The Healthcare industry is undergoing rapid change. Thirty years ago, patients made healthcare decisions based on physician referrals, recommendations, and prior experiences; hospitals and physician practices did not need to market aggressively.
Fast forward to today, where the average patient is now a proactive healthcare ‘consumer’ who researches health information and relies on physician reviews.
As the effects of the Affordable Care Act unfold beyond 2016, alternatives to traditional health management continue to evolve. Technological advances make it easier for people to diagnose themselves based on their symptoms, coming to doctors well informed. The healthcare industry remains as competitive as ever, and healthcare organizations must differentiate themselves with a strong and consistent brand position.
Brand Positioning is Critical in Healthcare
From a strategic marketing standpoint, one of the hardest things for a healthcare company to do is position and differentiate itself from competitors. Increased regulatory constraints, large mergers and acquisitions, and tougher demands for ROI are just a few reasons healthcare brands are under more pressure than ever.
Today, the way you position your healthcare brand likely defines whether or not your organization is successful.
The Power of Proper Positioning
Proper positioning is vital to a brand’s success for many reasons. It serves to:
- Institute an internal, unified understanding of your brand
- Provide direction for product and service development
- Establish direction for brand identity and marketing communications
- Distinguish your business from competitors
Positioning is essentially the summation of everything your brand is about. A positioning strategy is dependent on competitors’ actions as well as customers’ motivational variables. Thorough market research is, therefore, needed to analyze the market’s intricacies and potential. This is also an excellent way to assess competitors that pose the greatest threat to survival, and to understand what they do and why they do it. Research helps marketing executives create and develop impactful brand strategies that drive meaningful results.
A brand strategy that differentiates the organization, motivates target audiences, grows the business, and builds engaged, loyal supporters is vital. Mergers and acquisitions have created a healthcare environment that is confusing, crowded, and inconsistent. Patients are looking for standout partners that are trustworthy and genuine about wanting to help. That’s why a compelling brand positioning is foundational to building a relevant and powerful brand in healthcare.
A New Era In Healthcare
Due to pressures to reduce healthcare costs, focus on healthcare has shifted to consumers. Patients now play a large role in managing their health—both inside and outside of the healthcare setting. Targeting patients and effectively engaging them requires a smart, revitalized positioning strategy and proper, consistent execution.
Proper positioning is an art, as well as a science.
How is your healthcare brand positioned, is it clear to your target audiences? Is your level of care and service genuine, relatable, or outstanding? In the eyes of consumers, brands that genuinely make them feel special and taken care of are worthwhile investments. It’s more important than ever to position healthcare brands in a way that highlights the different, superior service delivery the brand provides.
As a healthcare brand, your positioning is critical to successfully grasp a meaningful piece of the market. Here are five factors to consider to better structure your organization’s brand positioning:
1) Conduct a Current Brand Audit
Effective positioning is based on research that analyzes buyers’ attitudes, as well as their reaction to actual brand experiences within the marketplace. Study how different stakeholders currently react to interactions with your brand. Discover what is imperative to your target customers regarding healthcare service delivery and what drives their purchasing decisions today.
2) Define and Characterize the Market
Identify the relevant market segments. Develop a differentiated, defensible market position and provide a translation of product and service benefits that are meaningful to different audiences. Suppliers, patients, and doctors will all perceive value differently so make sure your positioning encompasses the needs of all audiences.
3) Focus Brand-Building on Opportunities That Drive Growth and Improve Performance
Discover what is most important to your target customers and what drives their actions. Determine key stakeholders’ unmet needs, wants, and desires. Compare your positioning to your competitors to distinguish your uniqueness. Find holes in the market that match your organization's purpose, and align the two to drive meaningful growth.
4) Create Brand Architecture and Formalize Naming Conventions
Brand architecture is the strategic and relational structure for brands. Naming conventions can support clarity and understanding of the divisions within a brand’s architecture. Mergers and acquisitions have made the healthcare industry confusing and undefined. In a sea of sameness, creating a consistent, descriptive naming convention is one way a brand can drive consistency. Brand architecture also sets the stage for enabling efficient communications and assures easier extensions of your brand.
5) Define and Create Unique Brand Experiences for Patients, Physicians, and Employees
Establish strategic initiatives that create a patient experience aligned with the brand promise. Communicate the new position and strategy to internal audiences and develop the messaging and communications strategy to build brand awareness. Consistency and disciplined execution raises awareness and makes the messaging behind your brand positioning stronger and more impactful in the long run.
Howard County General Hospital
Howard County General Hospital, a 259-bed, not-for-profit healthcare provider founded in 1973, is located in Columbia, Maryland. In 1998, John Hopkins Medicine merged with the Howard County General Hospital. Presently, the hospital specializes mainly in gerontology, oncology, cardiology, children’s and women’s surgery, orthopedics, and psychiatry in addition to community health education and emergency services.
The Howard County General brand positioning is to provide equitable healthcare to the region’s entire population. The organization ensures that it does not personalize its products and services to ensure that all community members’ needs are met. One way the hospital reinforces that brand positioning is by being the only hospital in the area that provides urgent and nonurgent care services.
Howard County General Hospital has to offer unique services and differentiate itself to gain a competitive advantage over rivals in its target market. The hospital is the only healthcare facility in Howard County making its geographical barrier a useful differentiation target. The closest facility that offers healthcare services that can pose a competitive threat to the hospital is more than 15 miles away. Capitalizing on a sole provider of healthcare services in an extensive area is an efficient, intuitive, and differentiating positioning.
Positioning is how consumers perceive your brand. Brand positioning evokes emotion and is “sticky,” thus securing and maintaining mindshare. One of the chief goals of brand positioning should be to identify a point of beneficial difference between your brand and the competition. A strong brand position communicates a brand’s value proposition clearly, consistently, credibly, and with conviction—in a way that is meaningful to consumers and is unmatched by other companies.
Positioning your brand accurately can be the difference between being drowned by the competition or hitting the sweet spot that allows your brand to grow successfully.