Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center. CCHMC's Brand Master Plan was initiated in 1993, and is an example of how brand consistency is applied to multiple environments—from a three-dimensional corridor, to two-dimensional collateral publications, to a Web site/electronic media, to a face-to-face greeting.

The hurdles between your hospital and sustainable competitive advantage are daunting. From every direction comes another challenge—to mention a few: Waves of mergers create cost efficiencies across hospital systems but can threaten established individual hospital “personalities.” Diverse populations are demanding cultural sensitivity, not only in language, but also in how healthcare is delivered and how the hospital identifies this, i.e. “brands” it. And the growth of specialty centers in hospitals creates a need for sub-brands.

Many hospitals that have overcome these hurdles have one thing in common: They have created environments that build their brand. They have recognized that the environment begins with the hospital's strategic plan, then they've interpreted it into the campus master plan, the financial and operations plans, and the facility's marketing and customer relations plans. These are hospitals where every patient room, hallway, waiting area, resource center, restorative space, donor system, wayfinding sign, nurses’ station—every space patients or their families and friends see—takes them a step closer to building a relationship with that hospital. In short, these hospitals apply their strategic plan to every contact point every stakeholder has with them.

To create a truly branded environment is to leave no contact point untouched—from the three dimensions of the facility to the two dimensions of printed marketing materials, from the electronic dimension of the intranet and Internet, to the human dimension of customer service and the greeting at the front door.

Branding Misconceptions

While branding isn't new to healthcare, it remains a topic about which there are misconceptions, any one of which can limit its potential for creating a competitive advantage that can be measured over time.

Misconception #1: Branding is only for consumer products. Branding is certainly a well-developed tool among consumer product marketers, but the complete definition of branding applies to every decision made by consumers purchasing any product or service, including healthcare. A brand is all of the promises and perceptions an organization wants its audiences to feel about its care, programs, and service offerings. It is a unique promise to your patients, your staff, and your community. In fact, some of the world's oldest and most recognized and respected brands come from the healthcare and human service sectors, including the Mayo Clinic, Red Cross, the Salvation Army, and the YMCA.

Misconception #2: Branding is simple—it's the name and the logo on the front door. The name and the logo are expressions of the brand, but they are not the brand. A brand embodies your hospital's essence, its “DNA.” In fact, it encompasses all the associations, perceptions, and experiences anyone interested in your hospital has at every contact point—from the logo on the front door to marketing messages to the colors, shapes, patterns, and textures of the hospital's environment.

Misconception #3: Besides the front door, maybe brochures and letterhead are branded. When branding is applied to every contact point for every one of your hospital's audiences, it helps unify the organization and multiplies the value of the brand. A strong brand makes communicating with your audiences—both internal and external—a more streamlined process, because it is consistent. Moreover, a strong, consistent, trusted brand will allow recovery from crisis.

Misconception #4: Once our branding project is done, we can move on to other things. The environment in which hospitals compete is hardly static; branding is therefore much like a living organism. It grows and adapts to changing technology, science, and patient populations. A brand is like any other asset; it must be managed to ensure maximum return on investment. Every new patient brochure must be true to the brand strategy. The same is true of additions or renovations to the hospital. Consistency of look and feel is a strong message your brand can send. Patients and their families are always more comfortable when they know what to expect, both in services and the environment.

Misconception #5: There is no need to involve a lot of people. A few of us on the administrative staff can figure out our brand. Views from inside and outside your hospital are rarely the same. The best place to start in developing your brand is to challenge preconceived notions. Bring in help from the outside and make sure it's a multidisciplinary team, including brand strategists, architects, graphic designers, and market researchers. Then talk to all your audiences. Find that nexus between what your hospital has to offer patients, staff, and community and what they want from you.

Misconception #6: Branding is for patients only. Failing to explain the brand and its promise to the entire organization—receptionists, physicians, nurses, volunteers, board, security guards, financial office staff, parking lot attendants—can spell doom. Effective branding demands internal input and communications, and training about what your hospital's brand represents, where the organization is going, and what it will take to get there.

Misconception #7: Branding is a “soft” expenditure. Other things come first. Hospitals that commit to solid and consistent branding can bank on measurable results. With a pragmatic application of brand standards across the facility, hospitals see a return on investment that is both positive and sustainable. Even better, when clear-cut brand standards are created, decision making is easier and design processes are simpler, yet still allow creativity.

Swedish Covenant Hospital. A: Icons meaningful to Swedish culture are worked into fl oor and wall designs and wayfi nding systems, including the Christian “circle of life” and the multicultural sunburst. B: Floor plan shows the location of the various icons and, next to that, photos of the reception area and other public spaces show incorpora-tion of icons and Sweden's national colors, blue and yellow.

In short, for all stakeholders—both internal and external—consistent branding across all media saves time and money without stifling creativity. More specific benefits can be found in “The Branding Benefits Checklist.” HD

University of New Mexico Children's Hospital & Critical Care Center. Top and middle: From cultural visioning sessions with the local Native American population, the institution developed a color scheme denoting specific floors in terms of earth (floor 1), water (floor 2), land forms/plants (floors 3 and 4), and sky (floors 5 [sunrise, sunset] and 6 [overhead blue]). Bottom: Color palettes guiding the interior design of the respective floors.

Eva L. Maddox, FIIDA, Associate AIA, is a principal with Perkins & Will/Eva Maddox Branded Environments™. She created Branded Environments™, a research-based design approach that identifies and integrates a client's “DNA” into tangible experiences.

J.D. McKibben, AIA, AMA, is a senior associate, Perkins & Will/Eva Maddox Branded Environments™. He has more than 15 years’ experience in brand strategy, marketing, creative master planning, brand identity, and wayfinding and signage design. His range of experience spans architecture, interiors, and graphic design.

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The Branding Benefi ts Checklist

What will your hospital gain from solid and consistent branding?

✓Clear communication of your positioning in the market and how you differ from other institutions;

✓A direct connection between brand attributes and your hospital's mission, vision, and values; and

✓Consistency of message across all platforms and channels.

For your patients and their families, consistent branding:

✓Builds preference and simplifies decision processes in favor of your hospital; and

✓Makes the care experience more memorable and pleasurable.

For staff, branding supports:

✓Establishment of a link to the consumer and the community;

✓Increased pride, reduced turnover, and enhanced recruiting and morale; and

✓Internalization of the hospital's mission, vision, and values.

For the community, branding creates:

✓Higher perceived value for all stakeholders, including donors;

✓Goodwill with media, regulatory agencies, and community government; and

✓Increased revenues and institutional growth.