health care branding

    Big Data for Life!

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    Big data is everywhere. The top three areas I’ve seen it taking hold are: education, healthcare and marketing. On the marketing side, IT budgets used to be the provenance of the LAN, WAN, hardware and software guys. Now that money is controlled by the marketing peeps. (What good are wires and iron, if you can’t do something smart with them?) As for education, we’re on the cusp of using data to better learn how to learn. Or teach, i.e., individualized lesson plans based upon a student’s learning style or where s/he is on the learning curve. Once we figure this out, thanks to data driven assessment and some smart pedagogy, we’re on our way.

    But nowhere is big data to be more impactful than it will be in healthcare. EHRs (electronic health records) also known as ISIL, I mean, EMRs (electronic medical records), are the next big platform battle. As is the case in free enterprise societies, new technologies often develop sloppily. That is, without a clear cut winner to start, the market is like a burlap bag full of cats. In my area of NY, there are 30 electronic health records companies serving physicians, hospitals and labs – very few of which speak to one another. It’s messy. And with the Affordable Care Act facilitating the need for EHRs, the battle is only now starting to occur in earnest.

    Data done well will turn all doctors into good doctors. (Question: Do you know what they call a physician with a C average who graduates med school? Answer: Doctor.)  Big data in healthcare has the ability to make healthcare in America the envy of other nations. Right now it is not. These are exciting times and when the politics wear off, we’ll start to really see some wonderful outcomes. Great docs and great data will make for great patients. And that’s a home run. Peace.

     

     

    Life. Giving. Breakthroughs.

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    The headline above is the tagline for the extraordinary Brigham and Women’s Hospital, or so it appears on advertising and the website. It reflects a tripartite brand strategy. Maybe 4-partite if you define “giving” two ways. Most hospitals don’t really get branding. They understand the need to fill beds, increase revenue and improve reputation, but don’t really know how. So they establish a marketing board, fill it with retirees who once worked at Clairol, and raise money for an ad campaign. Someone at the new ad agency writes a poor brief and a lazy ad pops out about the latest treatment, a survivor story or an award. All tied up in a tidy little tagline like Life. Giving. Breakthroughs.

    Taglines are claims. Claims that meet at the intersection of what a brand is great at and what consumers want. If you take the periods away from the Brigham and Women’s tagline the strategy is about breakthroughs. Not a bad place to be if you can prove it. New York Presbyterian’s line “Amazing things are happening here” does a better job of making this claim from a poetic sense. But again, the strategy only works when you prove it by sharing amazing things.

    Healthcare, which makes up 18% of the GDP, is the consumer category that needs brand strategy the most yet employs it the least. Here’s a tagline and brand strategy that work. Tell me if you know the brand. “The best cancer care anywhere.”  

    Peace.

     

    MSKCC and Proof.

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    The new advertising for Memorial Sloan Kettering has great potential yet under-delivers. The idea or promise is “More Science. Less Fear.” MSKCC the CC stands for Cancer Center) is known for its best-in-class cancer outcomes. If ever you have a chance to speak with someone who has been treated there, you know that they understand the science. Intimately. So the promise (brand idea) is dead on. But if you read or listen to ads on the radio you get no science. You get generalities. “We treat every cancer patient differently.” We us a team of specialist.” Flah flah. I was doing ads like that as a kid.

    I’m not sure where the breakdown is. MSKCC has the proof. They have the science to educate consumers – they just don’t seem to use it. Perhaps they believe we’re not all science majors and won’t be able to process the info. Not so. The narrative doesn’t have to be in chemistry 401 language.

    Branding and advertising is all about claim and proof. MSKCC has the claim…it’s the proof they’re having difficulty with. Proof of more science, should be the easiest part of the equation.

    It will get better. There are smart people at the helm. Peace.

     

    Healthcare Evolution from a Planner’s Perspective.

