Where Does Your Health System Brand Go From Here?

Where Does Your Health System Brand Go From Here? By Chris Bevolo
posted Jul 2, 2020

With COVID-19 still ravaging much of the nation, the last thing many health system CMOs may be worried about is how to evolve their brand positioning. In truth, we don’t know how long or widespread the current surge will be, if/when another wave may hit in the fall, or what comes after. But that’s all a part of living in the No Normal — this unprecedented environment of uncertainty that may not fully settle down until well into 2021 or possibly beyond. Whether you’re currently dealing with an acute COVID-19 crisis in your organization right now, whether you believe you’ve passed it, or whether you’re really not sure, at some point, you will need to figure out how to take your brand forward.

As we’ve said before, thriving in the No Normal doesn’t mean freezing all marketing efforts, strategies, or planning until things stabilize — you don’t have time to wait for that. It also doesn’t mean, however, operating blind with no thought or study of where your organization needs to head. Brand positioning is a great example — what will be the singular principle? The one in which you define your desired brand moving forward? In a recent post, Revive’s Lindsey Thompson lays out some key strategies for guiding your organization’s reputation in the No Normal. And no matter which positioning path you choose, you should also be building a consumer-centric brand experience, with a constant drive to enhance access, transparency, digital/virtual touchpoints, and more.

But all successful brands identify a core brand position. So in that spirit, we’ve laid out three possible brand positioning directions for a post-COVID-19 world. We’ve outlined the benefits and challenges of each and which option may be best, given a health system’s situation emerging from COVID-19. You will have to decide when the time is right to launch a new brand, but you don’t have to wait to start planning.

Option One — Mission-based Positioning

Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, hospitals and health systems have rightly been honored for the incredible work they’ve done helping our country through the pandemic. Doctors, nurses, and other front-line workers have been heralded as heroes, and there has been a resurgence of goodwill about the role hospitals play in our society.

A mission-based positioning would focus on the societal role your organization plays. It would take the goodwill built during the COVID-19 crisis and leverage it moving forward, with a message that’s aimed at solidifying the essential role your hospitals, doctors, nurses, and more play in the communities you serve.

Primary Benefit:

Leveraging the once-in-a-generation halo effect hospitals and health systems have received to extend beyond the emergence from COVID-19.

Best for Systems That:

  • Have received enhanced/extraordinary recognition for the role they played during the COVID-19 crisis.
  • Are in smaller/rural communities, where the hospital is a major community asset.
  • Aren’t able to adequately leverage Options Two or Three.


  • This position would do little to differentiate a brand from other hospitals or health systems.
  • The longevity of such a brand position would be limited to the halo-effect post-COVID-19.

Option Two — Promotional Positioning

This is the option that the vast majority of systems used prior to the COVID-19 crisis. While most switched to more altruistic messages during the crisis (such as community education and celebrating front-line staff), most health system leaders are marking the calendar for when they can return to building their brand in a way that better differentiates themselves from their competitors. This could be especially important as systems across the U.S. struggle to fill the financial hole caused by the reduction in volumes during COVID-19 and the difficulty to bring back all patients as COVID-19 subsides.

Primary Benefit:

If done well, promotional positioning will help you differentiate your offerings from other choices in the market and connect with those shopping for care effectively.

Best for Systems That:

  • Had/have a strong competitive differentiation in the market.
  • Emerged in some way better/stronger as a result of the COVID-19 crisis relative to other competitors.


  • There’s a danger of going out promotional/competitive too soon after COVID-19, resulting in the loss of the goodwill/halo.
  • Promotional positioning still must contend with an overall lack of relevance with consumers (“Joe Public Doesn’t Care About Your Hospital”) and differentiating with traditional providers only.

Option Three — Personality Brand

Most brands — both inside and out of healthcare — leverage a positioning that’s promotional in nature: focused on what makes their organization, product, or service better than other choices. But some of the most iconic brands of all time — Nike, Apple, Coke — leverage what’s called a personality brand. Rather than center their brand on themselves and what makes them better or great, they instead develop positioning that reflects a deep, emotional motivator in their targeted audience. Nike’s “Just Do It” isn’t about the quality, price, innovation, selection, or style of their shoes. It’s about the deep drive within their core audience to push themselves to be better, no excuses. There are very few of these types of brands in the health system space — Kaiser’s “Thrive” and Dignity Health’s “Hello Human Kindness” are two of just a handful. This is why when we wrote about the opportunity for systems to embrace a personality brand, we labeled it a “Post Health System Brand.” (Read more in our paper “The Case for Building a Post Health System Brand.”)

  • Already have a strong health system reputation for experience, clinical excellence, scale, or more.
  • Are seeking to position themselves not just against other health systems, but against all potential health brands, from Walgreens to Haven to Apple.


  • It can be very difficult to convince health system leadership or physicians to leverage a brand that is not promotional in nature.
  • You have to be OK with leveraging service-line marketing efforts that may require distinct creative from overall brand campaign efforts.

Which brand positioning path is right for your organization will depend on many variables, and there is obviously a multitude of options within each brand path. But don’t let the uncertainty of the No Normal delay your choice — the sooner you pick a path, the sooner you will benefit.