The image of healthcare facilities has evolved ever since the nation's first hospital opened in Pennsylvania, in 1752. Through history, the perception of a hospital has progressed from chaotic and filthy, to cold and impersonal, to spa- and hotel-like. Healthcare spaces need to embrace their own unique identity. Anyone (patient, visitor, staff) who enters a healthcare space should immediately know that they have arrived at a center of health and healing. They should trust that this specific healthcare facility will take better care and provide the best experience possible. With the rising costs of healthcare, a patient's choice of a healthcare provider is difficult. The hospital's brand and ability to build trust with the patient may aid in the decision-making process.
Hospitals serve people during their most emotional experiences ranging from the birth of a child to the death of a loved one. As such, the hospital's influence emerges from the confines of the institution's walls and into the community. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, healthcare is the largest industry (in 2006) providing 14 million jobs, and between the years of 2006-2016, healthcare will generate 3 million new wage and salary jobs. In smaller communities, a local hospital may be the largest employer and an integral part of the community's framework. Thus, the community becomes the hospital's identity. Similarly, if the population cannot identify with the hospital, they will find another hospital that better earns their trust.
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According to The Brand Gap: How to Bridge the Distance between Business Strategy and Design by Marty Neumeier, a brand is the gut feeling a person has about a company. The goal of branding is to create a consistent perception of what a company stands for and what they believe in. As such, branding is personal. Each person has his or her own opinion of a company which is used while making a selection from the flood of products and information. Consumers do not make decisions based on logic alone. Decisions are influenced by emotional cues-a sense of trust and visual appeal. Many patients select a physician and hospital based on personal recommendations from family and friends despite the affluence of healthcare information from Hospital Compare (http://www.hospitalcompare.hhs.gov). It's all about trust.
A sense of trust can be created by capturing the attitude and aspirations of the consumer. People will pay more for coffee, running shoes, or technology because of the perceived lifestyle achieved by purchasing a specific product. Ultimately, it is the connection between consumer and company that helps consumers make a decision because the company understands the consumer's needs and offers a better product.
Our culture is visual. Apple transformed the way consumers viewed technological products in 1998 with the introduction of the iMac and its brightly colored, translucent plastic shell showcasing the inner workings of a computer. Apple encouraged its consumers to “think different,” and captured that attitude in their products. Instead of a dull box sitting on the desk, the desktop computer became an item consumers wanted to display in their home. A product-design revolution ensued as computers, televisions, music players, and phones evolved into attractively designed objects. These gadgets are so desired that people stand in long lines for the release of a new phone or prominently display a new flat-screen television in their living room. Later, Apple revolutionized the technology retail experience by aligning the image of their stores with that of their brand. The result is a technology retail experience with exponentially better results than past computer retailers (such as Dell or Gateway, who both had unsuccessful retail stores).
Essentially, good branding effectively communicates to consumers and the market at large.