Rethink Marketing

Anatomy of a Hospital Brand: Transforming Medical City Dallas


Recently, a major branding initiative at Medical City Dallas took the hospital from a weak fourth position to the No. 2 spot in the Dallas market – and it now is close to becoming the top hospital in the region. This transformation, driven by Carol Ansley, consultant and former vice president of Strategic Development, did not go unnoticed – Medical City won several national awards, including one from the Custom Publishing Association in New York. Join us as we speak with Carol about transformational hospital branding.

Carol, give us a quick snapshot of a hospital business environment and its impact on operations and marketing.

Traditionally, hospitals have been caregivers, rooted in a ‘build it and they will come’ philosophy. If a person is sick, they seek a doctor or hospital, so hospital administrators don’t see the need for marketing to reach patients. Physicians control the inflow of patients as they manage all admissions to a hospital. One would think there would be a strong symbiotic relationship between hospitals and physicians - but it’s more like a love-hate relationship, with a great deal of distrust on both sides.

From a financial perspective, hospitals want the best possible combination of case- and payer- mix to optimize the profit margins and payments for services rendered. At the same time, they have to invest significant sums of capital to maintain superior facility quality to attract the best physicians. This makes operating a hospital quite challenging.

Marketing is largely considered an expense to be reduced, and not an investment that’ll drive revenue. Most hospitals just wait for someone else in the industry to take lead on marketing initiatives, and then copy them, whether they are successful or not. Many hospitals never take invest the resources to uncover their own identity and message accordingly. So, traditionally, hospital marketing is risk-averse and taking a canned approach is quite common.

What has changed the healthcare marketplace?

The consumers and the payers. We have a huge baby boomer population that has grown up with consumerism, is tech-savvy, and is well-informed, thanks to the Internet. This group demands information on treatment options and outcomes, and peer-to-peer conversations with their healthcare providers and it’s forcing the healthcare industry to seriously re-examine the traditional model of working with patients.

You spent nearly two decades in the high-tech industry before entering the healthcare arena. What was the biggest difference?

The lack of business acumen in the leadership, which I found most surprising. Most hospital administrators have medical and/or healthcare related backgrounds with little business experience. There is a maniacal focus on cost-reduction and almost none on process improvement or revenue generation.

The other big difference is in competing objectives of the physicians, who supply the patients, and the hospital, which provides the services. They work at cross purposes, leading to incongruity of goals, plans and results. This is a direct contrast to the technology industry, where we all work towards a common goal.

What was your first priority when you got to Medical City?

Getting us on the map! Medical City is a large tertiary hospital with over 90 medical specialties, yet the brand recognition was very low. Annual surveys placed it a distant fourth in community awareness, with visibility slipping each year. Something had to be done to reverse this trend.

How did you initiate the Medical City brand project?

We started by zeroing in on the identity of the hospital through a long series of interviews and focus groups with administrators, physicians, employees and other constituents. Jointly, we worked toward what we wanted people to know about us. Concurrently, I developed the hospital’s first strategic plan in many years and creating the five centers of excellence, in which we had clear superiority. Our brand strategy supported our positioning and strategic initiatives in these centers of excellence.

Did you face opposition from the physicians who were not in these five areas of excellence?

Interestingly enough, we didn’t get too much pushback. In fact, they were delighted that we were putting the name of the hospital on the map and in the minds of people. They saw that the benefits of branding a superior facility would create a halo effect for them. Furthermore, we ensured that they were included and spotlighted in other marketing initiatives.

Tell us how you rolled out the new brand.

As a first step, we moved away from the conventional concept of hospitals being a place for sick people. One of the findings from the focus groups was that Medical City played an important role in all phases of life. We came up with a new tag line, Specialists in Life, which played on the range of specialties and wellness aspects. We introduced and educated people about the brand inside the hospital for internal buy-in and belief in the brand. New symbols and logos followed and were embraced rapidly.

A year after the corporate brand launch, we started working on the brand extensions, which supported the five centers of excellence. It required building on a branch architecture that made sense, planning the campaigns, and implementing them in a focused and systematic manner.

Our marketing promotions were truly based on our research findings and segmentation. Service areas were grouped together to better target users. We formed alliances with restaurants and local communities to roll out like heart healthy meal option and fitness programs. This helped us focus the quarterly magazines, direct mailers, community seminars, and other marketing programs on the right people, which gave us good ROI on our marketing dollars.

Marketing ROI is always hard to capture. How did you measure it?

You can measure ROI only if you have a call to action and capture the results. For instance, billboards can get the name out but you can’t measure how much it helped in getting the name into peoples’ minds. However, measurement gets better with community seminars and direct mail where responses help you calculate impact.

The one area where we were able to measure precisely was the physician referral line. The call center did a tremendous job of capturing detailed caller data on top requests, needed services, physicians accessed, zip codes, payers, insurance information and more. In the second year, we had enough data to compare the hospital patient and call center databases to get meaningful metrics on first time and repeat patients. We were able to pinpoint profitability and revenue by patient and service line, which was a huge eye-opener for the hospital.

Tell us a little bit about the mystery shopper, which was one of your innovative ideas in improving the image of the hospital.

We applied the mystery shopper concept, which is very common in the retail industry, to evaluate and improve specific patient processes at the hospital. These people came in anonymously and went through the entire patient experience, from A to Z. We were able to set baselines and then worked on changing specific processes that needed change to better serve patients and their families.

The fast-changing consumer market has forced both hospitals and physicians to collaborate and partner on revenue and care strategies. What are some emerging developments?

Hospitals and physicians are engaging in joint venturing of outpatient facilities like surgery and imaging centers. The physicians get involved in the business aspects and have a better understanding of hospital/facility operations. The hospitals benefit by partnering with physicians with long-term commitments. The benefits can go beyond the revenue aspect - there is actually better communication and respect between the physician and the hospital.

Finally, what are other opportunities for hospitals to improve and evolve?

A start, from a hospital’s perspective, is to understand that the physician and the patient are both its clients – in fact, they are both number one customers. Without them, there is no need for the hospital!

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Carol Ansley is an international executive with significant experience in marketing, strategic development, operations and sales in Fortune 50 and mid-cap telecommunications companies and at Medical City Dallas Hospital, the flagship of HCA. She was the architect for developing and launching the Medical City Brand Campaigns and the Medical City Strategic Plan. Yielding to her desire to build, she now serves as senior vice president of First Kernel, an entrepreneurial company delivering transformation to mid-sized health care providers.

Ms. Ansley was a career telecommunications executive where she spent twenty years, the last ten years in international telecommunications serving as vice president of International Operations at IXC Communications, regional managing director of Consumer Markets and Carrier Services at AT&T International Caribbean and Latin America Region and as managing director of AT&T Mexico. She also served as vice president, Marketing for the Emerging Service Providers at Nortel Networks.

Ms. Ansley received her MBA from the Cox School of Business at Southern Methodist University and her Bachelor of Science at Texas Tech University. She serves as chairman-elect of the board of directors of the North Dallas Chamber of Commerce, board of directors of the American Heart Association’s Dallas Division, the associate board of directors of the Cox School of Business at SMU, and provides leadership to other business, community, and educational organizations.

Winter 2007