Oct 21, 2021

3 Stories From The Frontlines of Healthcare Branding Projects

By: Josh Dougherty


Creating a memorable healthcare brand is hard work. Each segment of the vertical has a standard playbook. Organizations providing frontline patient care emphasize their patient-centric approach. Research institutions highlight their researchers and the breakthroughs they achieve. Healthcare technology firms rely heavily on the differentiated value their solution provides.

None of these approaches is wrong. The issue is from a branding perspective, they do not go far enough to make an organization stand out; to make it memorable.

Why does this matter? Because, if you’re selling a competitive product, whether it be primary care or technology that improves a health system’s ability to coordinate care, your ability to achieve your goals is driven by how memorable your brand is. If no one can remember what makes you different, they won’t choose you when they need your product or services.

In our work with healthcare brands we’ve learned a lot about how to create this differentiation. Here are three quick anecdotes that illustrate some of those lessons, and hopefully inspire you to start building your brand.

1. Using Branding To Facilitate Scale

Last year one of our healthcare clients was preparing to scale. They also faced increased competition in their space. This reality caused them to ask a few  questions:

  • As our space gets more and more crowded, how can we ensure we continue to stand out?
  • How can we scale without losing our heart and soul?
  • How do we communicate the unique value we provide in a consistent but appropriate way to all of the audiences we have (clients, staff, and patients)?

As a result of these questions, we kicked off a process to finally put pen to paper on what makes them unique. But, before we could do that we had to jump over a few hurdles.

Building Buy-In For Introspection

It's difficult to build buy-in for introspection. When leadership is thinking about scaling they’re worried about expanding their revenue base and building out operations. Slowing down isn’t a first instinct. It was no different here. For this project to get buy-in we had to make sure that our branding work complemented and aligned with the other efforts already underway, rather than creating a roadblock that needed to be cleared before scaling was possible.

Our partners at the client did an amazing job with this by:

  • Demonstrating how brand would facilitate consistency at scale
  • Showing how a solidified brand would result in long-term value for the organization
  • Planning the branding work in a way that didn’t slow down any other efforts already underway

These steps gave our team and the team at the client the time and space to start working through a brand essence that fit both where the organization was today and where it would be in 18 months.

Getting To The Heart Of Things

Once we had the space to think about the startup’s essence (the thing that makes an organization unique), we had another challenge on our hands. When we conducted our competitive analysis and background research it became clear that there were 8-10 other competitors who were offering substantially similar products in the market. As a first mover, this startup could previously say that they were doing something innovative, but from a service perspective that may no longer be believable to prospects.

This led us to the deeper questions essential to any branding process. Together, we explored the roots of the startup’s approach, asked what had remained sticky to clients as their organization had grown, and explored what elements would be true even as they expanded nationally or evolved their services. This allowed us to identify a brand essence and three brand attributes that are timeless. They remain consistent despite scale, differentiate their approach from every one of their competition, and will push them to be differentiated in every area of their business.

This is the core of good branding. Your service offerings don’t have to be different from your competition (although they definitely will have unique aspects), but they must be undergirded by a unique essence that impacts how your team does their work, how your clients remember you, and how you deliver your product to the world.

2. Lean Into A Story That Only You Can Own


Huntsman Cancer Institute is the the only NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center in the Mountain West. They have a great reputation for both their research and patient care. And when you arrive in Salt Lake City they have a big presence. In fact they are everywhere.

As you might imagine from their name, the Huntsman family has a big influence on the organization. The family patriarch, the late Jon M. Huntsman founded the cancer center and it’s charitable foundation, the Huntsman Cancer Foundation. Throughout most of its history he played a massive role in the organization’s direction, vision, and strategy. The results were amazing.

When the time came to transition leadership to a new generation, there was a huge need to align around the vision for the next 25 years for HCI.

Honoring A Founder’s Vision While Building For The Future

One of the biggest objectives for this process was honoring Jon M. Huntsman’s vision while also creating a brand that the entire organization could own and live out in the future.

This is a common situation when a strong founder has been involved in an organization. Typically, the founder has a vision that they understand clearly in their mind but they cannot fully articulate to their team. The branding process focuses on extracting that vision and defining it. It’s difficult work, but it is the best way to safeguard the future of the organization.

With HCI we focused on answering three questions during the branding process:

  1. What elements of how the founder approached their work and presented the organization to the world are unique?
  2. What elements were unique to the founder and cannot be replicated?
  3. How should the unique elements be defined in a way that everyone in the organization, from marketing to operations, can live them out on a daily basis?

For HCI this resulted in an evolved brand essence and brand identity that will allow them to stay true to Jon M Hunstman’s vision for the organization even as it evolves in the coming years. You can read more about our project with Huntsman Cancer Institute and Huntsman Cancer Foundation here.


3. Utilize Your Most Valuable Assets To Build Your Brand

Earlier this year we conducted audience research for a healthcare SaaS client as part of our onboarding process. The research uncovered an issue. They were best known for one of their products, but that product had an entirely separate brand from their corporate brand. To make matters worse, the products with the highest revenue growth potential used the corporate branding, divorcing them entirely from the brand identity that had the most awareness and market penetration.

This discovery is a case study for primary research. It led to discussions about what should be done. As usual, questions emerged:

  • How could we clarify the product offerings?
  • How might we reduce complexity so that all of the brands could be managed efficiently?
  • What is the fastest path to driving revenue?

We briefly discussed many options. Here’s a sampling:

  • Changing the name of the corporate brand
  • Combining together multiple products to make them easier to understand
  • Doing nothing but focusing heavily on cross-promotion 

In the end the client landed on a simple and elegant solution that lends the brand credibility of the well-known product to the corporate brand. It also leveraged the well known product to increase the visibility of all of the other SaaS products so they could be discussed and sold together as a product. The solution was adopting a modified branded house strategy.

Each of the client’s products took on the name of the most successful product followed by a description of who the product was for. This standard naming convention made it easy to talk about all of the products as a family, clearly state who each one was for, and start driving growth immediately.


Is It Time To Take A Look At Your Brand?

Like I said at the beginning of the post: creating a memorable healthcare brand can be challenging. But as you see in each of these examples, it is possible and will bear dividends for you as you grow your organization. If any of the challenges in this post sound familiar, I recommend you check out our branding guide called The Secret To An Accelerated Branding Process. It will give you a solid branding framework for you to execute as an organization.

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