By Stewart Gandolf
Chief Executive Officer
While branding can be difficult for virtually any type of organization, it’s often especially challenging for multilocation healthcare providers.
We know this from experience. You see, most of our clients are multilocation healthcare businesses. We have worked with health systems, hospitals, practices, retail locations, urgent cares, ASCs, addiction treatment centers, and long-term care facilities. When branding these clients, we often have to overcome various strategic and creative challenges, including a fair number of unexpected obstacles. (But that’s what makes our work so stimulating and rewarding.)
From debates about practice names (which ones to keep and which to drop) to internal politics to brand inconsistencies across all locations, multilocation branding can seem like a daunting task.
Whether you’re in the early stages of rebranding with various names and locations all over the place, just purchased some new practices, or starting one or more de novo, you can ensure a smooth process with just a little planning.
Over the years, we’ve identified seven of the most important things you need to have before starting a multilocation branding project.
Your Ultimate Branding Checklist for Multilocation Providers
Here’s how to successfully deploy your brand for a multilocation practice or health system.
- Identify your goal(s)
- Conduct your research
- Enlist third-party research firms if necessary
- Choose the right brand architecture
- Bring together the right team
- Clarify your brand identity and messaging
- Launch your branding
1) Identify the Goal for Branding
When it comes to multilocation businesses, the need for branding is often based on an existing challenge. Usually, something is preventing the organization from presenting its brand accurately or consistently.
Take one of our clients as an example. They have 36 practice locations, and yet four of the locations are branded with a different name. Another issue they’re facing is that the practice names don’t accurately represent the locations: the clinics located in Arizona feature a parent brand name with “California.” These types of branding problems result in brand and market confusion, redundancies, and inefficient marketing.
However, identifying your challenges can help you establish the right goal for your branding initiative.
In the case of our example, our goal was to create a cohesive and aligned brand through a standard naming and brand architecture for all practices. This goal solved their problems in the short term and set a foundation for future growth.
Common Branding Challenges for Multilocation Healthcare Businesses
Here are some of the most common challenges for branding initiatives among multilocation practices:
- Starting a new healthcare organization
- Adding de novo locations to an existing healthcare organization
- Purchasing a new location or expanding locations
- Inconsistent branding across all locations
- Rebranding multilocation organizations
Here are just some challenges you might run into prior to rebranding your multilocation practice:
- Your brand doesn’t stand apart from your competitors
- You have a new target audience.
- Your brand is dangerously outdated.
- Your current brand doesn’t represent your mission, purpose, and values.
- You have a negative reputation.
- Your brand has merged or been acquired.
- You are growing beyond the geographic boundaries associated with your name
- Some locations are named after founding doctors – but those associations are no longer relevant
- Your brand name is so generic that there are many similarly-named entities out there (e.g., “Advanced Gastroenterology”)
Once you understand your challenges, you can set your goal for branding and get everyone on the same page.
2) Conduct Your Research
Prior to any branding work, we recommend spending time and resources on the right types of research. Our healthcare strategists, for example, conduct extensive research on competitors, consumers, and marketplace dynamics. We even conduct secret caller phone calls to practice locations to understand what is happening in the real world.
It’s essential to understand your competition and compare how your brand stacks up. This part of the process should also include a brand audit of your brand. Then, you can conduct a competitive analysis of your current competitors and aspirational competitors to understand how you fit in the marketplace and how you might want to fine-tune your brand.
Our team conducts secret caller phone calls to each practice or location as part of our discovery phase. Our secret callers document everything from how the office answers the phone to the voicemail recording to get a sense of a brand across locations.
Branding a multilocation organization requires a lot of time and resources. To do it right, you need everyone on the same page. However, multilocation businesses often have multiple stakeholders, making branding consensus especially difficult.
To save time and money, we recommend conducting a series of stakeholder interviews. The ultimate goal should be to get proper buy-in before you start the project. But properly interviewing stakeholders also yields a wealth of information your team can use for branding.
Interviews can be conducted via in-person visits or by phone/ videoconference. While a bit more involved, onsite interviews with stakeholders can often include additional meetings with staff, patients, and doctors. Either way, stakeholder interviews are always informative and help establish common themes and takeaways that inform recommendations for brand architecture and help develop common ground.
3) Invest in Third-Party Research (if Applicable)
Third-party research is optional, but we sometimes bring in outside research firms for objective data and qualitative research.
You can hire third-party research firms to discover the following:
- Inform the creative process with what patients and referring doctors think about the brand.
- Determine whether anyone in your markets recognizes your name or any of your competitors’ names. Almost everyone overestimates the equity of their name. Usually, we start with an unaided recall, where we ask consumers, “what’s the best dermatologist in town” followed by, do you recognize any of these dermatology practice names?
- Get subjective opinions about a shortlist of potential brand names to discover associations and avoid any nasty surprises.
Tips on Researching Brand Names for Multipractice Locations
When it comes to choosing a name for a healthcare organization, there are many things to consider. We recommend researching to discover the following:
- Is it meaningful and unique?
- Can you own it? Can you get the trademark and/or the website domain legally?
- Does the name have value, i.e., name recognition?
- Is the name future proof? Can the name grow with the organization and stay relevant with additional locations?
- Does it represent all locations?
- Does it align with your vision and values?
- Does it create a positive image or convey a benefit?
4) Choose the Right Brand Architecture
Armed with your goal, research, and insight from interviewing your stakeholders, you can now use this information to decide on the best brand architecture for your multilocation organization.