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    Two nights ago, my Uber driver told me about an island off the coast of Maine — Vinalhaven was its name — that indexed higher than any place in the country for diabetes. Apparently, there was a little bit of in-family diddling back in the day-day. Island people! The island became a renowned area for diabetes research.

    The brand planner in me is reminded that studying discrete geographic areas and cultures can pay big dividends.

    I’m a big fan of healthcare brand planning. As we look at healthcare on a broad scale, it helps to first look on a smaller, more controlled scale. Population health is big these days and as data is collected in health problem hotspots, say lead poisoning among children or breast cancer among women, we gain a clearer picture of possible causes, AKA epidemiology.

    There’s a regional healthcare organization in North Carolina called Novant Health. Anecdotally, I hear them to be a very connected, integrated provider. Their goal is to consolidate on a single Electronic Medical Records platform and share information seamlessly across many practice areas. When an organization fulfills the promise of complete integration it becomes easier to study. And data becomes more valuable.

    Just as Charles Darwin developed his theory of evolution in the discrete geosphere of the Galapagos Islands, healthcare providers can evolve quality when parsing data across a tighter population. 

    When (and if) we move to a single payer healthcare system it won’t be long before we standardize and coalesce record keeping, thereby driving cost and inefficiency out of care. We will also become better planners.

    Peace.

     

    Proof Not Platitudes.

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    I once wrote a marketing communications deck for a billion dollar healthcare system that included quite an array of advertising and branding objectives. The obs were stuff like: increased doctor retention, increased patient satisfaction scores, improved close rate on nurse hires, reduce cancer patient outmigration to NYC – I mean, full monty stuff. My marketing director looked at me like I’d taken hallucinogens. “We can’t do all that.” I believed we could. I believed these results were already underway, he just didn’t see it.

    The health system was indeed changing healthcare for the better, across all of its entities. And the brand strategy and service area (cancer) ads were chronicling it. You see, when “proof” not “platitudes” comprise your branding efforts, people tend to believe you. Sure, they might wonder about what you are not telling them but over time proof convinces. Proof is reality.

    I can’t share the claim and proof array on this particular brand strategy, even though it was written close to 20 years ago, but believe me when I say it still applies. It still works, and it still shows healthcare improvements across a wide variety of objectives. Not the least of which is a nearly 4 fold increase in revenue since that fateful  meeting.

    Peace.

     

    Unhealthy Healthcare Advertising.

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    Healthcare branding is my jam. I know, I know, it sounds sort of geeky and sans luster but it really is a deep and emotional category. When I first dabbled, I expected it would be a downer. Most healthcare organizations, especially systems, couldn’t find their ass with their hands when it came to promoting – let alone positioning. But over the last 15 years or so, brand craft in healthcare has inched forward. Sadly, not everywhere.

    Two local health systems here in North Carolina like to promote how thoroughly they cater to their patients. How the patient is job-one. (Here’s a secret, that’s the promise of 70% of hospital systems out there.) Today I read an ad from one of these systems Advent Health that spoke about Corona Virus preparedness. The headline “Your trusted source for Corona Virus Care,” sat atop a subhead “Nothing is more important to us than you.” The copy contained more promise, no a lick of proof.

    Most healthcare orgs. and systems don’t have a brand strategy – a discrete framework of value. A claim and proof array, as I refer to it. Had Advent a brand strategy, they would have been able to write an ad that was not simply unsubstantiated claim, but was an evidentiary tale. Filled with reasons to believe/

    Poor or non-existent brand strategy leads to poor paid communications.

    It’s crime. It’s a waste. Frankly, it’s unhealthy.

    Peace.

     

    Every Brand is Exciting.

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    The first big brand for which I developed strategy was the North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System, affectionately known as NSLIJHS (just kidding).  It was indeed a doggy’s dinner of words. But if you knew North Shore University Hospital or Long Island Jewish Medical Center, you understood their deep roots in the community. The initial logo was a combination of the two marks – evidence that there was no one in power at the branding helm.  It took a few years to get the name to North Shore-LIJ Health System, which is how employees referred to it. And today it’s called Northwell Health. The latest name is kind of growing on me but was a mistake. Heritage is important.

