Healthcare branding services: five essentials for success

If you ask a healthcare advertising agency if they do “branding,” you’ll of course get the answer “yes.” However, usually “yes” means an improvised strategy workshop, followed immediately by a design exploration. If you ask a consumer branding shop about branding, you will get an excellent, comprehensive scope of work…costing millions of dollars. We have already written about avoiding the traps healthcare branding research, and the differences between healthcare and consumer branding.  How can you get everything you need without breaking the bank? Here are five essentials that you should pay for, and nothing else.

  1. Understand your consumers’ lives. That’s right, the first step in healthcare branding doesn’t begin with brands at all; it begins by understanding the values that customers hold dear about themselves. At this point, we are not discussing therapies or disease states, but just how they live their lives. Marketing research—done by healthcare advertising agencies—is usually about the product or service because they are dying to get right to the step where they make the most money: doing promotion. Branding research looks for what customers value in their lives, and then transferring those values to a product, franchise or company in a way where customers see a flattering self-reflection.
  2. Get at the heart of HCPs lives. Despite what academic articles may say, doctors are not emotionless automatons who invariably base their prescribing habits on data alone. These academic articles ask marketing questions such as: does branding and promotion influence you? Where do you get the information you need to make your prescribing decisions? How often do you see sales representatives? Here’s what you’ll get as answers: I use data alone; I get my info from learned journals; and I rarely see sales representatives. The fact is, doctors lie about themselves, just like we lie about ourselves when asked about our weight, our age, or our exercise habits. One must ask different questions…questions that get at how doctors live their lives. Why did you become a doctor? Why did you go into your particular specialty? What’s the best part of your day? And so on. The answers to these questions will help you much better than answers to the former questions.
  3. Do a Brandscape Analysis. Healthcare agencies explore market share, promotional spend and other quantified measures of brand stature. These are important, but not at the expense of also exploring the brand identities of the competition. Rather than just examining the promotion, a Brandscape also captures the strategy behind the tactics, the brand personality, and the design hallmarks. The goal is to use the competitive set as a benchmark for differentiation in all the elements of branding. A thorough Brandscape Analysis is essential to strategizing and building the brand experience (i.e. the brand in action).
  4. Strategize to build an unstoppable momentum. The single greatest obstacle to a brand’s success is a lack of consensus among the internal stakeholders. With today’s brand teams sometimes extending into the dozens, getting agreement and enthusiasm for a strategy is a daunting task. There is only one proven way to produce an impactful strategy internally and externally: involve every discipline that will touch the brand. A workshop should not just play a lot of fun games for the sake of fun. There must be purpose to each exercise, all with the goal of bringing the client team together: marketing, sales, clinical, other agencies and so on. A workshop’s success is measured by the group’s ability to forge the two elements of a branding strategy: the Brand Promise—the differentiated commitment the brand will make to customers—and the Brand Personality—three to five traits that outline how you wish customers to feel before, during and after every brand encounter. That’s it. Any agency that tries to sell you a bucketful of other redundant strategy elements is wasting your time while burning the clock on theirs. When they put forth that you need a Brand Character, a Brand Essence, a Brand This and a Brand That, ask them how these things a) are different from a Brand Promise and Personality, and b) how these elements add anything to help you build the brand.
  5. Request more than just a logo. Most agencies will not use graphic designers who specialize in logo development, but rather art directors who have dabbled once or twice in the field. Art directors are what the title indicates: they direct the visual aspect of promotion and educational tactics. A graphic designer is an entirely different discipline, one that masters the intricacies of typography, color palettes, symbolism, photography style and a branding system that illustrates how all of these components come together to deliver the look and feel of the brand in any venue. Unless you request a full deployment of these elements at the outset, the agency will make them up as they go along. So request more than a logo. (As a writer by trade, I also include a tag line as part of the branding as well.

If all of this still ends up sounding like a lot of work, let me reassure you that the budget and timeline for this scope of activities is very reasonable. Excluding the client’s approval times, the entire process should take anywhere from four-to-six months depending upon the quantity of deliverables requested. For example, the number of logos concepts to be presented, the size of the research samples, the number of constituents in the strategy workshop and so on. Agencies that charge by the hour are incentivized to make the process last as long as possible. Look for a healthcare branding agency, such as Parry Branding Group, that will give you one project price per line item so that we are incentivized to get everything right in a timely manner. Buy satisfaction, not time. This advice is also essential to success.

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