While there were some great takeaways from the crowded exhibit hall, including Chicago’s hometown popcorn and popular business books, the SHSMD Connections National Healthcare Marketing Conference also provided tasty takeaways to apply to the hospital branding field.  Here’s ten that made our list:

Accelerate and the need for speed

Hospital branding has traditionally been pegged as a six to nine month planning process, resulting in a two to three year strategy.  Several of the education sessions and case studies discussed the need to be more nimble, aggressive and faster to the marketplace.  Competitive activity and changing political landscapes were cited as key drivers of the need for speed, but most agreed it is important to remain strategic and have a well thought out plan.  Just do it faster and get there quicker.

Create more energy

Maybe a direct result of the need for speed was the reference that today’s hospital marketers need to create more energy in their brand strategy and creative executions.  There were many good creative examples and engaging ideas,  but overall, campaigns still lacked edgy thinking and edgier creative.

Master brands still dominate

While mergers and acquisitions are the rage, hospital brands need to determine where the equity lies within the systems and lean in that direction before developing a naming/architecture system.   It seems that “master” brands are widely used model (aka “unified model”) for cost efficiency purposes versus the “endorsed” model which relies on strong entity brands and greater resources.

Computer generated names are out

Remember the days of putting key words into a computer naming database and the results were names that came from, well, computer naming databases.  The talk this year was that new enterprises were taking the equity of existing brands and making those a major component of the naming strategy.   Even in the case of merged enterprises, the names reflected pieces of both rather than something out of the blue.

Internal branding has risen to a higher level of importance

As more new enterprises emerge, the importance of internal branding intensifies.  Stakeholders need to understand the value and composition of the new brand for both emotional and practical purposes.  Emotionally, they need to become engaged and feel the “heartbeat” of the organization, and practically, they need to know how, where, and to whom referrals should be made in order to reduce “leakage.”

Digital media is here to stay

While offline media is not going away either, every presentation references to a digital strategy.  My observation is that hospital branding professionals have learned to balance the two channels and recognize the role digital plays in their strategy.  Google has officially replaced the yellow pages and hospitals are investing in rising to the top of searches and leading consumers back to websites and landing pages.

Social media is breaking down walls

Similar to digital, hospital marketers are highly engaged in social media channels.  In several sessions, almost all hands shot up when asked who is using Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, and other networks.  The change this year is that more organizations are breaking down the walls (firewalls) in order to allow employees to access these networks from the workplace.  Why?  Because it promotes engagement and, between their pads and phones, they are able to access social networks anyway.

Budgets are rising

You would think with all the reimbursement issues and onset of healthcare reform policies, hospital branding budgets would be on the decline.  Based on the sessions I attended and conversations around the convention hall, the opposite is occurring.  Hospital marketers and administrators are recognizing that now is not the time to be “silent” in the marketplace and that they should be growing key services and clinical areas.  The good news is that they are also recognizing the role marketing plays in the equation.

Margins and Metrics

A very well attended session showed how service line margins can be quantified based on population variables and caseloads.  Hospital marketers are becoming more savvy with numbers. They are working more closely with the business development/strategy departments to determine where to best invest resources.

Population health is populating marketing plans

While at the SHSMD National Healthcare Marketing Conference, I learned what the key to living a long, healthy life. It is to eat lots of beans, get plenty of sleep, belong to faith based community, have good friends, and exercise.  Employers and health plans, too, are looking for ways to keep their populations healthy and predict healthcare costs.  Using analytics and other tools, many health systems are becoming immersed in the space of population health. They are making it part of their service offerings.

If this year’s conference is a bellwether for the near future of hospital branding and marketing, we’re in for a good stretch. Attendance was outstanding,  topics were lively,  and the overall mood was excellent. Interestingly, several CFO’s stopped by our booth to “round out” their understanding of healthcare marketing. Most importantly, they talked about how it can contributed to the bottom-line of their organizations.

It certainly helps that the weather in Chicago was beautiful during the show. This made for great walks along the lakefront or strolls to dinner.  Personally, it was great to see so many friends and colleagues. After 25 years of being in this business and seeing so much change. I am always glad to see familiar faces…here’s to 25 more years!  Guess that means I better start eating beans.

Here’s to seeing you in at the next SHSMD National Healthcare Marketing Conference in San Diego, October 18-21, 2014.

Click here to learn more about Springboard Brand & Creative Strategy and learn 10 Takeaways Hospital Branding.

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