After more than two decades in the NHS, the concept of a brand had never consumed much of my intellectual energy. However, over the past year, I have been involved in two different re-branding exercises and have been thinking about what it really means.
Historically, the concept of a brand grew up at the same time as that of the trademark, towards the end of the 19th century. The term “maverick” originated from Samuel Maverick who, after the American civil war, decided that as all other cattle were branded he would identify his own by the lack of any markings.
“The corporate re-branding with which I’ve been engaged has included articulating the values of the organisation”
The “Wiki” definition describes brand as a collection of symbols, experiences and associations connected with a product, a service, a person or any other artefact or entity. Brands have become increasingly important components of culture and the economy, and are increasingly seen as “cultural accessories and personal philosophies”.
Each brand has different characteristics, but understanding what it conveys and how is the subject of books more than blogs. Some distinguish the psychological aspect of a brand from the experiential aspect - a distinction that could be relevant in delivering healthcare.
The experiential aspect consists of the sum of all points of contact with the brand and this “brand experience” requires much more than just a change in identity wrought at the top of an organisation.
The psychological aspect, sometimes referred to as the brand image, is a symbolic construct created in the minds of people and consists of all the information and expectations associated with a product or service.
Both of these perspectives need to be built – if not from the bottom up then at least by engaging people throughout an organisation to ensure that the experience and psychology have real meaning and congruence for those who come into contact with the brand – employees and consumers.
The corporate re-branding with which I’ve been engaged has included articulating the values of the organisation and ensuring that these resonate for, and are exhibited by, the staff.
In exploring this, we have looked at the leadership behaviours of the 80 plus most senior staff in the organisation. One of the behaviours identified as critical was building trust.
This isn’t a new concept - indeed Stephen MR Covey - son of Stephen Covey, author of The Seven Habits Highly Effective People - has recently published a book entitled The Speed of Trust. He argues - with some compelling illustrations - that when trust exists, whether between colleagues or between those using a service and those delivering it, things happen much faster. Covey develops the concept into a trust dividend.
This was evident for me recently when I re-visited one of our mental health independent hospitals after a 14 month interval. On my first visit, the hospital was the subject of an internal investigation after a recent incident. There had been a number of senior management changes in a relatively short period. The manager I met was demoralised, ground down and generally conveying a poor impression. Things were properly bad.
On my recent visit, she had to describe the hospital to a visitor. He found her inspiring and she was able to describe with enthusiasm the changes that had occurred in recent months, how she was working more closely with service users to focus more on outcomes than tasks and how she saw this as a journey through which the culture of the hospital would change for the benefit of staff and users.
I was so struck by the transformation that I asked what had happened. She singled out the three people in the management team who had been supporting her to make changes - how they understood what she needed through their professional experience, and how this made things happen.
It was remarkable how rapidly that change had been effected. The trust that she had gained in her line manager and the functional team around him had facilitated revolution, not just evolution.
I find myself looking for similar illustrations elsewhere, in all aspects of my life: at work, going shopping or taking exercise. Whether it relates to an experience or a product, the degree of trust in the people and the merchandise translates into the influence of the brand.
The ability to trust and the continuous reinforcement of that trust will have more impact than any amount of time or money invested in the strapline and logo.