20 Years After its Appearance in Bookstores – a Text Offers Historic Perspective that Building Power Health Brands is a Gateway to Enhancing and Sustaining Lives
Two decades ago, my industry colleagues Nancy Hicks and Amy Ziegenfuss suggested, what was then a revolutionary idea: “Let’s publish a book dedicated to health institution branding!” Aspen Publication jumped on the idea and we were off – collaborating with great minds from many organizations, including the American Cancer Society, Aetna US Healthcare, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Johns Hopkins Medicine, Scripps, Vanderbilt University Medical Center and more. These pioneering spirits shared a novel idea with us – that health brands are focal points for excellence in care and that thought leadership requires sharing information and not holding success close to the vest. That was in the dawn of Y2K – when COBOL operating systems powered giant computers that warehoused data.
Fast forward 20 years. We still see health institutions grappling with many of the same branding challenges. These centers of care are larger. Many have combined with others to create networks, gobbling each other up or finding that partnerships are better than head-to-head direct competition. A good number of those arrangements have been driven by cost containment and negotiating power around reimbursement. Regardless, as my colleague Nancy Hicks wrote in her chapter:
“Health care marketing, having come of age in the 1980s and 1990s, will reach its maturity in this millennium with its stewardship of branding within the organization. It has been a long journey from Ben Franklin to branding, but providers have discovered the ancient wisdom of proverbs: ‘A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches.’ Branding is the key to that good name and to riches in the marketplace.”
Nancy’s wise words remain true. The institutions that chose to contribute to this first volume were national pathfinders. It’s no surprise that many are today icons of clinical excellence, offering unparalleled talent with high-levels of patient satisfaction. You will find them among the top-rated in the US News and World Report hospital rankings. Knowing that countless additional institutions have embraced “brand building” relationships with their varied stakeholders – board members, employees, consumers, patients, caregivers, policymakers, product innovators and payers – I am confident that were a similar book published today, it would not be a single volume, but rather a series of case-study books.
Now out of print and available as a free-of-charge Google download, Branding Health Services may on the surface look somewhat dated. After all, the internet in 2000 was a novelty used by early adopters, and EMR was not a household word. “Dr. Google” had yet to become a code word for looking up information for “self-diagnosis.” Yet, while I was initially motivated by revisiting the past, I was surprised to find its pages still insightful and valuable. Why?
In the closing pages of the chapter, I contributed lies a reminder that we are still – as enlightened health professionals – struggling to create space for the consumers’ voice to be heard. And yet, healthcare is for the people! It’s a system designed to provide care – not withhold it. Institutions and drug innovators are inspired to help and heal. Despite the presidential candidates chastising the sector in the recent debate for “the cost of care,” the system – much like the people we seek to serve – are held captive by fragmented information and economic systems. In this old jug, there is still some fine insight:
“Once even the ablest of patients played a version of ‘Mother May I?’ with their doctors. No more. Information in the hands of the lay public has become part of the cure. Even many health care providers are now feeling, in a twist on the retailing come-on, that an educated health care consumer is their best patient. Indeed, for every provider irked at the second-guessing of amateurs, others are grateful not to have to explain the difference between bacterial and viral infections…
“That’s okay, however. Today’s ‘show me the money’ environment and street-smart, in your face, hyper-vigilant consumer will serve to keep health care communications honest. And in return, increased access to information – to the ‘truth,’ if you will – will give consumers a voice and power they have never had before.”
The passion to continue this journey is more vibrant than ever. Today, as I look at my Finn Partners colleagues around the world, they recognize that building embraced health brands leads to closer connections between product innovators, physicians, payers and patients. They recognize that these audiences are not in conflict and that the passion to heal outweighs competitive spirit.
In the face of so many brand-building challenges, let’s remain committed to our charge – to see power brands as solutions for people’s dire health problems. As health public relations and integrated-marketing professionals – with new platforms to reach audiences – our goal remains the same; brands streamline the decision-making process. Excellence and hope are not disparate concepts. Together they send a message to consumers, caregivers and patients – you have come to the right place. You have been placed on the right therapy. Since publication, 20 years passed in the blink of an eye, yet, the call-to-action presented in “Branding Health Services” has not changed. “Products and services that can rise above the clutter, withstand the kleig lights of expose, survive the hype-competition for consumers’ attention.” Health brands aggregate people’s fears, hopes and dreams, helping them to navigate through the clutter and, ultimately, enhance their lives.