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Branding: The Lord Voldemort of hospital marketing

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Brands & Campaigns

Chris Bevolo, is founder and principal of health care marketing agency Interval and president of Chris Bevolo Consulting. To read more of Bevolo’s insights on the marketing world, visit his blog.

Lately, it seems every time I enter into a discussion with hospitals on upcoming branding initiatives, someone expresses an objection to the use of the word “branding” as a descriptor and urges me to find another word to describe what we’re doing.

In one case, whenever a discussion between a senior marketer and his peers turned to branding, it resulted in angst, based on a negative experience the group had a few years ago. In another case, a vice president of marketing knew that key physicians involved in the project didn’t really understand the true meaning of branding, so to avoid confusion, she thought it best that we come up with another phrase for the process.

Branding has become the “health care marketing strategy that shall not be named” — the Lord Voldemort of health care marketing.

Lord Voldemort is a character from the “Harry Potter” series who has has wrought such evil on the wizarding world that everyone is frightened to speak his name out loud, lest they unwittingly draw his wrath. Referred to by all as “He who must not be named,” the mere sound of “Lord Voldemort” causes everyone within earshot (except for Harry, of course) to recoil in fear.

On one hand, I understand why some people would prefer to avoid using such a loaded word. Why inject confusion, misunderstanding or negativity into an initiative before it even gets off the ground? If rephrasing a marketing process helps bring participants to the table in a positive way (or, at the least, allows them to be neutral) then “brand avoidance” makes sense.

On the other hand, eventually, you will need to call a spade a spade. If what you’re pursuing is branding, then avoiding the word in an agenda or process title only has temporary benefits. In addition, sidestepping the use of the word “branding” for an initiative that actually involves branding only gives power to the “dark side” of confusion and misunderstanding. How will we ever move our organizations forward in embracing and valuing branding as a legitimate strategy if we can’t move beyond semantics?

In the “Harry Potter” series, Harry realizes what he’s up against and has no fear of calling Lord Voldemort by name, and eventually convinces his friends and followers to overcome their fears and do the same. Depending on your organization and the experiences you’ve had with branding, you may need to pick your battles. But the sooner you can educate your peers, physicians and leadership about the true definition and value of branding, the less scary the entire process will be.

Image credit: Ljupco, via iStockPhoto