During the past few years, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to re-evaluate many components of our work as anesthesiologists and the organizations in which we work. Part of this organizational reflection has been to identify key features that make up our “brand.” Branding has long been a way for organizations to communicate internally within a company as well as externally with consumers. When you think of a brand, do any medical organizations come to mind? Johns Hopkins and their COVID-tracking platform has been front and center in their branding efforts as a leading medical system. As we consider the use of branding within medical organizations and Fortune 500 companies, successful branding evokes unconscious, emotional attachments, cognitive expectations/associations, increased awareness, and product consumption. When you hear the name Southwest (Airlines) or Chick-fil-A, what immediately comes to mind? Do you automatically think of them versus their respective competitors, and why? Regarding anesthesiology in particular, does your department, group practice, component society, or health system have a brand? If so, how does the organization manage your brand? And most importantly, how do your customers (patients) view your brand?
What is a brand? … and reasons to brand or rebrand?
A brand is a SOURCE or a PROMISE of relevantly differentiated benefits (asamonitor.pub/3t3AhLX). As physician anesthesiologists, we have an abundance of services and products that we provide to our patients and communities. We do ourselves a disservice if we are unable to communicate those benefits directly to the consumer/patient in an ever-growing consumer-facing market and to the organizations in which we work.
At its core, a brand stands as the consumer’s idea of a product or service (Journal of Brand Management 2014;21:702-15). However, a key feature of branding is that it originates from within an organization’s missions, values, and goals. Branding is a primary method to convey competitive advantage, and it serves to demonstrate a tangible market presence, a company’s unique value proposition, and “what the organization is all about “(Journal of Brand Management 2014;21:702-15). Branding can also serve to help recruit and retain employees by virtue of its linkage to an organization’s institutional memory or culture.
Customers have grown to expect the highest level of service and customer experience from Southwest and Chick-fil-A. One key facet to their successful brand is derived from being able to get their employees emotionally attached to the “brand.” Therefore, the employees act as synergistic brand ambassadors that continually communicate their mission and value to their customers, thereby transforming the customer experience. We have all seen Chick-fil-A employees standing in the rain greeting us with a smile, as if the sun was shining! This strategy catapulted Southwest and Chick-fil-A into leading positions in their respective markets. Have you ever seen a Chick-fil-A without a line wrapped around the store?
Pivotal to successful branding, and paramount to sustained industry advantage, is the ability to adapt and change in a timely and CONSUMER-responsive manner. Rebranding is based upon external and internal forces, while always mindful of NOT changing so much or SO abruptly as to alienate the base or confuse the consumer.
Evaluating our brand
In 2022, it is more important than ever to critically evaluate our own “brand” as anesthesiologists, as practice groups (health systems), and as an organization (i.e., ASA). How do we as anesthesiologists “rebrand” ourselves or our business practices? Additionally, how do we maintain a strategy of “reinvention” from decade to decade or even from year to year? This is a complex question, but most importantly, prior to any rebranding effort, we should ask ourselves why we are doing it in the first place. In addition, when engaging in a branding or rebranding campaign – if there is no one under 30 on your team, CHANGE THAT IMMEDIATELY.
Defining and communicating our “PROMISE of relevantly differentiated benefits”
Any organization can quickly convey their values and goals to their workforce and customers via a graphic design or a slogan. Additionally, a company’s goals and mission may have to be adapted or “tweaked” frequently in the presence of rapidly changing business and market conditions or events that we have never encountered in our lifetimes (i.e., COVID-19 pandemic). As we reflect on the past two years, it can be assuredly said that ASA’s positioning message is that anesthesiologists are frontline physicians and heroes who are critical for our patients’ well-being. Additionally, our roles and hopefully our reputation within our organizations have been elevated. In essence, “made for this moment.” This component of ASA’s branding message reflects all of the aforementioned components without having to explicitly define them. The pandemic allowed anesthesiologists to “market” our multidisciplinary involvement across the perioperative arena.
“A slogan or a graphic is not necessarily the key ingredient to maintaining success, but it is the visible tangible result of a never-ending process to re-evaluate what we do, how we can do it better, and what we can bring to the OR table, board room, or state capital that no one else can.”
