Seven years ago, a hospital system with dozens of hospitals and hundreds of facilities embarked on a rebranding. Leadership had approached the initiative after what they believed was careful planning through their agency partner. So, they felt confident their healthcare rebranding would unify their hospital system and improve their market position.

Fast forward to today. This hospital system has gone through multiple agencies and three different project management firms trying to bring together the many moving parts — and the rebranding is still not completely rolled out. This delay has exacted a toll in time, money, and reputation. And it serves as a classic case of a rebrand implementation gone wrong. While this sounds like a worst-case scenario, it’s not the only example I could share with you just from the hospital industry. Many healthcare companies have absorbed considerable direct and lost opportunity costs when their rebrand falters.

What goes wrong? Most often, it’s not a failure of the brand strategy or design. Usually, the creative is more than good enough to shift perceptions and create new opportunities. In the case of this hospital system, the story they planned to tell should have delivered significant market impact, unified the culture and operations of the system, and improved their ability to command premium pricing, recruit the best doctors, and fundraise. Instead they labor still to embed the new brand with key audiences.

Sadly, it’s all too common for healthcare brands to fail to recognize the scope and complexity of rebranding until late in the game. Based on the thousands of conversations my colleagues and I have had with healthcare leaders over the past two decades, we have identified the three risks that most often scuttle the success of healthcare rebranding.

1. Lack of a comprehensive early assessment of the true cost and operational implications of creating the impact you seek

Lack of money to implement the brand properly isn’t the true reason why many rebranding projects aren’t funded properly. The problem starts with a lack of accurate information about brand assets and alignment on how each will be converted. It’s common to overlook some of the many signs, forms, IT systems, and other branded assets, as well as some of the legal implications, vendor and outsourcing relationship implications, and other dependencies,. In a project of this size, errors in estimating add up fast. Also, consider that while the mandate to rebrand is centralized, execution rarely is. Each hospital likely has its own materials, processes, and vendors. So, it’s not surprising that few Marketing departments, even those working closely with their Facilities and Legal colleagues, cannot produce accurate estimates. And most internal teams have never had to replace everything all at once. They don’t know ways to reduce the cost of large rebranding programs and integrate activities across operational areas.

Once Marketing submits these imperfect estimates, the CFO gets involved. The hospital system runs on a two percent profit margin, so he trims back the funding request by 40 percent. He challenges the manager to bring the project in at the lower number. The manager accepts, not fully understanding the implications. Marketing may believe they have no choice. The pain comes later, when cost overruns and lack of clarity slow implementation to a crawl.

How can you avoid this trap? One way to produce better estimates is to use  specialists who have rebranding cost estimates, including asset conversion, down to a science for the healthcare industry. So, when sticker shock sets off negotiation with your CFO, you are armed with scenarios that vary in timing, material quality, and more. You’re ready to offer choices that you can deliver on—an 18-month top-tier conversion or a more modest three-year plan, for example.

Some years ago, the head of Marketing of a large non-profit health system presented a rebranding budget with options to executive management. The rebranding team was able to say with confidence that implementation required either $50 million or $130 million (depending on the transition strategy, quality, timing) to deliver the desired outcomes of the rebrand. They supported their assertion with benchmarking data showing that less efficient organizations of similar size had spent as much as $180 million. In this case, the Board approved a hybrid, budget-friendly approach which included conversion of every asset and aligned everyone around the right timeline. This is one Marketing team that won’t spend the next seven years battling legacy logos and mending fences with irate stakeholders.

2. Failure to identify and manage the impact of rebranding implementation on departments beyond Marketing

A healthcare rebranding can consume 50 to 100 percent of time for multiple senior resources: the head of Facilities; skilled members of the Legal, IT, and Human Resources department, and more. They have their hands—and their days—full when rebranding is added on top of their important everyday job functions. Without strong rebranding implementation support, other key strategic brand and business objectives are inevitably sacrificed for an extended period.

Take a moment to think of all the processes, systems, and people a healthcare rebrand impacts: Hundreds of IT systems and outputs need to reflect the new legal name and brand. The rebranding implementation team needs to address contracts and legal issues related to payers, entities, trademarks, permitting, vendors, regulators, and even the department of transportation. These dynamics often lead to thousands of well-meaning yet uncoordinated decisions that erode cost, impact, quality, and consistency – while leaving many assets unaddressed.

How can you ease the strain of the rebranding mandate on hospital staff at every level of the system? One answer is to offer centralized support for what is largely a decentralized execution. You’ll need to address structure and decision making, support accurate cost estimates, and provide technology designed to support rebranding projects along with access to knowledgeable project support resources. To ensure clear understanding of key methods and commitments, be ready to answer to key questions such as: Which entity finances each cost? Who manages quality, and how? What technologies will be used to model, track and report on the rebranding? Properly staffing and training the Helpdesk for the duration of the project (and beyond) is also essential to quality and organizational satisfaction with the rebranding.  

3. Lack of a comprehensive communications plan

When it comes to communication, too often the plan focuses on the reason for the rebrand. Its cadence trails off after the initial launch to employees. It also often falls short in owning the expectation setting with other key audiences like the media and analysts who can help to build equity and value.

What can healthcare marketers do to improve rebrand communications? Be holistic. Own the conversation. Communicate not just the rationale for the rebranding, but the how and the when so people know what to expect. While employees are affected the most by rebranding, you need to inform and influence many other stakeholders. If you’ve implemented best practices during planning and initial execution, you’ll be able to assure all key audiences that you’re underspending industry norms. With a stable timeline, you won’t cast a shadow on the rebranding—and your own credibility—by repeatedly announcing and defending delays.

The rebranding efforts of healthcare systems over the last several years have produced a plethora of accurate data on the resources, hard dollars, organizational strategies, tools, and communication models that work best. Tap these learnings to set your rebrand implementation up for success from the earliest planning stage through execution. Get this right, and your organization will avoid the risks of healthcare rebranding.

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