Published in Mar-Apr 2021
The healthcare brandscape is under the weather. And its remedy, though available, has fallen by the wayside. Healthcare service brands include everything from hospitals, clinics, labs and testing facilities, independent practices, paramedical and nursing services, right up to pharmaceutical, nutraceutica, and medical device companies. Each faces unique challenges but none greater than the near-absence of the branding arts and sciences. And it looks like it’s not about to change. Here’s why:
1. Nobody Wears Anything Other Than a White Coat
Healthcare brands are notoriously predictable in a densely packed sea of similarity. The vast majority of healthcare brands are blended into an indistinguishable pile of bland – leaving prospects without any preference whatsoever for one brand over another. A third-party endorsement may help, but claiming you are better is usually meaningless. And service quality, or quality of care, is knowable only through actual experience and does not necessarily yield differentiation in the minds of prospects.
2. Nobody Loves Going to Hospitals
And nobody is ever aligned with a healthcare brand absent a health problem. Because most healthcare brands are not household names (they are special-case brands), they tend to rise to conscious importance only when needed. Which means, short of an actual experience or interaction, having affinity with a healthcare provider depends on whether it has taken measures to build a consistent and positive image over time. Even then, in the rush or panic of an emergency, which interferes with normal decision-making processes, that affinity is vulnerable and can easily be dropped.
3. Nobody Wants To Take a Risk
Healthcare is a conservative, pragmatic, highly regulated and risk-averse industry. And this plays into why so many healthcare brands are indistinguishable. Differentiation from the tried, true and tested involves perceived risk. Add to this the fear of levity in your communications and the possibility of offending people, and you can see how this outweighs the potential upside of greater memorability that can come from taking creative (but responsible) risks in branding strategies.
4. Nobody Wants to Be Cool or Popular
It takes a lifetime to become a doctor. This high degree of education, expertise, micro-specialty and hard-earned authority often insulates these masters of industry from popular trends and genuinely customer-facing principles which branding thrives on. Moreover, since the industry is rigidly hierarchical and the seemingly immutable pecking order is based on merit, training and tenure, the value of fresh perspectives or ideas (which often comes from the juniors at the frontlines) is buried under the weight of professional superiority. Which means, when it comes to branding, innovation and adaptation have to take a backseat.
5. Nobody Wants to Mess with The Money
Lastly, healthcare has long enjoyed a history of abundance – which, ironically enough, has fostered a kind of lethargy when it comes to user-centric or customer-facing design. This endemic conservatism makes it difficult to respond with agility. Add to this the necessary pragmatism that follows heavy regulation, together with the growing cost of business that also protect the industry from outside disruption. The resultant inefficiency and slow pace of innovation make healthcare brands particularly vulnerable when disruptors finally do find a way to break into the bank. But until that happens, nobody will mess with the bottom-line.
In light of this, there are a few guidelines that healthcare brands can self-prescribe: For starters, involve the frontline. These guys are interfacing at the human-level and are keepers of critical knowledge who will prove invaluable in determining what your customers want from you. Then, take a risk. Do what your competition is unwilling to do. If your brand is too comfortable, it’s probably floating on a sea of sameness. All you need to find and articulate is a unique point of view that authenticates and resonates with your genuine voice. And, finally, try to look at your patient as a customer: Ask them for insights – especially now when performance metrics in healthcare are quietly shifting to a more values-based assessment such as customer satisfaction, experience and – believe it or not – brand-consciousness.
Faraz Maqsood Hamidi is CE & CD, The D’Hamidi Partnership.