Business vs. branding: Amazon's lessons for healthcare
Amazon. You know the name. You know the promise. Who are we kidding? You likely have three packages in transit as you read this blog.
The point is that Amazon is not just a massive business, it is an enormous brand that must deliver on its brand promise while simultaneously expanding its footprint across industries. As with most conflicting priorities in business, this tension runs downstream, impacting the consumers' brand experience.
We can see the conflict between brand and business clearly through Amazon's latest play in the grocery arena, announcing that Amazon Fresh, Amazon's online delivery grocery service, will absorb Amazon Go, the small bodega-like, "cashier-less" grocery chain launched in 2018.
What does Amazon’s grocery lines have to do with healthcare?
The method behind the madness
If you look at Amazon's business model, this move makes sense. In fact, after my one year on Amazon Go's go-to-market team, I can say it's almost expected. When entering new markets, the retail giant has a history of testing business units against each other to see which models stick.
Amazon Fresh has been around for more than a decade and has a high brand valuation. Also available on Amazon.com – the mecca for retail – Amazon Fresh is accessible to the everyday consumer. Combine these assets with Amazon Go's Just Walk Out technology and physical stores, and you get a grocery market powerhouse.
This strategy is something that Amazon, as a business, does really well. They launch products to help customers, see which performs best, and design organizations based on their learnings.
How does this relate to healthcare? Just as Amazon consolidated its grocery lines to deliver the best end-to-end grocery shopping experience in the market, health systems, digital health vendors, and payors alike are racing to deliver an integrated care experience through mergers and acquisitions.
Today, competition and consumer expectations are at an all-time high, pressuring the healthcare industry to prioritize business imperatives over immediate brand consistency.
A case for consistent branding
This sink-or-swim strategy may work on a business level, but confuses consumers from a branding perspective. Think of how easy it would've been for customers only to need to know one name – Amazon Fresh? By having so many different offerings for food (generally speaking), Amazon made it difficult for consumers to recognize and differentiate brands.
While my history at Amazon makes this particular news interesting, the branding vs. business debate rages across industries – including healthcare. To this debate I say, brand and business should be one in the same with your business goals anchored in your brand promise.
Consumers don’t just notice inconsistent branding, they distrust it. The more options you throw at them, the more their experience fluctuates, ultimately chipping away at your brand's equity and the likelihood a consumer will return to or refer your services.
Take, for example, HCA’s recent consolidation of its 49 Florida hospitals. The behemoth health system unified 49 hospital campuses encompassing more than 77,000 workers under one brand to “create a cohesive experience for our patients, physicians, and communities.” HCA made this change with the understanding that, “now, more than ever, people are looking for security, safety, and trust in a healthcare provider."
Security. Safety. Trust. All core elements of a strong customer relationship are reportedly dwindling, yet health systems have an opportunity to restore faith by presenting a unified brand voice and purpose across the entire healthcare customer journey.
Designing a unified brand voice in healthcare
So how can you design a consistent brand in healthcare? Define your brand promise and stick to it across everything you do. And I don't just mean the advertisements you design or the boilerplate pasted on your collateral. I mean everything – from the technology you choose to the thought leadership you deploy to every patient-doctor interaction.
Unifying your brand voice is as much of an internal project as it is an external one, requiring an inward-outward approach. And much of this comes down to definition – how is your team understanding your brand and where can you educate? Because those on the ground interacting with patients every day may not understand the intended version of your brand promise and how to execute it.
While your health system isn't Amazon, it's ultimately competing with Amazon – and other like-minded organizations – to become consumers' trusted care provider. It's up to health systems to step up and defend their domain with a consumer-centric brand promise as their secret weapon.