At the Helm

Why brand is key—and other lessons learned from our executive retreat


As the resident "MC," I had a front seat at our annual executive retreat, the Southwind Institute—an event that brings together health care leaders to discuss today’s most provocative health care topics.

This year, I was blown away by the discussions that were occurring between our more than 150 audience members and our speakers—who joined us from from Mayo Clinic Health System, CVS Health, LifePoint, Mercy Health, a major state health initiative, and more.

The theme of this year’s Southwind Institute was Branding Your Value, taking an in-depth look at what it means to deliver care in a consumer’s market. So of course the main takeaway is that "brand is key." But in my front-seat post, I heard four insights that prove brand isn’t just important, it’s a requirement if providers want to remain relevant in a consumer-driven market.

1. 'Branding' isn’t a marketing strategy, it’s about proving value

Competition is rising as retailers and other disruptive innovators provide convenient access points. Therefore, the patient-doctor relationship is evolving more quickly than the current business model, making it easy for patients to walk away. This is particularly true for younger and healthier consumers.

To inspire loyalty, health systems need to define their value proposition and build a brand that clearly depicts that value—not through a fancy logo or billboard, but through a compelling, relevant, and consistent offering.

Mayo Clinic Health System discussed this at length, and for good reason. Their journey to becoming a $26 billion brand has been a continuous, intentional focus on value. To this day, every new employee is trained on Dr. William J. Mayo’s founding mantra, “The best interest of the patient is the only interest to be considered,” because it is central to Mayo Clinic’s brand.

2. Stop using the word 'patient,' and start using the word 'consumer'

Quality certainly has a place in a discussion on health system branding. Dr. Brent Asplin, Chief Clinical Officer of Mercy Health, explained—we’re in the "outcomes business" as an essential part of their value proposition. To ensure better outcomes, providers of course need to be attentive to measurements such as patient safety and quality of care.

BUT those attributes hold little sway over your consumers. Consumers expect a certain level of safety and quality. So their top-rated issues center on cost, convenience, and the overall experience. People tend to tell others about their experiences, and your patients are no different. This organic type of "advertisement" can make or break your brand, and underscores the significance of strong customer service.

Providers need to embrace consumer preferences and focus efforts on meeting expectations for an positive experience. Dr. Russell “Rusty” Holman, Chief Medical Officer of LifePoint Hospitals, stressed that providers need to directly ask their communities what they value as consumers, or risk becoming less and less relevant.

3. Embrace opportunities with retailers—both parties can win

Retail clinics are on the rise, and they’ve figured out more about patient access and convenience than the traditional market ever did. And many—like our keynote presenter CVS Health—are investing in initiatives like digital health to engage patients even more.

While retailers heighten the competition, providers should not focus on that. These disruptors are a great option for a patient with the flu, but they are admittedly not experienced in managing illnesses or caring for patients across the continuum or taking on risk.

Progressive health systems see the opportunity to partner with retailers as a way to expand access points and cover medical problems up stream. And by combining the health system’s expertise in managing population health risk with the retailer’s deep insight into consumers—it’s a win for both parties.

Walmart, Walgreens, or CVS? Your guide to the right retail partnership.

Keep your brand in mind, though. While strong partnerships can provide a huge advantage to filling gaps in an organization’s existing brand, weak partnerships can dilute a brand. Every opportunity must be thoroughly and strategically evaluated. Retailers are hyper-aware of this too, and will be analyzing the value of your brand in the same way.

4. When brand matters less than trend

It’s one thing if a brand appeals to patients for individual episodes of care. But that decision-point becomes irrelevant if a provider is not selected by network developers on the front-end. Even top systems with high-value brands are being carved out of networks and losing out on critical market share.

As individuals take more ownership of their health care costs, and more low-cost insurance options emerge to serve them, narrow networks will continue gaining appeal. And to capture the attention of those wholesale buyers developing narrow networks, this means delivering rates that trend lower each year.

Like other industries, providers now have to price according to market—and as our Chief Research Officer Chas Roades highlighted, it’s consumerism at its peak.

A big announcement—we’re changing too!

The value of a brand is not only an important issue for our clients. During the Institute we made a special announcement: The Southwind name is going away, and our division will now operate as Advisory Board Consulting and Management.

This isn’t just a simple name change or logo update. It represents an updated model and brand for our division—one that is enhanced and better-integrated to meet our clients’ changing demands in today’s market.

Hear John Deane, President of Advisory Board Consulting and Management, explain how we’re transforming, and also how we’re staying true to our roots.

Hear our rebrand story


Expert perspectives on the retail revolution

In this issue, we explore what the new retail market looks like and how providers need to adjust to position themselves for success. Download the publication