3 steps to building a better hospital brand

How to use storytelling to create a killer brand 

I recently finished reading Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire. Nearly 15 years after its publication, and it is still every bit as captivating as it was when the novel first came out. Why is that? Well, for the same reasons a good book can engage its readers over and over again, a good brand story can keep consumers coming back for more. If you can create an entertaining and emotional story, then people are bound to get hooked.

I recently attended a lecture by JP Kuehlwein, a global brand builder and author of the book, “Rethinking Luxury Branding.” Kuehlwein reviewed his principles of making brands priceless — many of which overlap Smith & Jones’ approach to hospital branding and honest, emotional storytelling.

Kheuhlwein argued that to create an iconic brand, organizations should include these essential elements:

  1. A mission or myth
  2. A balance between exclusivity and inclusivity
  3. A need for truth

Let’s start with mission and myth

First, let’s define mission and myth regarding brand storytelling. In this context, a mission is more than just about selling a product or service; it’s about giving purpose to your organization. For example, Ben & Jerry’s has a social mission to make the world a better place, which is beyond any business goal of selling ice cream. Many hospitals and health systems already have altruistic goals in place, such as increasing cancer screenings or reducing heart disease. Now, translate these messages into a  meaningful story — something that will inspire consumers to get behind your cause.

Missions are thoughtful, but myths are alluring. A myth can help build a desirable brand and give meaning beyond matter. For example, a client once approached us with a concern about opening a brand new cardiac wing. Nearby competitors were boasting their established practices, which had more experience. Smith & Jones helped the client develop a story about their cardiac docs. We advertised how their physicians left jobs at larger commercial hospitals, where they only treated one or two patients a day, to practice at a smaller community hospital so that they could help save more lives. Which is entirely accurate, but sounds better than “they left to have more control over their practice.”

Now, it’s time to take action. Recently, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield were arrested on Capitol Hill for protesting for action on climate change, racial justice, workers rights and fair pay. Although this is an extreme example of how to follow through with a mission, it does reflect Ben & Jerry’s commitment to making the world a better place. The idea is to actively work to make your vision a reality, every day.

Now let’s move into exclusivity and inclusivity

How can we apply exclusivity to hospital brands when they’re in the business of taking care of everyone? By convincing consumers, they need to belong. For example, we recently launched a repositioning campaign for Sharon Hospital, a community hospital tucked away in a small suburb of Connecticut. To help it compete with larger, urban hospitals, we branded Sharon Hospital as “Connecticut’s Best Kept Secret.” This gives the hospital an air of exclusivity while inviting consumers to learn more about it. Exclusiveness makes a brand interesting and sparks curiosity, but there is a need to balance it out with inclusive. Hospital brand stories should also motivate consumers to be a part of their mission, and inspire them to join their cause.

Finish with a need for truth

Consumers will not buy-in to a brand story if it isn’t honest. Part of creating an honest, emotional brand, is being thorough. For hospitals and health systems, that means following through on a mission, from the people you hire to the food you serve. If your mission is to create a healthier community, then get rid of your vending machines. In the words of JP Kuehlwein, “Live your mission and be inseparable from it.”

Producing an honest, emotional brand story isn’t as painstaking as J.K. Rollin’s journey to fame. Although it does take time, there are a few essential elements every organization can follow to create a compelling story. If you want to learn more about brand storytelling, download this white paper or schedule an appointment with one of our experts. We’re happy to help!