause-and-effect relationship between companies’ perceived ability to serve a higher purpose and their financial performance.) In addition to helping me, how is my doctor helping the world?
How Do You Get Personal?
So you’re ready to get warm and fuzzy with your branding. How do you do it, without sacrificing your clout as a professional, capable organization?
Let’s harken back to our academic days and explore the answer to that by analyzing a few examples together. I stopped by the websites of a few top hospitals you’ll recognize to see how they’ve handled this. During my visits, I jotted down the first words and ideas that jumped out at me from their homepages.
First words: Just one—Answers. (Bonus points for making it unmistakable where my eyes were supposed to go first.)
Ideas: Finding answers (and not stopping until they do). Hearing others’ stories and connecting with others who have been there.
Analysis: Mayo’s homepage is superbly personal. It features pictures of smiling faces who have “found their answers” at Mayo, along with links to the patients’ personal stories.
Warm and Fuzzy Score: A
First words: (From a rolling slider) Building on Our Promise, Innovations in Patient Care, An Environment of Healing. (All in reference to the same thing: new buildings and technologies.)
Ideas: Boasting state-of-the-art facilities and technologies that make patients safer and more comfortable.
Analysis: “Congratulations on the new construction but…what about me?” –any patient. This branding suggests that Johns Hopkins is more focused on buying fancy, expensive toys than learning my name or helping me figure out what’s going on in my (unique) body. The people most excited about a newfangled X-ray machine are going to be the X-ray techs, not the patients. In other words, safety and comfort are ok, but compassion and connection are better.
Warm and Fuzzy Score: D
First words: HealthHub. New Year, New Heart.
Ideas: Cleveland Clinic’s doctors have helpful information to share—possibly through a blog? (From here, it’s unclear what the HealthHub actually is.) Also, a teenager needing a heart transplant on Christmas Eve was presumably helped at the clinic.
Analysis: There is no clear message here. I can’t tell by looking at this page what Cleveland Clinic stands for or how they differ from other world-renowned institutions. Some personal elements do present themselves in the heart transplant story and the smiling, helpful-looking doctor at the top. However, the average patient is not facing a heart transplant—does Cleveland care about him too?
(Despite the wishy-washy homepage, Cleveland Clinic does have an excellent personal message about discovering the power of today buried elsewhere in their site content. Catch phrases include: “Hope for better tomorrows starts with world-class care today” and “Today we help you, hear you, are just there for you.” These are the kind of gems that belong front and center!)
Warm and Fuzzy Score: C
Personal…but Still Capable
So now you’re thinking, ok, I get the personal thing. But our hospital is nationally ranked and our care is top-notch, and we still want people to know that.
Of course. Your trophies should still be displayed on a long shelf in the front entryway. Best of KLAS, among the top 10 hospitals in the nation, #1 for cardiology. This is absolutely important. When patients are facing specific, life-threatening conditions, such as cancer, they want The Best. They’d love for the best to be caring and personal, but that has to take the backseat to having what it takes to make them better.
The catch is that a lot of hospitals are doing great things and getting recognized for them. Being among the top 10 hospitals in the nation could still potentially make your organization look identical to at least 9 other hospitals, right?
Once you’ve gathered your trophies, the personal connection piece that blossoms from your brand becomes the shelf that supports them and controls how they’re presented to the world.
You Have a Brand, Whether You Cultivate It or Not
Even if you do zero intentional branding, your company will gain a reputation (essentially, a brand) all by itself. Your website will send a message, whether or not that message was carefully crafted by you. But without your help, the message might be something like “we are basically the same as the next similar company” or maybe “we don’t want to spend too much money on our website.” Better to take control of your message by figuring out what exactly you want it to be and then intentionally developing a true brand around that.
Lots of brands just…exist. They change their brand promises, send confusing messages, and give the impression that they generally aren’t sure what their organizational goals are. The first step in transforming a passive brand into an active, powerful one is to get to the bottom of what your brand is now and where you want it to be in the future.
How are you different? The most effective personal branding answers that question and tells your story.
When someone looks at your website, what are the first words they should see and the ideas they should leave with?