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Curbside Consult with Dr. Jayne 11/21/16

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One of the challenges of running a business is managing your brand. While branding is associated historically with artisans burning their marks onto products and with ranchers applying brands to livestock, modern brand management can be a tricky thing. While we often associate brand management with consumer goods, an increasing number of healthcare organizations aggressively manage their brand identities.

Where many faith-based organizations traditionally named themselves after saints, the last decade has seen those identities give way to more broadly-appealing concept-based names: Memorial, Dignity, Unity, Mercy, Ascension, and more. Corporate initials have become prefixed to the names of even more facilities, a change that is deliberate and belies a deeper strategy. Health systems have gone beyond the traditional mission and vision statements to create marketing taglines that are specifically designed to evoke a certain feeling about the facility and its services. As “patients” have become “consumers,” we’ve seen more and more health organizations that are looking at market share, competitive intelligence, and brand differentiation.

Hospitals often have aggressive marketing campaigns around their emergency department wait times, the luxury of their labor and delivery suites, the availability of hotel-like accommodations, and more. The competition for market share has long trickled down to individual physician practices, where being affiliated with a given health system can generate more business or greater prestige. Although these may have been loose affiliations in the past, they’re becoming more solid as groups of providers shift into Accountable Care Organizations and other risk-sharing arrangements. Organizations that understand their brand and how they are perceived by the community can make stronger plays in the market than those who can’t.

As I work in physician offices across the country, the differences in brand awareness are striking. Many physicians don’t understand how important having a corporate identity can be, or conversely what a disaster it can be if you don’t have one. Does the staff wear uniforms that match and have a practice logo? If there isn’t a uniform, is there a dress code? Or do staff just wear whatever scrubs are at the top of the clean laundry? It amazes me when practice leadership hasn’t given this any thought. Having a uniform appearance (which doesn’t necessarily mean there must be uniforms) can convey to the patient that their experience is going to be organized and predictable.

Even though my practice has a strict dress code, we sometimes struggle with this. Different team leaders have different levels of tolerance for deviation from the dress code, which can result in consequences when the CEO, COO, or a medical director arrives unannounced. The fact that there are penalties associated with failure to adhere to the standard makes a difference, though, and it quickly becomes clear that if leadership isn’t going to tolerate straying from the dress code, they’re not likely to tolerate deviation from our customer service or patient care standards, either.

I see physicians who struggle with their own idea of a dress code – white coats that are filthy at the cuffs and elbows, rumpled clothes, dirty scrubs, and shoe covers with holes worn through them. They may be brilliant in their field, but they’re missing the fact that their personal brand screams “messy” and “disorganized” rather than “capable” and “professional.” This concept of personal branding becomes even more concerning when it extends to a physician’s social media presence. Where some are skilled at keeping personal and professional personas separated, others offer up a confusing mix of messages that may be concerning to patients or potential patients.

Even those physicians who may do a good job managing their own personal branding and social media presence often struggle with managing how their employees present themselves. Do employees use the practice platform to promote their own interests? Does the practice have any say in how physicians and employees present themselves on platforms such as Doximity and LinkedIn? I’m seeing more organizations that are interested in trying to get a handle on these external platforms, making sure their employees help support the professional perception of the organization. Some may require employees that blog to add a statement that the opinions featured in the blog are not those of the employer. Others don’t seem to notice that their employees have social media profiles. Case in point: the marketing director of a local Catholic healthcare organization was wearing a shirt that said “sex, drugs, and rock & roll” in his LinkedIn picture while prominently featuring his employer’s logo on his profile. I’ve also seen plenty of non-clinical people wearing scrubs in their photos, which always baffles me.

Hospitals and healthcare delivery organizations aren’t the only ones in our world that are spending significant resources managing their brands externally. Many healthcare IT companies are actively managing their brands, even though those that may not admit to having a marketing department. Although some efforts can be counterproductive (remember the Siemens Healthineers debacle?), others have had significant success. HIMSS is the big game of healthcare IT marketing and it’s clear to see who brought their A game to the exhibit hall.

In dealing with many vendors in the course of my consulting work, however, I wish more of them would pay attention to internal branding and ensuring employees other than the marketing team can deliver a consistent message. I work with one vendor that often communications information directly to their client base without communicating the same information to their employees, which as you can imagine results in a lot of misunderstandings, particularly when the communications include release dates or break/fix information. Even though they’re a relative start-up, there’s no excuse for not having a communication plan that allows your internal team to be educated before you start sharing information with your customers.

There’s also no excuse for not having consistent, professional website bios for your senior leadership, but I can’t say I didn’t warn them. When nine of 10 execs have professional headshots and the other has a selfie from his most recent fishing trip, that’s probably not the image you want to convey, unless you are a vendor that runs a fleet of charter fishing boats.

What’s your brand? Email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.