Branding from the inside out

As a health care provider, your organization’s brand should be much more than a recognizable name and an attractive logo. It should reflect what is special, unique and different about your organization. It’s about the values you express, your tone and voice and how your team communicates and interacts with its community to create a meaningful and memorable patient care experience. Most importantly, it is about building relationships and a foundation of trust with the communities you serve and all of the stakeholders who contribute to your success.

Our branding challenge
Over the past year, our organization faced a monumental task. With an expanded mandate to grow health care services across Southwest York Region, including building the new Mackenzie Vaughan Hospital and the continued revitalization of Mackenzie Richmond Hill Hospital (formerly York Central Hospital), we needed to develop a new brand to communicate the significant change and enhanced level of healthcare to be offered through this unique two-hospital model of care. Our challenge was not simply rebranding York Central Hospital, but more importantly, embarking on the exciting journey of creating a new major regional health care provider and supporting structure to better serve the growing needs of Southwest York Region. Another key component of our brand launch was to have our Foundation and Volunteer Association simultaneously launch their respective brands in an integrated manner.

Throughout the process, we asked ourselves some fundamental questions. How do we send a clear signal of change and evolution while building on a legacy of almost 50 years of providing healthcare to the community? What steps do we need to take to respect our heritage and history based in Richmond Hill while embracing a new vision for the future which includes a new hospital in Vaughan and enhanced service to all of Southwest York Region? How do we engage our many stakeholders throughout the process so our new brand will resonate with all of the communities we serve – be they geographic, cultural, religious and inclusive of all people?

For a brand to truly be successful, it is of the utmost importance to start branding from the inside out. For our new brand to thrive, we needed the support of our staff, physicians and volunteers. The new brand needed to be much more than words on a piece of paper; it had to be demonstrated every day in our actions and how we interact with our patients and visitors, with our community and with each other.

While engaging our internal team was a key priority, ensuring our many external stakeholders were part of the process was also critically important. Residents are very committed to their local hospital; it is the place where their children are born, where they go for emergencies and where they take their elderly parents for care. Our plan needed to be cohesive and inclusive of all stakeholders for our new brand to succeed.

Engaging stakeholders
Our first step was to create a Brand Steering Committee comprised of a diverse mix of staff and physicians, as well as board members from the hospital, Volunteer Association and Foundation. The purpose of the steering committee was to guide the process and ensure key deliverables were met. By having broad representation from across the hospital on the committee, it helped to ensure our new brand would resonate with our diverse health care team.
Following the creation of the steering committee, we began to deploy the tactics intended to make our strategy a success. To begin engaging staff, we commenced a series of focus groups to learn what our health care team envisioned for our future. We conducted specific focus groups of doctors, nurses, allied health and volunteers so we could discuss areas of common interest. We also issued an open invitation to all staff and physicians to attend focus groups not organized by profession. We conducted two separate online brand labs to share updates and solicit feedback at key milestones throughout the process. We also communicated highlights and key points to our health care team through newsletters, open forums and CEO messages.

As we engaged our internal team, we concurrently communicated our vision for the development of a new brand in a compelling and relevant way to our external stakeholders. Recognizing that many of our internal tactics would also generate success externally, we began the process by hosting a series of focus groups for residents in Richmond Hill and Vaughan. Expanding on this strategy, we also arranged one-on-one meetings with key community leaders and elected representatives including local Mayors, councillors and MPPs, major donors and members of the chambers of commerce. As we continued with this outreach, we found many of the sentiments expressed by our staff were echoed by community members.

Following this first round of engagement, we compiled a report outlining the results of our initial research. Based on this research, we identified some emerging concepts and themes for our new brand which we tested through a second round of engagement, including another series of focus groups with both staff and members of the community to hear first-hand what resonated with our stakeholders. We also created a second online Brand Lab to allow staff and residents to share their vision for the future of healthcare in Southwest York Region. Once these statements were verified and refined, we were able to develop our brand foundation and create key foundational documents for Mackenzie Health including our new Mission, Vision and Values. These documents were presented to the Board of Directors for approval and following their endorsement, we developed our brand architecture, a name for the major regional health care provider and the names for our two hospitals along with the visual articulation of our new brand. Once these brand components were created and approved, we conducted similar brand development processes with our Foundation and Volunteer Association.

For any health care provider going through a branding process, I can’t emphasize strongly enough the need to communicate early, frequently and consistently with your entire organization. We had multiple opportunities for two-way communication so our health care team knew their feedback was a valued component of our plan. By taking this approach, we had multiple opportunities for staff to share their thoughts – a necessity given the challenges of a 24-hour work environment. This method helped to garner support through every step of the process. It also empowered staff to take ownership in a bold vision of our future and what it would mean to them and the patients and families we serve.

Hardwiring the brand
The many months of consultation and engagement paid off with the enthusiasm we experienced as we announced our new brand. The day before our public launch, we held a special forum where we invited all of our staff, physicians and volunteers to learn about our new brand. The energy in our auditorium was palpable and it was apparent from the thunderous applause when the new brand was unveiled that our entire health care team was excited by our future. The momentum built at the staff event carried through at our community launch events which involved area MPPs and Mayors at the City Halls in both Vaughan and Richmond Hill. The many stakeholders and community members who attended the events conveyed their enthusiasm and support for our new brand and our vision to create a world-class health experience in Southwest York Region.

By building support first with our internal stakeholders, we were able to leverage it with our external stakeholders and create a brand which will come to life through our actions yet also articulates our vision for the future.

Following our launch, our next steps are to ensure everything we do is aligned with our new brand and our new Mission, Vision and Values. The launch of a new brand is not the end point, but a new beginning for our organization and our community. From orientation for new employees to the development of our clinical plan and new hospital facilities, everything we do must be aligned with our new brand and our vision to create a world-class health experience. By living the brand and ensuring our health care team delivers our brand promise in everything we do, we can assure our brand will be more than just an attractive logo.

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