For health systems, hospitals, and clinics across the US there's a growing emphasis being placed on building and extending their brand, particularly in the digital arena. It's something both Phase2 and our leading health system clients are acutely aware of, particularly as healthcare consumption habits among patients shift from the traditional towards those of a savvier digital consumer.
I sat down with two of our in-house experts, Joey Groh, Director of Creative Design and Caitlin Loos, Manager of Creative Services, to talk about why brand is now so important in healthcare, and what health systems can and should be doing about it.
Q: First of all, what is brand anyway?
Caitlin: Simply put, brand is the immediate image, emotion, or message that people experience when they think of a product or service.
The accumulated experiences of your brand combine to create a singular reaction from your audience, and if your brand is strong, that reaction will incite your customers to think of you first, be willing to spend more money on your service or recommend you to new audiences.
Joey: The word “brand” is probably one of the most misunderstood words in our vernacular. A slick logo and harmonious color palette a brand does not make, but that is often the identifying image that first pops into our heads.
Brand, as it relates to healthcare systems, is the new bedside manner by which providers are judged.
In actuality, the identity portion is just another component of the larger whole that strives to elicit the desired perception in audiences to understand the brand as being unique. Hearing an ad on the radio with the appropriate tone of voice is just as important as the quality of cardstock used on a business card, or the intuitive interaction on a website.
Q: And why is brand so important?
Caitlin: From an internal perspective, which is so important and often ignored, it’s an internal guide – it tells you what parts of yourself are most related to your company. When you have a strong brand, you essentially have an entire company backing you. The more you build that up, the more everyone in your health system can accomplish and the more equity your brand holds in the world.
Joey: In addition to what Caitlin said about having an entire company backing you, strong brands can also make brand ambassadors from their consumer base. Positive word of mouth is the best form of advertising! A strong brand can wield power that cannot be easily fabricated or held by an individual, or group of individuals. It can be a force to be reckoned with when facing political factors–internal or external, socio-economic change, or striving to disrupt the market with a truly new way of doing things.
Q: Why is brand now important in healthcare?
Joey: Brand, as it relates to health systems and hospitals, is the new bedside manner by which providers are judged, but on a much larger scale. Health systems have the benefit of being able to establish strong brand equity because they, by the very nature of what they do, help people live better. And in those exchanges, there is an investment and equity that a healthcare provider can build with patients. It is also incredibly important in recruitment for top talent to join your healthcare system.
Caitlin: We are coming out of an era where brand was less important to healthcare. The doctors were essentially the brand, not the health system.
Now, as healthcare customers are starting to act more like consumers, there is an amazing opportunity to create an anticipated experience. A great example of a brand experience is the Aveda brand. You know when you walk in the store, you will smell their signature scent, be offered a hand massage, a cup of spiced herbal tea, and when you leave, their packaging will be beautiful and natural. Healthcare has the opportunity to do the same, and build upon the incredible expertise and care they are providing by adding the experience piece – both in their digital and physical spaces – and in doing so to build up consumer trust and true loyalty.
Joey: And we now have digital linking these things together. With digital brands, how your website and other digital assets reflect on your brand, it’s a HUGE deal. If it doesn’t work, people notice that, it ultimately impacts the perception of the organization.
Q: So what can, or should, healthcare systems do about all of this?
Joey : When it comes to seeing a brand come to life on the internet, the website is most likely the largest touchpoint with the most reach, so all components of design need to be carefully planned with the right amount of overlap, concurrency, and collaboration. I’m not only talking about visual design, but rather holistic Design – designing the entire user experience – and how that impacts the overall perception of the brand.
With brand application on the web, usability of the design must be taken into account, and oftentimes override choices that were made in the brand guidelines that were intended for other touchpoints, such as print collateral.
The design must support and work hand in hand with content, placing accessibility in the highest priority. Accessibility is important for all sites, but it is especially important in healthcare. It’s also important to create environments that build in accessibility as part of the whole, thoughtfully and consistently, integrated in a sophisticated way.
Caitlin: It is really important to guide the user experience and the ways consumers will interact with your brand online. Digital technology has given everyone a voice. They have it and are going to use it. The key to success is giving them the right avenue for it. And of course, in order to do that you have to be really clear on who your audience is.
I’d also suggest, looking to your 1-degree brands, the ones that are on the edge of healthcare, but really are more in the wellness space, because your world is colliding with theirs. And it’s a really good place to find inspiration and ways to deepen your brand.
Joey: Also, don’t stop at the style guide. If you have been working in a print forward environment and there is a lack of a digital style guide, it is good practice to document a design system that can be used for digital properties.
The good news for our clients is that we have the expertise that allows us to execute this work, so that there isn’t a differentiation between print and digital. Yes there are (digital) application guidelines, but there is also a cohesive thought process, which can be an extension of your legacy brand or brand evolution.
Learn more about building your brand and incorporating it into your web design in Joey Groh’s blog “Better Design Through Iteration and Collaboration.”