Amid the wave of industry consolidation, health systems often overlook the importance of their brands. Yet it is a critical indicator of customer experience and loyalty that translates into both reputational and financial value. The better health systems become at harmonizing their organization brands with their physician brands to become “matched-strength brands,” the more value they can expect, reveals Accenture analysis.
Brands are not just for the marketing department. Healthy brands are connected to healthier performance and future growth. In fact, brand power is an important influencer for people when they select their healthcare providers.
Beyond the basics of convenience and access, patients choose providers based on reputation and recommendations from trusted friends. Nineteen percent of consumers listed a referral from a trusted friend as a main reason for choosing their provider. Reliance on peer referrals underscores the importance of establishing and sustaining a positive brand reputation among consumers.
Balance is best
Developing brand strength is more challenging than most organizations realize. The interdependency between health system and physician brands makes provider brands inherently complex. Accenture analysis confirms that all brands are not created equal, and identifies three distinct provider brand models. These models include system-dominant, physician-dominant and matched-strength brand. See Figure 1.
A healthy brand requires matched strength between physician brand and health system brand, which has a positive impact on acquisition, retention and financial performance.
The story is different with health systems that have mismatched brands. They have higher rates of patient switching and lower overall Net Promoter Score®, a measure of consumer willingness to recommend. The overall system brand suffers when the physician brand dominates. System-dominant brands have lower rates of retention and may not protect against patient switching. In these organizations, 28 percent of consumers left their provider over the past 12 months due to dissatisfaction, compared to just 21 percent of switchers in physician-dominant and matched-strength organizations.
Success is hard work
While matched strength brands offer health systems an advantage, they can be difficult to achieve. Many hospitals have some physicians who are employees and others who are affiliated, so they do not have total control over physician brands. In addition, the broad geographic footprint of large health systems further complicates this brand dynamic.
But the reality is that physician brands matter. Health systems must take responsibility for them, whether or not they “employ” the physicians. They can bet valuable insights from industries that have franchise business models. Their operating models accommodate defining, executing and measuring brand strategies by design. And they inherently balance protecting and strengthening the corporate brand and allowing for the appropriate autonomy for franchise owners.
Back to basics
Here are some fundamentals for getting started:
- Know thyself. Strengthening any brand starts with the fundamentals of identity, the brand promise—what an organization does and does not want to be known for in the market.
- Assign patient experience accountability. C-level accountability for the patient experience and a dedicated customer experience team with clear decision-making authority and responsibilities is critical.
- Align the organization. Health systems must focus on aligning with physicians to support the brand strategy and become a true matched-strength brand. Health systems must prepare to navigate complexity and nuance specific to both owned and affiliated physician models, and get creative to bridge gaps.
- Resist the echo chamber. Foundational brand work was once done in a vacuum, without real-time consumer input. Now, customer feedback management platforms help organizations capture and act on real-time feedback.
Health systems that double down on their own brands, assign patient experience accountability, and create enablement systems to empower and align physician brands for matched strength status can expect to improve customer acquisition and retention and achieve higher growth margins.