Defining your health system’s brand architecture strategy

March 8, 2016
Stephanie Burton Director, Healthcare Marketing

Brand architecture. Two words that can bring grown adults to tears. The meetings. The conflict. The money. The time. But, if you’re reading this, chances are you’ve wiped away the tears and discovered that so much good can come from developing a cohesive brand strategy. Things like an elevated perception and top-of-mind awareness. Not to mention a more efficient spend of your health system’s marketing dollars and a defensible structure from which to set your visual identity.

Let’s get started.

Getting acquainted: The four brand architecture strategies

When working with our clients, we entertain four different brand architecture strategies.

Master brand strategy.
With the master brand strategy, the master brand (generally, your health system’s logo) takes center stage. This strategy is not the most efficient or most effective for audiences who consume multiple parts of a brand. It is best for health systems with strong reputations or for those in a crowded marketplace.


Endorsed brand strategy
An endorsed brand allows individual programs and entities to shine with a nod (often in the form of a tagline) to the master brand. This strategy is often beneficial if a health system is expanding into unfamiliar territories where the brand is unknown.


An overbrand can exist with or without the master brand strategy. Because very few examples of this exist in healthcare, I will use another example: Apple. I have an Apple iPhone. But, I don’t describe it that way because you understand the manufacturer and product when I say, “I have an iPhone.” Most health systems are not able to justify this brand architecture strategy for a very good reason: Our products are very much alike.overbrand-strategy

Freestanding brands (also called “House of Brands”)
A freestanding brand architecture strategy is used most often to market consumer products. Why? Because parent companies such as Proctor & Gamble develop products that appeal to many different audiences. As a result, they make room in their marketing budgets to support the heftier expense required to establish a different identity for each product.


The healthcare brand’s role in clinical integration

So, where should your health system fall within the spectrum of brand architecture? Chances are, if you’re looking to revise your current strategy, you probably have a brand architecture that is segmented across each of the four categories above.

Creating a clinically integrated network? Consider this when selecting a brand strategy.


Taking a hybrid approach to brand architecture: Owensboro Health

Sometimes, a need arises to combine two different brand architecture strategies. This scenario emerged when Core Creative began to define, develop and deploy the Owensboro Health brand architecture strategy.

Since 2013, Owensboro Health, a leading health system in western Kentucky, encountered significant change. This change included a new CEO, the addition of a new, 477-bed medical center and the implementation of an electronic medical record. The health system’s medical group also experienced rapid growth – increasing its physician base by 43 percent in just over two years.

Emerging from this lightning-fast transition period was the need to:

  • Establish a brand architecture and naming conventions for the health system
  • Rename Owensboro Health’s medical group

Owensboro engaged with Core Creative to assist with both these efforts.


When Owensboro Health approached Core Creative, several visual branding challenges were present:

  • Nearly 68 logos had been created over time
  • There wasn’t a discernable brand architecture strategy in place
  • There were inconsistencies in how the logos were designed
  • There was confusion surrounding where and when to use appropriate logos
  • Perhaps most importantly, Owensboro Health’s visual identity was compromised

Owensboro Health’s market research revealed valuable insight: The Owensboro Health brand wasn’t as meaningful in surrounding communities as it was in its immediate market: Daviess County.

While we explored four major brand strategies – master, overbrand, endorsed brand and freestanding brand – two approaches were selected. Core Creative worked with Owensboro Health to pursue a master brand strategy for the health system and an endorsed brand – One Health – for its medical group.

As part of our approach, we developed guiding principles for brand strategy to ensure our brand architecture was simple, scalable and meaningful. In the end, we were able to address current needs of the health system in a way that can easily expand to accommodate for the health system’s inevitable future growth.

What cost implications are involved in developing a brand architecture strategy? Fill out the form below to further understand steps, approximate timelines and budgets.

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