But as we slowly emerge from the pandemic, how are we as anesthesiologists going to pivot next to stay relevant? How will our missions and values be communicated to reflect an ongoing commitment to patient safety, clinical expertise, and advocacy?
Responding to a complex business environment
Most Fortune 500 companies retain a slew of business, financial, and analytic experts to guide complex decision-making processes. Health care companies are no different, and the inherent heterogeneity of our medical practices does not insulate us from the complexities of health care business decision-making in the 21st century. Over the past three decades, ASA has evolved in response to the ever-changing environment and ever-increasing complexity of this reality. When we think back to the earliest ASA Practice Management Conference (1990s) and how it has evolved over the past three decades, ASA has kept pace with providing detailed knowledge and education for managers and anesthesia business leaders to successfully manage their organizations. The recent and newly rebranded ASA® ADVANCE conference reflects our intentional efforts to bring together leaders and stakeholders who can provide solutions to solve new issues in a fresh and innovative way.
Let’s face it, anesthesiologists are in the midst of one of the most challenging issues ever to arise – uniquely differentiating ourselves from nonphysician anesthetists before health systems, payers, and the public. The slew of physician extender nomenclature has created bona fide chaos in all sectors, but there is certainly more at stake than simply our titles – we are fighting to ensure the patients we serve know who is providing their medical care. We are certainly not the first business professional entity to face confusion in how we distinguish ourselves from others who claim to provide a similar product or service. At our core, we have to be able to communicate exactly why we are different. Is it our quality and expertise? Our availability? Our ability to be leaders and problem-solvers? All of these things must be considered, but tantamount to redefining our brand is the need to refer back to Southwest and Chick-fil-A and their use of “social complexity.” Imagine being able to orchestrate a perioperative experience that is superb compared to all others. We are in a perfect position to deliver that patient experience akin to “Disney magic” at a crucial moment in a patient’s life. We can do that by being intimately involved in the perioperative experience and self-promoting that involvement.
Anesthesiologists (and ASA) must multitask and create a matrix infrastructure that amplifies our interactions with our patients, our communities, our health systems, and our states. We must be front and center in any conversation pertaining to anesthesiology, and we must be proactive in ways we have never considered. Two companies that were wildly successful with aligning missions and goals with their customers were People Express Airlines and Burger King. Who didn’t want to order a hamburger and “have it your way?” People Express created a novel way for travelers to book a low-cost flight and pay for it while on board the aircraft. Both businesses slowly succumbed to intense market competition and the inability to differentiate themselves. McDonald’s rapidly adopted the custom “have it your way” order, and other airlines introduced similar low-cost flights with technological introduction. As anesthesiologists, we can explore both of these two companies for a myriad of reasons, but “racing to the bottom of pricing” never wins, and others can quickly mimic what you do (and even what they call themselves)!
Branding anesthesiology in 2022 and beyond
As anesthesiologists we have many “customers” we respond to; however, our expertise, critical role, value proposition, and business models must all coalesce in a manner that resonates with a complex environment. A slogan or a graphic is not necessarily the key ingredient to maintaining success, but it is the visible, tangible result of a never-ending process to re-evaluate what we do, how we can do it better, and what we can bring to the OR table, board room, or state capital that no one else can. Regardless of the size of your practice, group, or component society, your graphical representation is an important means of communicating your brand to your customers. As one considers creating a “logo,” think about the end user and what you intend to communicate – the messaging can be direct or subtler. If your organization has a social media platform and you or your department are not featured, change that. Find out what your positioning statement is and promote it across your department’s marketing platforms (tweet it, post it, hashtag it). Once you do that, be sure to engage with either your personal followers or the departments.
Two examples that are different in approach but convey a medical organization’s brand include the Florida Society of Anesthesiologists (FSA) and Kaiser Permanente. The FSA logo reflects their mission of physician-led, patient-centered care, and their logo directly communicates that explicitly. Kaiser Permanente takes a subtler approach that underlies their focus on wellness during the COVID-19 pandemic as well as serving a diverse southern California community.