SPM and Hackensack Meridian Health at SHSMD 2018 - 2/12/19
The following article was published on Strategic Health Care Marketing’s website:
Hackensack Meridian Health Builds a New Brand
// By Wendy Healy //
One of the themes of this article is that brands evolve. We covered the Hackensack Meridian merger back in December 2016. The consolidated health system’s first-generation brand has now been replaced with a new brand, built on consumer research and a solid brand strategy.
Two-and-a-half years after two large New Jersey health care networks merged, the new Hackensack Meridian Health says its rebranding and logo development went very well.
“Well-orchestrated” is how Jim Blazar, executive vice president and chief strategy officer, puts it. In fact, the concept of orchestration sets the tone for the new logo, which visually resembles the view one would see when looking down on an orchestra pit, he adds.
Blazar spoke at the Society for Healthcare Strategy and Market Development (SHSMD) conference in Seattle in October, in a session called, “Bigger, Better or Both. Building a Brand-in-Demand Through Mergers and Strategic Partnerships.”
Blazar spoke along with Patti Winegar, managing partner of SPM Marketing & Communications, Hackensack Meridian’s agency for branding. Their session helped participants understand that when two organizations of equal size merge, the challenge is more than becoming just a bigger, hyphenated version of itself. How would this newly consolidated brand convey the benefit of the merger and deliver a new level of care?
Branding Is Continual
Blazar discussed lessons learned and described the evolution of Hackensack Meridian Health’s branding and logo. “Branding is never ending,” he says. “It’s continual. You’re always adding to it; all your competitors are doing the same thing.”
Calling it one of the most successful mergers in New Jersey, Blazar attributed the good results to a well-coordinated branding strategy and solid consumer research. The logo’s tagline, “Life Years Ahead,” he says, is resonating with patients and consumers.
When consumer research showed that patients wanted an orchestrated approach to their health care, selecting a logo from three final designs became easier for Hackensack Meridian Health, according to Blazar.
Until the end of last year, Hackensack Meridian Health had two CEOs, one from Hackensack and one from Meridian. After the merger, they met over coffee and told Blazar that they had figured out the branding and designed the logo. Blazar smiled and said he wanted an approach based on market research. He hired Winegar’s firm, which had previously worked with both Hackensack and Meridian health systems.
“Anyone who has launched a brand knows that the CEO will pull you aside and say, ‘This’ll be very expensive,’” Blazar says, but he persisted and challenged the CEOs to partner with a company that would conduct market research: “We wanted to have a positive experience and change health care and how medicine is delivered.”
“We needed to develop partnerships and gain consumer insights. You have to figure out how to take it to the next step. Everywhere along the way, we used consumer insights and developed a strategic brand strategy,” he says. The system also used market segmentation in its messaging.
Listening to What Consumers Want
Interviews with Hackensack Meridian leaders and consumer data showed people wanted a coordinated and well-orchestrated approach to care. People said health care was hard to understand and difficult to navigate.
“The words that kept coming up were, ‘We’d like it to be well-orchestrated,’” he says, adding that people wanted their care to be seamless, easy, non-fragmented, and convenient. They didn’t want to travel to large medical centers in New York City or Philadelphia.
Once Hackensack Meridian Health knew that part of its strategy was to focus on people and customized care, the branding started falling into place. Since “well-orchestrated” was a phrase that wasn’t logo-friendly, the tagline evolved into “Life Years Ahead,” he says.
Internal Communication and Integration Were Key
To meet the marketing challenges of merging two organizations with different cultures, the system started an integration steering committee and created a word cloud to help develop strategy for the overall network. Emerging phrases were “care transformation,” “physician enterprise,” “network integration,” “technology and innovation,” “medical school,” and “growth of the care continuum.” The group also considered how mission and values were shaping the brand.
With 16 hospitals; 6,500 physicians; and 33,000 team members, internal communication was also extremely important, says Blazar. The announcement was made to Hackensack Meridian’s employees at more than 25 meetings across the state, including an annual meeting at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center that detailed plans for the year. This venue was especially significant, says Blazar, because it’s often the site of concerts, further underscoring the “well-orchestrated” theme.
“We didn’t just say, ‘Here’s our new logo,’” says Blazar. The event included the system’s leaders discussing how “everything fits together for our consumers.”
Winegar supported Hackensack Meridian in how it embraced employees. “Marketing is one thing,” she says. “It can get you to the door, but it’s your employees that make a difference and are part of the brand.”
The organization also established a new headquarters, centrally located between the Hackensack system in the northern part of the state and Meridian’s southern location. A new internet domain — hackensackmeridianhealth.org — was created. The health system ended the year with one CEO retiring, leaving it with just one.
Rollout of the New Brand
The merger was publicly announced on July 1, 2016. The kickoff also included an internal brand video using staff members. “I think videos are a great way to express what you do. It’s one thing for me to stand up and discuss the strategy, but I think videos are wonderful,” says Blazar. The video got a standing ovation when it was unveiled to the staff, according to Blazar.
The video and subsequent ads play on the catchphrase “the rhythm of life.” Blazar says, “The messages center on what brings us all together, what sets Hackensack Meridian apart, and that the best health care is about more than medicine … it’s about people.” The ads go on to say that Hackensack Meridian understands “how precious life is … and how that can change in the blink of an eye.”
“Everything we do matters, every act of kindness.”
“Together, we have the power to change health care, change the future and orchestrate excellence … life years ahead.”
What could Hackensack Meridian do better? Blazar points to changing signage quicker. He also points to addressing cultural issues sooner. Legacy Hackensack and legacy Meridian no longer matter. “We’re one company now.” He notes that the system educated employees about cultural differences, but it should’ve started that process sooner. The quicker systems meld cultures, the better, he says. Winegar also recommends communicating with partners and audiences early.
In spite of some challenges, Blazar says the brand recognition and loyalty for Hackensack Meridian is strong and continues to build. “The number of phone calls I get from people who want to join our network is off the charts. Recognition of the brand is off the chart,” he says.
Wendy Stark Healy is a Connecticut-based health care writer and editor, and author of Life Is Too Short: Stories of Transformation and Renewal After 9/11.