As healthcare marketers, creating and disseminating advertising is only one part of winning new patients. Certainly we need to capture their imagination, but it is equally important that the brand we market is the brand that patients will come to experience once they visit our facilities. We can motivate consumers all day long, but if their brand experience doesn’t live up to the promise of the marketing, then we have failed.
How do you avoid frustrating and disappointing consumers who respond to your advertising? How do you make sure that the hospital you market is the same hospital that patients will experience? You need to be certain that the people within your organization, from patient transportation and housekeeping to nurses and physicians, actually live the brand every day. Any conversation about ‘living the brand’ has to be grounded in the understanding that internal brand culture is reliant upon winning the hearts and minds of the employees. When I think about what that actually looks like in application, I am drawn to the example of Lexington Medical Center in West Columbia, South Carolina.
The employees of Lexington Medical Center (LMC) live the brand – a brand defined by a culture of service and caring – where employees are engaged and perform at the highest levels. This positive workplace culture doesn’t come cheap. Beyond empowering and inspiring employees, LMC’s leadership has made a serious investment in employee satisfaction, developing a compensation structure that is among the best in the region. But the return on investment, measured in staff retention and the ensuing patient satisfaction, makes it all worthwhile.
If you ever doubted that there is a direct link between employee satisfaction and patient satisfaction, Lexington Medical Center’s Press Ganey patient satisfaction scores consistently place it among the best in the country. In 2007, Lexington Medical Center receive Press Ganey’s Summit Award, given to organizations that have achieved and sustained the highest level of excellence in patient satisfacton. This caring culture that leads to employee and patient satisfaction begins with the egalitarian leadership style of LMC’s president and CEO Mike Biediger. Within his organization, Mike is the standard bearer for patient and family-centered care. At least once a day, Mike walks the halls of the hospital with a friendly demeanor and an eye for detail.
On a recent visit to LMC, I had the opportunity accompany Mike and his marketing director, Mark Shelley, as they very purposefully wandered the hall of the medical center. It soon became obvious that Mike is spreading organizational brand culture as he makes his rounds. This is really the notion of ‘management by walking around,’ but extended to include an emphasis on internal branding. Mike’s very intentional practice of walking the halls is about creating and reinforcing a culture that employees observe and then emulate.
As we traveled throughout Lexington Medical Center new five-story, 90-bed North Tower, we routinely passed employees who would call out to Mike by his first name, and in return, he would acknowledge them by name. Then they would launch into some brief discourse about what’s happening in the department. Mike took the time to introduce me to each employee we encountered, and explained to them my role as a marketing consultant for the hospital. It was apparent that these employees were used to seeing Mike in their department and they welcomed his visits.
Probably the most interesting part of my afternoon at Lexington Medical Center was when Mike Biedeger noticed an elderly woman who looked lost, heading down a corridor. Mike approached the woman and asked if he could help her find her way. Rather than simply give her directions, Mike escorted her to her destination. And from what I understand, this is the practice at Lexington Medical Center. This may seem like a small thing, but then multiply the impact of this one event by similar caring interactions taken by LMC’s 4,700 employees each day. This is what is meant by ‘living the brand.’
An interesting book on the subject of corporate brand culture and customer satisfaction within healthcare is Al Stubblefield’s The Baptist Healthcare Journey to Excellence. Stubblefield points out that “no organization can establish and maintain a healthy culture without an engaged and motivated workforce.” (P. 37) However, he goes on to say that “customers and employees alike will see straight through a shallow, half-hearted commitment to culture change.” (p.38) In short, cultural change must begin at the top with leaders living the brand through their daily actions within the hospital. Only then will employees follow, creating the opportunity for patients to experience the new culture. This is exactly what I observed at Lexington Medical Center.
It is important to add that corporate culture isn’t the only important element in a patient’s brand experience. There are many other ways to live the brand that involve putting your money where your brand is. These include service delights like providing Internet access in your surgery waiting room; providing visitors with beepers that will notify them when their family member is out of surgery; providing convenient, free parking; or having a café that serves espresso drinks. These are all special touches that Lexington Medical Center offers its patients and their families in order to enhance their experience.
How does this relate to your marketing? At Lexington Medical Center, when they promote a caring, patient and family-friendly environment within their advertising, the consumers who actually visit the hospital will find exactly what they expect. The brand they market is the brand patients and visitors will experience. That means that they are living up to the promise of their marketing and their brand. Marketing isn’t just about enticing consumers to make an appointment, it is about making a promise that you can live up to and that will intrigue your target audience. As marketers, we have accountability when we disseminate information about our institutions. Accepting that accountability means making sure that the hospital can successfully meet the expectations we generate. Once we’ve taken that step, we are on our way toward winning new patients and developing brand advocates.