Defend Your Brand

Posted on April 13, 2012

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Last week I attended a networking event and met a handful of people who were between jobs, not uncommon these days. What I find interesting is how differently people portray their situation. Some feel sheepish and embarrassed to be out of work, while others are excited at the potential of opportunity in front of them. It can be difficult to feel upbeat while laid off; I know from experience. Nevertheless, how your current state of being is portrayed communicates to others the excitement and hope you have for you, your personal brand.

In my town, the economy has bitten more than a few retailers. The most visible demises are national brands we all know. How they handled the adversity is pretty telling.  Blockbuster, Food Lion and Kmart have all closed recently, and all three had very drawn out and public fire sales of goods, which culminated in a vulture-like free-for-all as inventories were completed liquidated. What I will remember about those stores is the spectacle of their demise. Questionable brand management, in my opinion.

Also in my town, two well-known franchises, KFC and Pizza Hut, were shuttered. Incidentally, both are owned by the same corporation, YUM! Brands. The KFC went out-of-business a few months ago and did a curious thing I needed a double-take to recognize:  they painted their roof trim brown. I thought it odd at the time, but understood when I saw Pizza Hut did the same thing when they closed. It appears painting the well-known red roofs brown is a corporately-directed parting tactic. To me, it camouflages the building into its surroundings and helps protect their brands. Now, both have somewhat distinct roof designs to their buildings that are hard not to recognize, but the effort made an impression on me. Good brand defense given a bad outcome.

Hospitals are no different. Right now every hospital is in a state of flux. Based on state and federal legislative activity, the educated public knows it, although the average patient might not. Walking into a hospital, sometimes you can feel whether there is hope for the future, or whether every employee seems to know times are tough and survival is questionable. This impression is very important to manage.

Hospitals can be particularly good at defending their brand, though. I visited a county hospital not too far from Jacksonville that is debating a sale to a for-profit system. Arriving on grounds and walking through the facility everything is in its right place. You would have no idea the hospital is hemmoraging cash as a huge indigent care provider, and is desperate for either a huge capital infusion or a buyer, just to stay afloat. The community is debating the best move and not taking the implications of its impending sale lightly. An unfortunate situation for them, but good brand management.

Meanwhile, another independent Florida hospital a few hours away from Jacksonville opened a brand new patient tower less than 18 months ago, and a few months later immediately put itself up for bid, as it collapsed under its own self-imposed debt.  Poor brand management.

Market conditions have been hard on most everyone, and on some level, we are all fighting for survival.  Regardless of the industry, cuts are still more likely than growth at this point. More change to come. 

Customers and patients understand economic reality, can sympathize and maintain support for institutions, but they want a demonstration of courage and integrity by their brands. So mount a strong defense! The hospitals and architects and builders who can adamantly defend their brand will find a way to convert doom-and-gloom into energy. They will ensure themselves a future tense.

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