Rebranding: Short-Term Pain for Long-Term Gain

It has been said that the only three certainties in life are birth, death, and taxes. Perhaps a fourth certainty should be on that list: Change. Whether you embrace it or detest it, change makes its way into our lives. Do you have Facebook friends who announce "I am out" after the latest tweaks? Yes, some people follow through and leave Facebook to convey their disdain for change while most others will continue on as their resistance withers. We may not like change but often accept it and adapt to it.

Rebranding as Change
Our relationship with change came to mind recently when St. Thomas Health, a nine-hospital system headquartered in Nashville, announced a rebranding initiative. St. Thomas Health has rebranded five facilities it acquired over a period of years under the parent brand St. Thomas. The change removes familiar brands from the local landscape such as Baptist Hospital (Nashville) and Middle Tennessee Medical Center (Murfreesboro). In their place is branding that prominently features the St. Thomas brand (St. Thomas Midtown Hospital and St. Thomas Rutherford Hospital, respectively). The rebrand will undoubtedly not be a cheap exercise. Think about all the places where old brands must be replaced- exterior and interior signage, websites, uniforms, business cards, brochures, and more. And, the rebranding announcement triggered a predictable reaction of sarcasm, disagreement, and disappointment. People who know the facilities by their current names see no reason for St. Thomas Health to change now.

Motivations for Rebranding
On the surface, one can understand why St. Thomas Health would be reluctant to rebrand. After all, the facilities acquired were known brands in their own right and could continue as is without a costly rebranding effort. But, there are two motivating factors for a brand owner to rebrand a portfolio to put brand assets under a single umbrella:
  1. Internal needs- As a company grows, particularly when growth involves acquiring other brands, it can be beneficial to create synergy in marketing efforts by having a core identity. St. Thomas Health acquired facilities that kept their old names for years. Perhaps the criticism of St. Thomas is not that it rebranded some of its hospitals but rather that it waited so long to do it. Now, St. Thomas will have a consistent identity across all of its hospital properties.
  2. External pressures- Rebranding may be needed to be more competitive. In the Nashville market, St. Thomas Health has a significant competitor in Vanderbilt Medical Center. The strength of the VMC brand (and the fact that all of its facilities reflect the corporate brand identity) likely influenced St. Thomas executives in its decision to develop a stronger corporate identity. 
Grin and Bear It
Change can sometimes be difficult to sell and challenging to implement. Branding can be likened to managing a physical space like a home or building. Sometimes, a property gets to the point where what is best for it is a period of time in which renovations are made. You may make a short-term mess by ripping out flooring or knocking down walls, but in the end the renovation creates a more valuable asset. Similarly, rebranding has the same objective. It can be messy while being carried out, but the payoff to the brand owner can be a stronger brand both in terms of greater marketing synergies as well as stronger association among consumers. Approach rebranding by being prepared for short-term pain in anticipation of the long-term gain that could result.

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