Your Real Brand is What the Patient Experiences

intangible patient experienceRecently, we were talking with a marketing savvy client about the real meaning of patient experience. We agreed with Jill Mathison, VP Ambulatory Services, Pomona Valley Hospital and Medical Center, that it’s a tough concept to define, and a challenge to translate into a hospital brand and branding message.

But the hard truth, we concluded, is that your brand is not what you say it is, it is what the patient-customer thinks. “The patient experience is what’s REALLY going to be your brand.”

Patient surveys such as Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) and various other satisfaction metrics can be helpful. But surveys are an imperfect tool. They are well intended, although they may provide a starting point.

What your hospital brand isn’t…

Insightful administrators and hospital communicators recognize what a brand is not:

  • A graphic design—the “look-and-feel”—is not a brand.
  • A logo is not a brand.
  • A product or service is not a brand.
  • A visual identity package (even robust and expensive ones) is not a brand.

Logos, taglines and “we care about you” advertising headlines attempt to communicate a promise. But a slogan or indicia are communications elements and not to be confused with the essence of branding.

A brand is real…but intangible. A brand is a perception that exists in the mind of individuals or groups of people. A brand is how a product, company, organization or institution is perceived. Jeff Bezos, founder, chairman and CEO of offers one of the best perspectives: “Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.”

And where a true brand lives…

Branding, therefore, is the inexact science of creating that unique perception of a product or service—it is an awareness that differentiates the product/service among the competitive field, and evokes an emotional connection between the business—in this case, the hospital—and the consumer public or individual patient.

In the end, no matter how strong the claim or how clever the catchphrase, your real brand is driven mainly by what the patient experiences. By definition:

  • A brand is the total experience that a customer has with your product, service or company.
  • A brand is delivering on a promise … consistently.

While branding is virtually everything that represents your hospital to the patient, the tangible factors, such as a logo and tagline, are less than half the story. It is the consistent delivery of the intangible factors that touch emotions—patient experience and satisfaction—that drive, build and define your real brand.

Stewart Gandolf, MBA

About Stewart Gandolf, MBA

Stewart Gandolf, MBA, is both the Publisher of and the Co-Founder of Healthcare Success. Stewart has written for dozens of leading healthcare publications and spoken at hundreds of venues on a variety of topics including marketing, reputation management and patient experience. Additionally, he has personally consulted for over 1,500 hospitals and practices. Prior to becoming an entrepreneur, Stewart worked for leading advertising agencies including J. Walter Thompson.

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