Chances are when you were a young, bright-eyed high school senior about to embark on the journey known as “college,” you were told to decide in what area you wanted to specialize your education. They called it “declaring your major.” You had to pick one category, and often a specific emphasis within that category, which gave you a distinct set of skills and knowledge that earned you a degree at the completion of your program.

Hm. How very similar that is to healthcare brand strategy today!

In a recent Red Paper (explained in this blog post), we talked briefly about the concept of “declaring your major” in healthcare business strategy planning. To “declare your major” is to make a choice—like the one you were instructed to make in your youth. For healthcare organizations in a complex, changing time, this requires admitting your organization cannot be all things to all people all the time. Rather, you must choose how you will define your organization and what that means to consumers.

Why? Research in other industries show us that organizations that fail to claim—and deliver—a distinct position often struggle and fail in the face of more differentiated competitors (e.g., K-Mart, Gateway computers).

For healthcare organizations, The Advisory Board describes four sample destination strategies to help health systems identify the type of organization they want to build: Best-In-Class Acute Care Destination, Full-Service Population Health Manager, Consumer-Oriented Ambulatory Network or Financially Integrated Delivery System. IBM’s Institute for Business Value contributes four other options including Community Health Networks focused on optimizing access, Centers for Excellence focused on clinical quality and safety for specific conditions, Medical Concierges focused on optimizing the patient experience, or Price Leaders focused on productivity and workflow.

The point is, claim your space in the market and send the message of what you value most. It is imperative to definitively design what you will emphasize in your brand, operations and communications. If your brand strategy seems eerily similar to your competitors, either rethink your strategy for distinction or clarify how you deliver on that similar strategy differently. If you can’t perceive a difference, neither can your constituents.

We choose our majors and specialize our education in order to make ourselves marketable. If you imagine the healthcare consumer’s decision process like a potential employer, then your major and your brand is what sets your apart from the other candidates (your competitors). Decide what you want to be and deliver on that promise with a distinctive brand strategy.

Failure to do so may spell years of struggle to stand out.

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Dan Miers

Chief Strategy Officer at SPM Marketing & Communications
Dan anticipates “what’s next” in our complex industry and keeps SPM on the leading edge of healthcare policy and strategy. A valuable resource to all SPM clients, his strategic insights focus how we understand and apply industry trends to client issues. With 20 years of experience, Dan has two master’s degrees in healthcare administration and finance, worked in business development at an academic medical center, and launched a healthcare technology company. He is also a frequent speaker at industry events and an active member of the Society for Healthcare Strategy and Market Development (SHSMD).
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