Blog>Healthcare>Branding Healthcare Services vs. Healthcare Products

Branding Healthcare Services vs. Healthcare Products

For many healthcare brands, navigating today’s world of information and consumer choice has been challenging. After all, traditionally, healthcare was almost wholly dominated by the experts—doctors, nurses, and specialists that prescribed us medicine or referred us to a service.

Today, though, the consumer has more power than ever to decide for themselves, and they’re making those decisions based on their understanding of a product or service’s unique value, of its features and benefits, and ultimately their experience of it—good or bad.

In short, they’re making decisions based on branding.

But while, fundamentally, the approach to brand strategy should be the same no matter the offering, there are notable differences between branding healthcare services and branding a healthcare product such as medicine or a medical device, with services being the more challenging of the two by far.

Why is it more difficult to brand healthcare services than to brand healthcare products?

branding healthcare services

The challenge of defining the intangible

The gap between branding a healthcare product such as medicine, for example, and branding healthcare services starts with the core difference between the two: one is tangible while the other is not.

Indeed, the intangibility of any service leads to additional branding challenges. When what you’re offering to the consumer cannot be immediately perceived sensorially (meaning you can’t easily judge it using one of your five senses), the foundational elements that make up your brand (what you do, how you do it, and why it matters) become harder to articulate. In contrast, the value of a physical product—say, a pain-reliever pill—is almost always easier to understand and communicate than the abstract value of a service.

Why is it more difficult to brand healthcare services than to brand healthcare products?

If being intangible wasn’t enough of a hurdle, healthcare services also struggle with branding because of how complex the healthcare industry can seem for the average consumer. While many service brands can focus only on consumers who understand what they offer, healthcare service brands often have the additional responsibility (and, arguably, moral obligation) to educate a broader audience on the nature and importance of their service. Add in the fact that consumers rarely seek out healthcare brands on a day-to-day basis and you begin to understand the extent of the challenge.

Be simple and clear

Since it’s difficult to express the unique value of a healthcare service, branding efforts must overcome the obstacles of intangibility and complexity. While having an abstract brand name on a pill bottle does little to dilute the obvious fact that it is a medicinal product, being unclear with messaging as a healthcare service can be devastating.

Instead, healthcare service brands must simplify the elements of their brand and avoid any vagueness. As described in The Challenges of Healthcare Branding Strategies, we see that healthcare services are more powerful with “straightforward descriptive names.” While all companies should strive to be simple and unambiguous in their branding, it is particularly imperative for healthcare services since they are trying to communicate the already intangible and often complex, and thus confusing, services that they offer.

The brand experience for healthcare services is extensive & subjective

When consumers don’t have a physical product they can see or use, they’re effectively forced to make judgments on a brand based on their subjective experience. And because these experiences most often involve human interaction, it is the people who deliver the services that are the most critical touchpoints in a service brand. All other aspects pale in comparison.

branding healthcare services

This isn’t to say that other aspects of the customer journey are unimportant for products, but the tangibility of the product makes the product the element that holds the most weight. For example, while I may dislike a pharmacist who made me wait too long or some flaw in a medicinal product’s distribution system, the bottom line for me as the product consumer is whether it works. It’s far easier, therefore, for me to separate the product brand from a less-than-stellar experience I might have had when purchasing it.

Healthcare services, on the other hand, don’t have the luxury of singling out a part of the experience and touting it as the “product.” From the booking or onboarding to any follow-up care, the entire service experience is being judged (often on an emotional and subjective scale) and, therefore, every aspect of the service has to be delivered well and in alignment with the brand’s promise.

Ensure brand consistency

Healthcare services need to make sure that their branding permeates every aspect of the service as the patient or customer experiences it. They must lean into consumer insights rather than internal top-of-the-ladder opinions on what parts of the experience matter most. They cannot entertain the notion that branding only pertains to outgoing communications or surface-level aesthetics.

Every human interaction is another opportunity to live up to the brand promise and thus contribute to brand loyalty. How am I treated in the waiting room, how am I spoken to on a follow-up call, how well are things explained to me? Every member of a service brand functions as a brand ambassador. If everyone from the cleaning staff to IT does not understand the brand values or their role in carrying it forward, we have a problem.

Branding is about building trust

In many cases, healthcare services provide benefits over an extended period of time. There is no instant gratification when you partake in preventative care or therapeutic treatments, for example. Instead, the benefits may only become clear after years of effective service.

Healthcare service brands—often more so than medicine—require a high level of trust from patients because it can take time to see results. A brand that cultivates trust by making sure that every person in the organization knows they are the holders of the brand will have customer loyalty as its yield. This is an effortful, if not painstaking process that has tremendous human resources implications. If a healthcare service brand does not realize that its people are the heartbeat of the brand and that inattention to this will cost them in terms of customer trust, they will likely be replaced by a brand that does understand this. It’s an increasingly competitive business sector after all.

Invest in your #1 trust-building resource—your people

Concerted efforts should be devoted to establishing trust rather than simply spewing out the attributes and benefits of your brand. Luckily, by the nature of the work, there are often plenty of opportunities for healthcare services to prove their trustworthiness. The essential building block for this is investment in your people.

Consistency, simplicity, and a clearly understandable value proposition and brand promise are all table stakes. The final arbiter of how all this brand work ultimately plays as a healthcare service brand is how it is delivered at the human-level interface: the one-on-one interactions with the customer. Get this right and you are building your brand with each interaction, get this wrong and you are diluting it (or worse, destroying it) with each exchange.


Photo by Hamid Tajik

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back To Top