Putting On a Public Face: UCHealth’s Corporate Branding Initiative

April 24, 2018
At UCHealth, the Denver-based integrated health system, rapid growth through merger and acquisition activity has led senior executives to undertake a comprehensive branding initiative—with robust results

Leaders at the Denver-based UCHealth have been busy working on a “good problem”: the integrated health system, which encompasses 10 inpatient hospitals, plus two more that are under construction, as well as more than 150 clinic locations across the state of Colorado, as well as in southern Wyoming and western Nebraska, and more than 21,500 employees, has been growing through merger and acquisition. And the “good problem” is that, until very recently, the organization had no consistent public identity.

The core of the integrated system was created back in 2012, with the merger of the University of Colorado Hospital and the Poudre Valley Health System. That initial merger brought together three hospitals—the University of Colorado Hospital (Denver), Poudre Valley (Fort Collins), and Medical Center of the Rockies (Loveland); and the health system has been growing via acquisition and affiliation since then.

As the health system states in the “about” section on its website, “At UCHealth we measure success first by patient outcomes and satisfaction. With an academic medical center at our core, we have at hand the newest technologies and the latest proven treatments – but those advantages mean little unless we have helped you regain a level of wellness that opens you to life’s possibilities. We serve the people of Colorado and the nation with the very latest in patient and family-centered care and service. Over the years UCHealth facilities and programs have earned – and continue to earn – numerous awards and recognitions.”

And while that statement may seem relatively straightforward, it actually came about as the product of intensive research, internal discussion, planning, and preparation, according to Manny Rodriguez, UCHealth’s chief marketing and experience officer. The challenge? As the health system has grown, it has lacked a single, consistent public identity across all of its component facilities and sites. As a result, Rodriguez and his colleagues have spent considerable time and energy crafting a unified public identity for the system.

Manny Rodriguez

Among the numerous results of the rebrand, according to UCHealth senior executives:

> UCHealth has become a top-of-mind health system, now leading all its competitors with an 18 percent unaided recall

> UCHealth has strengthened the perception of its market leadership with 40 percent of consumers having a more favorable opinion of health care facilities associated with UCHealth versus any other system in Colorado

> Meanwhile, 44 percent of consumers have taken action as a result of seeing UCHealth advertising, including visiting the website or making an appointment

> Website viewers have increased more than 17 percent from last year, receiving over 1 million page views per month

> Compared to last year, 75 percent more people are visiting the Make an Appointment section of the website

> The University of Colorado Hospital was ranked the fastest-growing hospital for social engagement nationwide, with 112-percent growth, as documented in ListenFirst's state of social report

Manny Rodriguez spoke recently with Healthcare Informatics Editor-in-Chief Mark Hagland about the corporate identity initiative at UCHealth. Below are excerpts from that interview.

What was at the origin of this initiative?

UCHealth is nearly six years old; it was brought together by a merger of the University of Colorado Hospital and Poudre Valley Health System, and we’re nearly 12 hospitals now—two are under construction. In June 2015, when I started, we had no consistency in who we were. We wanted to develop a consistency in our care model, but also in how we represented ourselves. The University of Colorado Health? UCHealth? Memorial Health? Poudre Valley Health? We wanted to create a consistent identity. And so in June 2015, we started the process of the rebrand, and undertook an 18-month process that culminated in the launch of our brand on February 1, 2017.

Did that process encompass a lot of listening to your patient communities?

Yes, but it’s important to note that a part of the process was actually internal as well. Think about a system that went in a very short period of time from single hospitals to a large multi-hospital system: even our employees didn’t really know what we stood for. If you asked what we stood for in different hospitals, you’d get different answers. We had different cultures, and stood for different things in different marketplaces. We wanted to create a single identity, vision, and voice. We actually experimented by randomly calling different phone numbers as would-be patients in the system, and found that we would get people identifying the organization differently. So this was not just to consolidate and create a unified voice, but also to help identify what our communities want, what our caregivers and staff want, etc. I came from banking originally, and I remember when Yahoo asked consumers what they wanted from banking, and asked banking people what they wanted to give, and it turned out that the two groups [customers and banking professionals] gave only one answer in common. So we wanted to create a single, unified brand that was communicated clearly to our patients.

What were the building blocks to creating a unified identity?

We spent 18 months, and interviewed over 3,000 patients and over 1800 caregivers, to find out what was lacking in healthcare, and what everyone wanted. So this was a collaborative effort involving many, many stakeholders, to find out what our care model should be, and what kind of experience our patients expected. We wanted to take time with this and not just do it very quickly. And getting buy-in was the key all along the way.

Were there any surprises in terms of what you heard? Any disconnects?

There were two surprises, actually. One is that what the patient wanted and what our caregivers wanted were actually aligned; we had expected there to be gaps. And of course, we expected that patients wanted great outcomes, of course. And that patients wanted the best providers. Those were two of the top three things, for both groups. But what really surprised us was that neither one of those things was the top item: patients, physicians, and employees, all wanted patient-centricity. Patients literally said, treat me as an individual; I’m not Manny, a cancer patient, I’m Manny who happens to have cancer. That was a shocking revelation, that care delivery with great doctors, was number one across the board, among patients and caregivers. Now, it meant different things to providers versus patients, but it was interesting that everyone agreed on that.