    When first introduced to the system I thought healthcare would be a poor marketing battlefield. I was quite wrong. The human psyche what it is, and man’s will to live being so powerful, it turned out to be a spectacular brand planning laboratory.

    Bariatric surgery. Women’s health. Obstetrics. Cancer. And the gestalt of a healthcare brand sitting atop of everything – more chances to grow than the Fertile Crescent.

    The fact is, all branding categories are fertile if you dig in. Why? Because people have feelings. Sure, toothpaste decision aren’t life and death but they can be important. It’s our jobs to make them important. Small and midsize companies don’t always see it that way. They should. People make this job interesting.

    Peace.

     

     

    Amazing Things Are Happening Somewhere.

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    I’m putting the Future of Work series on pause for a day in order to report a timely example of how brand strategy can help the creative process in advertising and content.

    Back when a brand planner for client North Shore-LIJ Health System, now Northwell Health, we had a well-healed competitor in New York City named NY Presbyterian Health System. Their ad agency was a shop called Munn Rabot.  My shop Welch Nehlen Groome was doing great strategic work for North Shore-LIJ and fine creative. Munn Rabot was doing fine strategic work for NY Presby and great creative.

    The NY Presbyterian’s brand claim was “Amazing Things Are Happening Here.” North Shore’s was “Setting New Standards in Healthcare.” As ad agents, our jobs were to prove those two claims, through communications, every day. It was a dogfight.

    Today, both healthcare systems have grown and thrived but their brand strategies have regressed. Northwell Health is still setting new standards to a degree, recently repurposing BiPAPP machines as ventilators, but ad agency Strawberry Frog is still reinventing the wheel and missing the opportunity. And I’m sure NY Presbyterian, like Mount Sinai, is delving into antibody plasma treatments for the coronavirus but they’re not sharing that or any other “amazing things,” because they are caught in the headlights of this heinous epidemic — and no longer using Munn Rabot.

    If Northwell or NY Presbyterian had marketers at the helm ministering to their legacy brand strategies instead of pumping out one-off ads and web pages, they’d be ahead of the curve sharing the amazing/standards consumers expect of them.

    (That said, props to all the heroes at all health org. doing the work no one else can do.)

    Peace.

     

     

    Together We Well.

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    Together We Well is the new tagline for Northwell Health. I get where they’re going but must admit to being underwhelmed. That said, it is way better than the previous ad campaign-derived line “Look North.” Which effectively said “use us.”

    There are two kinds of healthcare: preventative and curative. Hospital systems make their money on the latter. After someone gets sick they are treated. If people stay healthy, they needn’t be treated. Prevention is good for society but not always for the bottom line. That said, Northwell is on board with prevention.

    Giving patients a role in prevention is good – the “together” part. Everyone should be contributing to better health. Practitioners and consumers. And that is what the Affordable Care Act is all about. Under the ACA, doctors are compensated based on the degree to which they keep their patient population healthy. So we are moving in the right direction.

    But population health is a societal issue. It goes beyond Northwell. Don’t get me wrong it is imperative America gets better coverage at better prices. But it’s not a brand position. Strawberry Frog, Northwell’s agency, gets this — and they likes to create movements. Sometimes it works. My bet is not this time.

    I would make the “together we well” idea a brand plank — supporting the claim – not the claim itself.

    Brand claims should add value straight to the bank. In the case of Northwell they need to convince patients the system is better than other systems. When I worked on the Northwell brand (it was called North Shore-LIJ at the time) the tagline was “Setting New Standards in Healthcare,” a line created by Della Femina. It was provable, albeit not easily.  

    “Together We Well” is contemporary. Maybe hip. A big aspiration. And even provable. But what it is not is money in the Northwell brand bank. Not a direct deposit anyway.

    Peace.