• Transform magazine
  • December 15, 2018

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Profile: Dignity Health

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US healthcare provider Dignity Health has redeveloped its brand, renamed its organisation and reimagined its place in the community. Brittany Golob examines the way a brand platform can share joy, and ducklings, to a wider audience

Hospitals can be perceived as places of dire stakes, of medicine and science, of worry and patience and love. But, for my sister and I, one hospital in particular was also a place brimming with life. With an ill parent confined to a hospital bed for the better part of a year, our afternoons were also confined to the hospital. We would do our homework in the library across the hall from our dad’s room. We made friends with the nurses on his floor and others. We would explore the hospital, befriending patients and caregivers alike.

It was due to the excellent medical attention at Northridge Hospital that our dad was finally released. But it was due to the excellent care and intense kindness of its staff that our family was made part of the Northridge Hospital family.

Our experience is not unique. Countless families around us experienced similar circumstances that year. To embrace that spirit and integrate it into its brand positioning, Dignity Health, formerly Catholic Healthcare West, or CHW – and owner of Northridge Hospital – is working toward the dream of ‘humankindness.’

The organisation was founded by a group of Catholic nuns n 1896, the Sisters of Mercy, who opened their first hospital in Sacramento, California’s state capital. Over the years it has expanded to 40 hospitals across California, Arizona and Nevada. But, with the acronym CHW acting as the brand’s flag bearer since 1986, the brand’s personality was being lost. Thus, in 2012, the fifth-largest healthcare organisation in the US rebranded to Dignity Health.

SVP of corporate communications Mark Klein wrote in the American Marketing Association’s publication Marketing Health Services in 2013, “The new name heralded the shift in the health system’s governance structure as well as its strategy to create the relationships, capabilities and resources to take the organisation into the future. Just as importantly, it honoured the heritage and mission of its Catholic founders.” The brand eschewed its eggplant colour in favour of a more vibrant orange and dropped its truncated cross icon for a six-armed starburst.

“We saw the increasing need to create a strong consumer brand for the organisation,” says VP of brand marketing, Mark Viden. “Before that, hospital brands were local and there wasn’t really a need to have something the consumer would identify with. The consumer knew their physician and maybe the insurance card in their wallet and that was it.” The need for change was exacerbated by the introduction of the ACA and a shift toward greater transparency in healthcare. Technology also pushed companies in the sector to consider their brands and their digital communications strategies.
Dignity turned to San Francisco-based agency Eleven in 2013 for help putting their dream of a kinder world into action. The ‘word’ humankindness was created to encompass both the human element offered by Dignity’s care and the kindness apparent in the world. “People feel better when they’re listened to, when they’re understood and when they’re treated with kindness. Kindness is a powerful force that can aid the healing. That’s ‘Hello Humankindness,’” says VP of brand marketing Mark Viden. In the five years since the rebrand, Dignity Health has undergone a positioning revolution. That has allowed it to better express its mission – which dates back to its founders – to patients, employees and the communities in which its hospitals operate.

The focus has been primarily a digital one. Though there is some out-of-home advertising, as well as in hospitals, Dignity’s social media feeds have burst into life with acts of kindness and compassion. Using a digital microsite, Facebook microsite and dedicated Instagram and Twitter channels, the campaign is able to exist both alongside the Dignity brand and without. The focus is stories. Those have streamed in from followers, from the news, from guest writers and from the hospitals themselves and the acts of compassion and kindness that occur everyday. “It’s a platform that allows us to go into our facilities and our communities and tell stories that are metaphorical and tell stories that are actual,” Viden says.

The microsite is full of posts offering health support and telling stories of recovery journeys. The Twitter stream, too, boasts these, but also includes handwritten notes from or about nurses and doctors proving that a little kindness goes a long way.

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By making the platform inherently geared toward the community, Dignity Health is able to promote metaphorical acts of kindness alongside videos and stories from the wider internet. It also allows followers to post their own stories of humankindness. The fact that the content is not necessarily branded may make it more shareable. One recent post is the story of an office worker who’s awning became home to a female duck. When her ducklings hatched, the man helped the little ones safely navigate down from the awning and to water with their mother. The story has had over 28m views and over 1m shares. The cute factor helps, but stories like this are rife through ‘Hello Humankindness.’

“By telling these kind of stories that capture your attention, that aren’t necessarily of the healthcare delivery, we start to align the consumers’ interests with our category in general,” Viden says. The platform draws too on the amazing stories of healing within Dignity’s own centres where family members, patients or caregivers have gone out of their way to spread compassion. “It’s allowing us to shine a lot on what is really healing in this world. That resonates in this day and age, when what people see is often so divisive,” Viden says.

However, one of the challenges Dignity Health faces when drawing these stories out are the US’ HIPAA regulations, which ensure medical privacy. Patients and their families must give consent before their details are shared. But, the platform is not short of powerful imagery and stories. That ethos is also carried out in the tone of imagery and language used across ‘Hello Humankindness’ and Dignity Health’s channels themselves. The photography style is bright, human and relatable. ‘Hello Humankindness’ allows for more licence creatively in terms of imagery, but the Dignity Health site itself also features imagery that depicts people, not medical services. Viden says this tone reflects the spirit of the organisation. The colour palette – featuring a lot of white space, alongside the signature Dignity orange – allows for a level of vibrancy not often seen in the healthcare sector, which is awash in blues and greens.

In terms of language, Dignity worked hard to ensure ‘Hello Humankindness’ would not simply be a branded platform, but would be a movement in and of itself. “We wanted to start something, but we didn’t necessarily need to own every part of it,” Viden says. That inclusivity has allowed people to engage in a dialogue with the brand and has drawn out some of the stories of Dignity’s work within its communities.

Healthcare relies upon excellent science, research, care and standards, but that is what consumers expect from the sector. Differentiating a brand requires a broader positioning. Through its rebrand, Dignity found that in its founding ethos, as Klein writes,  “The desire of nurses, doctors and staff to treat patients and each other with respect, kindness and the dignity inherent in the organisation’s new name.” Not only has ‘Hello Humankindness’ helped Dignity develop consumer awareness after the name change, but stake out a unique piece of real estate from which to communicate.

“[Healthcare] has been a category historically that people don’t want to engage with until they have to,” Viden says. But that has changed. He adds, “Everyone now wants to take a greater part in managing their healthcare. Health means different things to different people, but at the end of the day what people are looking for is care that addresses not only the body, but the mind and the spirit. I think ‘Hello Humankindness’ really captures that aspiration.”

Hospitals may not seem like the best place for two little girls to run around, to spend their afternoons in, to learn. But, what was a difficult time for our family became easier because of the care and attitudes of the medical and non-medical staff at Northridge Hospital. “People are looking for something positive in this world,” Viden says. “If we can – as an organisation – spread a little joy, lift people up just a bit, that would have been something worthwhile doing.”

Years later, visiting cousins in Las Vegas, I learned how to drive in the car park of a hospital – one that was part of the Dignity family. The brand is one of the few that has truly made a positive impact on my life and my family, too. And it has been worth all the while.