And how did that influence things?

Our brand is a patient-centered brand, centered around innovation, with the goal of the best outcomes. And when we presented that to our staff, you could hear nurses in the crowd saying, finally, they get it! This is why we’re here! And so since launch, all of our creative executions have been patient-focused—there are no doctors or nurses with crossed arms, we don’t talk about ourselves at all, we talk about the patient journey. I like to say, we’re like a lily pad on a pond, we help you to get across the pond, but you’re the one getting across the pond. A lot of healthcare companies like to talk about the patient, but end up talking about ourselves. So our platform is to never talk about ourselves.

That is a bit different kind of approach than the usual one, isn’t it?

It is different, and it’s challenging, right? Because folks want to take credit for what they do, and it took a while for everyone to realize that the hero is the patient, including their family and friends as a support system. We’re the conduit to get you there.

Have you done any focus groups or surveys, as part of the process?

We haven’t done a lot of focus groups, but we do a lot of research and analytics; we have a brand survey that we do monthly. Our unaided awareness [of UCHealth as a brand] was 5 percent when I started; now, we’re at 18 percent, making us the leading healthcare brand in the state in awareness; and that 3X growth is unheard of. And we’ve grown to 40 percent of consumers having a favorable view of our health system, and that percentage would also rather see an organization affiliate with us. And 45 percent would take an action after seeing an ad. And I’ve had people tell me that they immediately recognize an ad as one of ours; so we’ve created a distinct personality and identity. And last year we had a million customers a month visiting our website, and now we’re at nearly 1.2 million people visiting our website, to make appointments or get information. And we’ve seen a 75-percent increase in people making appointments through our website.

Per the 40 percent, did you have a baseline to compare that statistic with?

I don’t remember exactly, but it was in the high teens. And that change took place within a year. But what’s a little bit of an unfair comparison, because in the past, most of our favorability was at the hospital level, not the system level, because the system wasn’t well known. So now, all that individual-hospital love is now at the system level. But to be fair, all the connection had been at the hospital level.

So we’ve experienced tremendous growth in all our social platforms. In terms of social media, we’re ranked number one in social media engagement among all large healthcare systems in the country. We’ll send you statistics. We range from number one to number four. That’s just our approach. And in fact, we were ranked number-one in fastest-growing hospitals for social engagement, with a 112-percent increase in social engagement, on ListenFirst, which is a social report that analyzes social engagement, and ranks hospitals on their social engagement and their health. The other thing that’s interesting is that our website is one of the top 10,000 websites in the U.S. There are 800,000 websites in the U.S., so that’s pretty good.

Can you speak to the importance of leveraging data analytics in this kind of work?

I’m glad you asked. Sometimes, people will look at things and say, you and I can both be 40-year-old men with cancer, and one should market to both of us the same way. But we’ve created segmentations and paths to care. And the paths to care are segmented on where we are in our journey around our condition and the treatment we’ve had. The other segmentation is, you and I are both 40-year-old males with cancer, but I’m sedentary and you’re a marathoner; you live in a big city and I live in a rural area. So we work hard on segmented people in terms of their demographics, and in terms of where they are in the journey. Because of HIPAA, I can’t target you directly, so we target models. Men, women, income, education level, number of children, shopping patterns, etc. It’s better than the spray-and-pray approach.

Do you purchase any outside data or lists, in this context?

We do most things internally. We’ve struggled with getting a good CRM platform, which is why we haven’t bought a lot of external lists. Denver is growing very fast, so we’ve partnered with the Post Office on people moving. But we haven’t found a good partner that meets our needs yet.

Is there anything that IT people should know about this subject, and their potential involvement in corporate identity and branding?

We work incredibly closely with our IT folks here. We took ownership of the website; we now own the website; marketing now owns anything related to the website, including design, functionality, and hosting, which are typically IT functions. But we collaborate with them in terms of data sources, security, etc. We’ve also been working really hard to create a mobile platform. Our IT guys designed the backend applications to our mobile app, and we designed the look, and we honestly have one of the best mobile apps in the industry.

We don’t want our website to be simply transactional, or the mobile app, either. We’re trying to create something that is useful to you, and valuable to you. We’ve created UCHealth Today, which is a newsletter. We have over 700,000 subscribers, and it’s growing, not decreasing. So that shows the power of our content writers, who are creating great content. Our brand tagline is “Live Extraordinary.” And your extraordinary and my extraordinary are different, but they’re both extraordinary. You define what is your extraordinary. Our job is to help you define your extraordinary.

What have been the biggest lessons learned so far in all this?

The biggest lesson learned for us, quite honestly, has been, get buy-in early on. Make sure that your stakeholders are supportive. Make sure that your leadership is on board. That’s something that we did fairly well, is to share, share, share. Literally get buy-in early on, and keep it going. I always say, anytime there’s a change, 80 percent of people are on board, 10 percent don’t care, and 10 percent are really resistant. As long as you can get the 80 to convince the 10 who don’t care to be on board, you’ll be great.

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