Healthcare branding: when it succeeds and when it fails

There’s way too much false chatter about the need or purpose of branding in healthcare. It’s intentionally deceptive. It’s not necessary because people eventually need the brands anyway. It gets in the way of sales and marketing, which are the real drivers of a brand’s success. The fact of the matter is that critiques of branding generalize, failing to discern when branding succeeds and when it fails. Just like anything else, there are good examples and bad. Let’s examine them.

Fail #1: the customer never comes into the equation

Healthcare branding gets a bad name for good reasons: a lot of it is poor. The poorest kind of healthcare branding is one that completely ignores the customer. Hard to believe, right? Take the barrage of ads for Opdivo a very successful brand in oncology. The brand is always the hero: people are seen gazing up at giant statistics that hail the greatness of Opdivo.

Success #1: the customer is the star of the show.

In healthcare branding, the customer must be the hero because the story is about his/her regaining a sense of self, and not about the financial success of the brand. Sure, Opdivo is a great financial success. But imagine how much better it could be if it just got its priorities straight. For instance, take the Humira branding for psoriasis or Dupixent’s branding for atopic dermatitis. Both focus on the scourge of skin diseases that keep people from wearing any kind of clothing that will reveal their lesions. The villains in the brand story are the diseases, but the heroes are the patients who restore their identity with smart thinking about choosing to seek aggressive treatment.

Fail #2: the advertising drives the branding

Advertising agencies are the Goliaths to branding agencies’ Davids. They are loud and proud of the campaign awareness and recall, but lack any curiosity about if the ads are advancing the brand or just lining the agency’s award shelves. The latest Viagra ads are extremely compelling. They feature beautiful women in their early 40s, sometimes in bed, and sometimes wearing sexy outfits. It subtly implies that women are telling the men that they should consider Viagra if the men ever hope to score with them. It’s little more than soft-core pornography. Is that what the brand wants to stand for?

Success #2: the branding drives the advertising

Take the more successful ED brand, Cialis. The brand identity is about restoring intimacy to a marriage to keep it vital and mutually fulfilling.

People may joke about the twin bathtubs or the spontaneous dancing in the living room. However, the ads hit home to those loyal customers—the great majority of married men and women—who relate to the brand specifically because it delivers on its brand promise of an enhanced relationship, and not about male potency.

Fail #3: the branding is all over the place

Branding is always bad when it tries to be all things to all people. This is seen most often with hospital branding. Take Sinai Hospital in Maryland:

Sinai spends the entire time branding itself as the hospital that does everything: orthopedic procedures, cardiovascular procedures and a whole host of accomplishments. What’s the take away? Sinai’s branding is a salad of unabashed self-promotion—a conceited entity that likes the mirror.

Success #3: the branding focuses on a single idea

The hardest thing to do in good branding is to make a hard choice about singling out a core value that resonates with customers. Witness this in Memorial Sloan Kettering’s branding in its “More Science. Less Fear.” Campaign:

Granted it is much easier to focus on a single value when all you treat is a single disease. But MSK chooses to focus on a patient’s complete disorientation upon receiving a diagnosis. And it’s this focus that transforms an otherwise chest-thumping identity into a call for hope. That’s a universal value.

Fail #4: Brands that build their identity around a cult of personality

I really love the actress Blithe Danner. She’s warm and vulnerable and highly approachable. But using a celebrity as your brand identity doesn’t offer anything more than the allure of one person’s authority.

Sure, she’ll capture the attention about the brand, Prolia, especially with post-menopausal women who have osteoporosis. However, how does she reinforce the brand identity? This is the brand that Blithe Danner uses? That’s hardly an engaging brand promise.

Success #4: brands that build their identity around people like you and me

Perhaps no brand identity in the pain category has been more memorable than that of Advil. And we’re talking about a brand that has dozens of generic alternatives. So why is Advil so successful? Because it’s brand identity is so relatable to people like you and me. We all get pain now and then, so why shouldn’t we take the brand that takes the pain away from millions just like us?


In the end, branding fails for reasons such as these, not because the entire concept is unnecessary or always bad. For more on healthcare branding, go right to the source: Parry Branding Group Healthcare Branding Services 

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