Why brand purpose in healthcare gets lost in a sea of goodwill

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When everyone has a purpose, does anyone's purpose mean anything, asks Gyro's director of strategy.

Have you been in that meeting when someone asks, "Have you seen or read Simon Sinek's "Start With Why?" Heads start nodding and suddenly our brand challenges seem so clear. The answer was right there all along. We just need to sell our purpose. It's hard to disagree with the philosophy that "people don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it"—especially when the data often supports this belief.

But what happens when every brand starts marketing its purpose? What happens when that purpose is not unique from competitors or the industry as a whole? And when everyone has a purpose, does anyone's purpose mean anything?

Many healthcare brands have migrated to brand purpose as their branding strategy. The challenge is that most have fallen short by delivering on the industry's brand purpose, not their company's. Healthcare as an industry exists with the purpose of helping people live healthier, better, fuller lives. Look across the industry's advertising—from insurance companies to providers to pharma and even to electronic health record platforms—the purpose they promote are nearly identical takes on "we exist to transform lives."

If your competitors also exist to transform lives, what is your point of differentiation? And if the entire category is marketing a similar brand purpose, can your audience even, at first blush, distinguish a primary care provider from a medical device manufacturer? It's time to dig deep with our brand purpose, by solidifying what we do and how we do it. Here's how:

Be clear about what you do. The healthcare industry is one of the most cluttered categories. It's crucial to be clear about what business you're in. This seems obvious, but it is often overlooked in healthcare brand advertising. We're so focused on telling people why we exist and why we're amazing that we skip right over what we provide. Given the multiplicity of healthcare audiences, our communications gravitate to the lowest common denominator, blurring specificity and clarity further. Don't leave your audience wondering what you do, because the human brain is lazy and will ignore or discard your message. You really don't want your medical dressings getting confused with a new respiratory biologic because both said they can help you breathe a sigh of relief.

Own what you do uniquely. When you start talking about improving outcomes, bettering health or transforming lives, how do you uniquely do this? Uniqueness is the key. How do you deliver your purpose in a way no other competitor does? Is it your process? Your people? Your technology? This unique approach is your brand positioning. It must carve out a uniquely ownable space. It should tell all of your buyers or consumers why you're the perfect solution for them as no other company can meet their needs like you.

Go back to the beginning. Know why your business truly exists and let people know. Why was the company started? What was it built to do? If your knee-jerk reaction to those questions was "we create better outcomes" or "healthier tomorrows" or "transform health," dig deeper. Your purpose should build off of your unique brand positioning. By doing what you uniquely do, what is the outcome and what is the impact on the world?

Case in point: We conducted research for a client with a telemedicine technology solution. When we asked hospital administrative and clinical staffers what telemedicine solutions they were aware of, we received more than 150 different brands. First, the fact that they could come up with more than 150 different brands is remarkable. But as we dug into the data, it included many companies that don't even provide a telemedicine solution. This speaks to not only the clutter within your own product or service category, but the confusion among brands providing some form of healthcare service or product in general. Especially when you consider the massive amount of dollars being spent to target the same customers.

Purpose still matters, and perhaps most of all in healthcare where the stakes are the highest. You must absolutely clarify your positioning for your audience. Otherwise, your brand will just be lost in marketing's largest sea of metaphorical, and literal, sameness.

--Kim Lauersdorf is director of strategy at Gyro.

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