Stephanie Burton

How to create brand architecture in your health system

By Stephanie Burton on March 22, 2016

Most of us can agree that if there was ever a “logopalooza” event, health system leaders could serve as the headliner. Health systems often get lost in logo la-la land, leading to dozens, if not hundreds of mismatched, meaningless logos. And, well-intended marketing leaders are often left to pick up the pieces. Here’s how to reclaim your visual brand.

By establishing and implementing a cohesive brand architecture strategy, you can work to regain control over the mosh pit of logos that are wreaking havoc on your health system’s visual brand identity.

Here are seven steps to consider when embarking on an update to your health system’s brand architecture strategy.

1. Conduct an audit of all existing logos. Dig deeply. Pay attention to special programs and services that are cobranded or have a local and/or national affiliation.

2. Determine a brand architecture strategy. There are four different brand architecture strategies to pursue: Master brand, overbrand, endorsed brand and freestanding brands.

3. Develop guiding principles for your brand architecture. The best brand architecture is simple, scalable and meaningful to your consumers. With key members of your C-suite, determine how you want your brand architecture to work for you and come to a consensus on these guiding principles.

4. Decide which service lines, programs and services may need their own visual identity. Regardless of the brand architecture strategy you choose, there may be service lines, programs and services that will need their own visual identity. Consider these questions:

  • Are there strategic priority programs that may need to be marketed to audiences outside our primary market?
  • Are there legal considerations we must consider?
  • Are there “legacy” brands we must accommodate? If so, are we willing to make exceptions?
  • How will we handle co-branding with other organizations?
  • Are there outlier logos such as local or national programs that we need to consider?
  • How will each of these logos be used?
  • Is it absolutely necessary that each of the service lines, entities and/or programs has its own logo? Why?

5. Test your brand architecture. Solicit your marketing team members and other key influencers to poke holes in the new brand architecture. Ask questions, formulate answers and adjust your brand architecture accordingly. Questions I’ve faced when implementing a new brand architecture often include:

  • What signage do we put on the building if there are two or more entities in the same building?
  • [If pursuing a master-brand strategy]: When is it appropriate to use a logo other than the master brand?
  • I want to create promotional items for my department and we don’t have a logo. What should I do?

6. Develop a graphic standards manual. Developing a graphic standards manual is a small, but worthwhile investment in your brand’s visual identity. It provides instruction for logo usage and placement and helps protect the effort and expense your health system has made to develop a cohesive look.

7. Communicate your brand standards. Without proper communication to all your internal audiences, your efforts to develop a brand architecture strategy will be rendered useless. Explain to your internal audiences:

Why your organization is pursing a specific brand architecture strategy.

  • Why and how key decisions were made.
  • What these changes mean for health system employees.
  • How employees can support the visual identity of the health system moving forward.

Developing a brand architecture isn’t easy. But, it is arguably the most important thing a marketer can do when working to establish and defend a position in a fiercely competitive healthcare market. With a little elbow grease and a lot of consensus, it is possible to create a harmonious architecture that elevates your brand instead of contradicting your efforts.


Stephanie Hungerford, APR is a Healthcare Marketing Director at Core Creative. Follow her on Twitter @shungerford.