The Next Frontier For Health System Marketing

Like politics, healthcare marketing is often a local affair. In most areas, the battle for health system market share and brand strength is waged among competitors with high levels of familiarity regarding each other’s strategies, approaches and tactics. With such an intimate, up-close perspective on brands and their communications, it’s surprising to see similar battles playing out across markets. Health system brand archetypes that have withstood the test of time and are present in many markets include “the Caregiver” (focusing on compassionate care), “the Sage” (the leader in medical expertise) and “the Everyman” (leveraging scale and access).

In 2004, Kaiser Permanente, the West Coast-based healthcare system, fundamentally changed the category dynamic when it introduced its “Thrive” campaign that shifted the focus from the treatment of sickness to the collective pursuit of wellness. This “Hero” archetype introduced a simple, yet profound change in perspective that connected with internal and external audiences alike. The campaign broke convention and, while it must have had its share of skeptics at the time, it fundamentally changed the language and tone for the category and has been mimicked by brands across the country ever since.



Three New Brand Futures

Little has happened since then, however, in foundational healthcare brand marketing innovation. In 2013, as the Affordable Care Act has introduced the next frontier in healthcare insurance, it begs question regarding “What’s Next?” in terms of health system brand marketing. Which brand will be bold enough to break with the common aforementioned themes and represent something new? Only time will tell, of course, but here are a few themes that may gain greater visibility: 

  • The Experience Brand: As healthcare systems evolve themselves and their services, there can be a passionate desire to tell consumers what they’re all about. This inside out approach, however, tends to be centered more on the organization’s desires and less on those of the consumer. Somewhere in the not-to-distant future a health system brand is going to break new ground by conveying its story via the patient perspective. By conveying the brand story via the perspective of its users and their interests, this health system will gain credibility by putting empathy and humility ahead of corporate self-interest. 
  • The Transparent Brand: The first health system brand to crack the code on value and financial transparency will set itself apart on the next frontier. Cost has been the four-letter word no health system has wanted to acknowledge. But increasingly consumers are looking for help in understanding the financial drivers of healthcare. While cost is important, people know lowest cost doesn't always mean best value, even in healthcare. Brands that can assist consumers in understanding the totality of the value proposition will gain a foothold against insurance providers (and politicians) who have thus far dominated the conversation regarding how to define value among both employers and consumers. 
  • The End Game Brand: We are just on the cusp of understanding what the shift to an outcomes based category will really mean. While there are more questions than answers, brands that begin to help people understand these broader goals can establish themselves as leaders. No single health system brand has all the answers and consumers are okay with this. People are simply looking for a resource that can begin the narrative and help them along the path of understanding change in healthcare. Brands that begin early and can inspire with their motives will benefit in the long run.

These three broad themes could become the starting point for a bold healthcare brand looking to set itself apart and connect on a more meaningful level. What do you see as the next frontier in healthcare marketing?

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