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Guides & Advice

Branding in difficult sectors

By Dave Vesty / April 17th 2018

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A brand is the representation of everything a business is and stands for – a reflection of values, services, people and how they make their customers feel. Some industries and business sectors give you a lot of freedom when it comes to branding, helping you to create something that really speaks to potential customers and audiences.

But what if you have to complete a branding project in a much more difficult or restrictive sector such as healthcare? We look at the important things to keep in mind to ensure that any branding project, no matter how tricky, is a success.

Where to start

The key to any branding project is building the foundation for your project, from the reasoning behind the project, to the information you need to make the most informed decisions possible.

Understanding the why

An understanding of the ‘why’ is always an essential foundation for any branding project. Understanding why a brand exists is important. This can be built out further using other questions, for example, ‘why are we doing this?’ when considering a rebrand and ‘why do our competitors have more success?’ when looking at why a brand might be failing. Answering these typical questions is a good starting point that will help inform the creation a good brand strategy.

Illustration of the word 'why' written in giant letters, with a man stood next to them looking at a question mark on a piece of paper

More Good information

Good information is better than lots of information. This could be in the form of research and feedback condensed down to the most essential and useful parts. Typical examples could be:

  • An interesting brand story (e.g. where the brand comes from could influence the way a brand is developed)
  • Competitor analysis (why their brands works/doesn’t work and how you can be different)
  • Customer feedback (their feelings and opinions on the brand)

The information you gather is often the insight needed to make a branding project work. Within all the information, you might identify a problem recognised by your customers, or find the beginnings of the idea that your branding project evolves from. For healthcare brands for example, this might be uncovering that your brand isn’t recognisable or fails to stand out, or that the service you provide isn’t clear.

Clearer brief

A good brief is often generated from a collaborative process between designer and client. Brands often don’t know how to articulate an excellent brief; it’s up to the designer and project team to help you the client develop one, by asking you to talk about your brand and answer the right questions.

This could be done through a number of methods, including:

  • Workshops
  • Customer questionnaires
  • Internal audits

Ultimately a good brief is concise, relevant and backed up with good data made up of insights from the people that use and experience the brand, as opposed to the musings of a few members of management.

Legislation and guidelines

For several brands, particularly in sectors such as healthcare, there are frequently different areas of legislation and specific guidelines which can have a major impact on a branding project.

NHS brand guidelines, for example, might mean that your project needs to adhere to certain rules in order to fit in with the much larger entity your branding project sits within.

Brand guidelines are incredibly useful as they can help to reduce the scope of a project and provide focus. However, poorly implemented guidelines can be counter-productive. Brand guidelines should be a springboard to developing a great brand, not the straightjacket that hinders it.

Decision making

During your branding project, you might run into lengthy approvals and decision-making processes. In sectors bound by legislation and with lots of moving parts around your particular branding project, you might find that you run into a more long-winded process.

This is very relevant to large companies, particularly in the public sector where every decision has to be scrutinised by committee. For example, branding work for one particular hospital that sits within a wider trust or group of facilities might need to be approved by internal management and then a board of trustees.

Working with the client to mitigate this is a great way to improve the speed that a project reaches completion. Working with a smaller project team who have the authority to make informed decisions is key. They can help oversee the relationship from their end and manage expectations. Failing to do this is one of the things which can make a project snowball into something more long-winded and frustrating for both parties.

Overly-broad services

Your branding project might encompass a wealth of different products or services. Think in terms of a hospital. There are so many different services and elements that it is almost impossible to create something that meets the specific needs of each facility and service.

The complexity of a brand/company architecture is certainly a challenge when trying to develop a brand strategy. Often what makes a brand great is simply tapping into that one unique element that makes it special and helps it to stand out from its competitors. This is especially difficult to do when the brand has so many moving parts all trying to compete with each other.

Standing out

An effective brand is one that stands out and grabs the attention of the people who might be looking to use its services. If your branding project exists in a sector where all the brands are very similar, what helps you to stand out?

Illustration of 3 cows - one a different colour from the other 2.

Services can be the same, but the essence of each businesses will always differ in some way.

This could be the story behind the brand or the people that help form the brands existence; the challenge is identifying these unique aspects and communicating why they’re important and beneficial for the customer.

Healthcare brands, for example, could look to communicate what makes them different. This could be special facilities they have or specialisms they offer. Perhaps they could highlight the fact that they are special within their community and exist to help and improve the community as a whole.

This is where the research phase is crucial, as it can help steer you towards those points of difference that you need to make your brand more effective.

Don’t forget the crux of your brand

Branding projects can completely fail if they forget what a brand completely hinges upon.

For example, a healthcare brand can’t succeed as a brand if you don’t come across as being a brand you can trust.

This is the essential element for any healthcare brand – their audience are literally putting their lives in their hands, so it’s vital that any brand communicates clearly and in a confident manner. If you don’t trust your healthcare provider, they are failing you.

You can underpin that sense of trust by building your brand around other key values. Transparency, for example, is important for showing patients you have nothing to hide and strive to improve, which in turn builds trust.

Poor communication is obviously a quick road to failure and can work against the trust element you’d need to build. Brands can get themselves lost in tech speak and corporate jargon. This is especially important for a healthcare brands, as clarity needs to be a top priority across all their communications. Healthcare brands should be in constant dialogue with their audience/patients. They need to remain a familiar face that is there to help at any time.

This transfers across to audience engagement, particularly in relation to how a brand appears on social media and the open dialogue the healthcare brand has with their audience. This doesn’t have to be serious – charity events, competitions and community engagement ideas all help with a brand’s external perception. Today’s brands are created organically by the people that use them.

Helping you develop a successful brand

Understanding what makes a business tick is the best possible starting point for building an effective brand. That foundation, regardless of how difficult of a sector you’re working in, can be a huge help in creating something that inspires and engages your potential customers.

We’d love to explore how our team could help you engage with and build trust with your target audience, increase your customer base and deliver results for your business. To arrange a brief telephone conversation call 08447 550 350 or get in touch to find out more.