Your brand architecture is the relationship between the various locations within your healthcare organization. It includes brand naming and how the sites interact with one another.
Here are the four main approaches to brand architecture and some tips on why you might choose one over the other.
In this model, the firm is the brand. Services and market sectors (or practice areas) are subsets of the primary brand. One famous company with this model is FedEx. In Healthcare, think of Kaiser or Providence Health.
Using this approach, your multilocation organization would have a single brand: logo mark, marketplace position, and messaging. However, the subset brands would share these brand elements but contain their unique messaging points.
A branded house model is an excellent choice for healthcare organizations if the parent brand has a strong audience and reputation, and if the individual location(s) needs brand equity.
An endorsed brand architecture has individual and distinct product brands linked together by the endorsing parent brand.
In this model, the parent brand plays a supportive and linking role and offers a shared high-level promise valued by target customers.
For our client who had 36 locations, we recommended this approach for the following reasons:
- Builds equity of the parent brand
- Allows for independent naming structures and minimal change to established practices.
- Allows opportunity for future expansion, regardless of geography
- Allows for location visualization
- It is an easier transition for existing patients
Sub-branding is when the leading brand creates a subsidiary or secondary brand. For example, Diet Coke or Nacho Cheese Doritos.
For example, as a Branded House, Apple has many sub-brands: Mac, iTunes, and iPhone.
Sub-brands are created as an opportunity to reach a new audience and can help build and sustain relationships with this new audience.
House of Brands
In a House of Brands architecture, the branding is focused on the subset brands, and the parent brand gets little or no attention. Proctor and Gamble, the perfect example of a House of Brands approach, makes Bounty, Charmin, Crest, Dawn dishwashing liquid, Downey, and many others.
Another example is Newell. While you’ve probably never heard of the parent, you probably know their brands like Rubbermaid, Sharpie, Coleman, Elmer’s, and Mr. Coffee.
This brand approach requires a lot of dedicated resources because each brand operates with its own brand elements, messaging and marketing efforts.
At the same time, this approach lends the most flexibility to subset brands because it is detached from the parent brand. In this way, subset brands are free to determine their own brand identity and messaging and are not obligated to match a parent brand’s mission, purpose, and values.
This flexibility might also be suitable for master brands who might want to have competing brands underneath them.
In healthcare, Pacific Dental is a dental service organization (DSO) with hundreds of locations, all with individual community-based names. The house of brands approach allows them to build a local presence with a community feel.
One final advantage of the house of brands approach is that it mitigates the likelihood of one problematic location from affecting the larger “franchise.” For example, a 50 location skilled nursing chain with a house of brands approach successfully limited the PR impact from a single COVID breakout to the location in question.
5) Bring Together the Right Creative Team
With the four steps above, it’s easy to see why you need a team with the healthcare and marketing knowledge, expertise, and communication skills for a branding project. There are many moving parts, and the process can break down quickly.
Who is your creative brand team? You’ll need a creative director, graphic designer, healthcare content strategists, and healthcare content writers. You’ll also need web developers, SEO analysts, and other marketing professionals to ensure optimal results.
6) Develop or Fine-Tune Your Brand
Once you settle on your brand architecture approach, we recommend developing or fine-tuning your brand identity and messaging.
Your Brand Identity
Here are a few ways to do this:
A brand workshop to discover and develop your brand heart, including your:
- Core Values
Brand Essence & Messaging
You know who you are, but how do you express it, and how do you talk about who you are?
You’ll need to develop the following:
- Brand personality
- Brand voice
- Brand tone
Your Brand Messaging
- What is your value proposition?
- What is your tagline?
- And what are your messaging pillars?
Create Your Visual Identity
Your visual identity includes your logo, typography, colors, and imagery. When most people think of branding, they think of the visual elements of a brand. This is how important the visual identity is for your multipractice healthcare organization.
Every aspect of your visual identity must be purposeful.
Develop Your Brand Guidelines
When all of your brand elements are created and ready to go, your brand guidelines will be the ultimate guide on how to use your brand in content and communication.
Brand guidelines can include both verbal and visual procedures.
7) Launch Your Branding
If you’ve made it through all six steps above, you’re finally ready to roll out your brand. However, launching your brand the right way is just as important as doing the branding work.
Here is a different checklist of things to do for rolling out your brand:
- Determine a launch date; create timelines, so everyone is on track.
- Communicate launch to the appropriate people and departments (e.g., employees, referring and admitting doctors, donors, community leaders, patients, etc.)
- Develop your distribution plan.
- Share news with stakeholders and internal teams.
- Prepare press releases, blog posts, and related announcement materials.
- Update appropriate content:
- Domain Names
- Meta data/Title tags
- Marketing and Communications
- Brand style guide
- Content style guide
- Media Kit
- Social Media
- Profile biographies
Multilocation Branding Done Right in Seven Steps
As healthcare marketers, we’ve seen more changes and market disruptors in the past five years than there have been in the previous 30, and it’s happening at an accelerated pace. Mergers and acquisitions are shaking up the industry. We are witnessing a mega-trend of consolidation, where multiple locations come together as individual practices or groups that are acquired and rolled into a larger entity. Consolidation is everywhere, and the players include private equity firms, physician-led groups, hospitals, health systems, and retail businesses.
All those newly aligned locations must be properly branded and marketed to their respective communities. Use this checklist to develop a better healthcare brand — no matter how many locations you have!