By Debbie Myers (@debamyers)
This article first appeared, in part, in HBAdvantage, a newsletter of the Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association.
With healthcare reform driving increased scrutiny of hospitals and providers by the government, insurance companies and consumers, the importance of managing corporate reputation is a topic that has reached the C-suite. However, many organizations do not have a handle on how to build a strong reputation “bank” and manage the trust revenue in that bank over the long term. One approach is to effectively use the corporate brand strategy as a continual building block for reputation.
The words reputation and brand are often used interchangeably. While similar, there are nuances that differentiate the two. Brand relates to who you are – a corporation, a product or a person – and the emotional and functional experience others have with you. Reputation is how the experience is interpreted over time, such as admiration, indifference or skepticism. So, if a consumer has a positive experience with your brand and that experience is consistent, a reputation of trust begins to evolve. The greater the “trust bank” becomes with each stakeholder group, the harder it is to shake the bank empty when an organization encounters the inevitable reputation bumps and blows.
Creating positive experiences with your organization’s brand requires the whole company’s attention. Relegating management of reputational branding solely to the strategic planning, marketing and public relations departments will not work. While these professionals are clearly the experts in developing the brand strategy, owning and “living” the brand becomes everyone’s responsibility – from the CEO to the clinical staff and so on. This can be overwhelming for many companies and often difficult for some to grasp, especially since brand and reputation are made up of intangibles that are not easily measured. However, for companies serious about reputation, there are four key success factors that should be implemented:
- Align the brand with the company’s mission and business strategy: If your business strategy is to “dominate,” a brand that represents “compassion” is unlikely. While brands can be dressed up and dressed down – just like individuals – a company’s brand cannot represent what the company’s soul is not. Understanding who you are and what you want to be known for is crucial for creating a realistic and believable brand.
- Know your brand and reputation equity: Healthcare organizations, in particular, understand the value of research when it comes to new product development, scientific discovery and patient care. But measuring a company’s reputation among community leaders, physicians, consumers and other stakeholders traditionally has been overlooked or written off as “too soft.” Yet when a crisis hits, CEOs can be frustrated if reputation recovery takes longer than expected because the company’s reputation bank was unknowingly on empty. Establishing a formal approach to consistently building and measuring equity will allow you to make brand and reputation management decisions based on fact, rather than gut feelings.
- Cultivate a brand culture: At the foundation of every solid brand are the people who bring it to life – the employees. Employees at all levels impact how external audiences perceive the company’s brand, its personality and its promise. Proper internal branding will establish thousands of responsible brand ambassadors who promote a company’s brand to the world. Everything a company does projects its brand. If customer service, product development and sales all represent the brand differently, the brand experience can vary significantly from stakeholder to stakeholder, resulting in an earned reputation that is inconsistent and confusing.
- Communicate often: Consistent messaging cannot be emphasized enough. Strong visual and written messages, repeated frequently over time, create memorable brands and lasting reputations. The key is managing the message to the moment and by audience, and using messaging to paint the brand personality. This is best accomplished by ensuring the message tells a story with which the audience can relate.
Reputation and brand are important corporate assets that need to be diligently nurtured and watched. The healthcare industry has an opportunity to protect its reputation by paying greater attention to the experiences customers and stakeholders have with their brand.