Building a Strong Services Brand

Disclosure: This presentation is by Kent Seltman from Mayo Clinic’s Division of Marketing. I’m also from Mayo Clinic, where I work with National Media Relations, Research Communications and New Media. We’re both probably biased. But here’s our story and we’re sticking to it.

Kent’s three lessons (which are in the book he is writing with Len Berry) include:

  1. Attend to the Values
  2. Play Defense, not just Offense
  3. Turn Customers Into Marketers

A related article appears in the current issue of the journal, Business Horizons.

The Presented Brand is what the organization controls, and directly affects brand awareness. Examples are advertising, brand name, logo, web sites, employee uniforms and facilities design.

External Brand Communication includes Organization-influenced communication. Examples are media relations and word-of-mouth, which we can somewhat influence but cannot control. Presented Brand and External Communication influence brand meaning, but indirectly.

Customer Experience is the cumulative experience with a company, and is directly and disproportionately influential in creating brand meaning. Nothing trumps the customer’s actual experience in creating brand meaning. Customers’ actual experiences have large influence on word-of-mouth communications.
“Mayo Clinic” is created every day on the fly by every employee in every interaction with every patient. (I also would add that this applies to interaction with other clients such as, in my team’s case, news media. And news media give word-of-mouth with a megaphone.)Over 37 percent of Americans know someone who has been a patient at Mayo Clinic.

Brand History: In the 1890s Dr. Will and Dr. Charlie Mayo gained notoriety for good surgical outcomes because they were early adopters of aseptic surgical techniques, and in 1905 Dr. Will became president of the American Medical Association.

Journalists at the turn of the 20th century wrote several articles that made the Mayo brothers extremely uncomfortable, making outlandish claims about how wonderful they were, like “not a single patient died under their knife” and that they were “the court of last appeal for the sick of all the world.”

Kent observes that “The Mayo Clinic brand became the leading healthcare provider brand in the United States WITHOUT a marketing department or brand manager, just a combination of outstanding healthcare and vigilance to preserve a great REPUTATION.” I agree with him to a point, except when he says “just” outstanding healthcare. Those early newspaper articles played an important role in building the reputation, even though there was no media relations team. The Mayo brothers didn’t like the articles because they created animosity among other physicians. But there’s no denying they played a role, because Mayo Clinic is still seen as that “last hope” for many patients.

Lesson I: Attend to Values First. Key values are “The needs of the patients come first” and “Teamwork.” Here’s a case in which both of those values are exemplified, and infrastructure such as the integrated medical record (since 1905) which is now electronic, vertical buildings, wide halls and priority paging infrastructure helps teams collaborate.
Lesson II: Play offense (extend the brand appropriately) and defend it against well-meaning internal people who might dilute it and against external groups that want to trade on Mayo Clinic’s name.

Lesson III: Turn Customers into Marketers. In our studies, 95 percent of our patients said “good things” about Mayo Clinic after visits to an average of 46 people, and 90 percent advised people to come to Mayo and claimed an average of 7 actually came.

Capitalizing on Word-of-Mouth (WOM) requires providing a service that exceeds customers’ expectations. “The real brand heroes are those industrial engineers and other leaders who design the service processes and the line employees who perform – often on the fly – their individualized service for patients.” Efficiency of care correlates most highly with patient satisfaction at Mayo Clinic.

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Author: Lee Aase

Husband of one, father of six, grandfather of 15. Chancellor Emeritus, SMUG. Emeritus staff of Mayo Clinic. Founder of HELPcare and Administrator for HELPcare Clinic.

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