How Encompass Health refocused marketing to build the brand
Marketing as a discipline does not exist in every company. In smaller companies, the absence is often driven by founders who believe that if they make a great product, the market will find them. In larger companies, the reasons are harder to pinpoint but the result is often the same: Marketing is really an order-taking function for sales. How does a newly arrived marketer correct this situation?
When Johnny Smith, Jr., began as VP of marketing services at Encompass Health in late 2019, those assigned to marketing suffered from low morale and labored to keep up with requests. Taking a methodical approach, Smith transformed the department into one that knew customers, built the brand, drove demand and was unafraid of saying no to sales.
What was the situation like from a marketing perspective when you arrived there?
I report directly to the president of our inpatient hospitals, Barb Jacobsmeyer, who said “I want to create a marketing department. We've got a communications arm, a creative services arm, and then we also have a print shop, so these three areas have not historically had the same objective. They didn't have the same goals in mind to target the customer.”
Many of them had different customers. They reported into three different departments. We had to come together as one. There wasn't a true focus on growth. To focus on growth, you must be obsessed with the customer, so the first thing we had to do is truly dive in deep on who our customers are, how do they engage with us, what do they want from us, and what behavior change we were seeking with them.
How did you approach consolidating these three departments?
What I had to do is come in and just listen to our respective teams. I wanted to understand from them: What did value look like from their perspective? What were their challenges that they were experiencing? What was the perception of those respective teams? That was step one. I think sometimes we get we get ahead of our skis as marketers, and we want to go in and start immediately implementing solutions. That's not our job. Our job is to listen first and then and then determine what the marketing strategy is, so let's do the same model as change management.
Could you describe your four guiding principles?
The first is truly engaging via critical and creative thinking. I wanted to respectfully challenge what is known. We know we were doing business in a certain way, but now, this is our opportunity to implement change. The only way we can do that is to be looking at things creatively and critically, and we have to be comfortable with engaging in those critical conversations with one another.
The second principle is for all marketing is to embrace accountability. Being proactive, responsive and collaborating while managing expectations. Accountability was to each other. Accountability was managing expectations, making certain that our eyes aren't bigger than our stomachs, that we aren't overpromising and under-delivering. It was more of a behavior change to foster a culture of collaboration and support.
The third principle is one of my favorites. It's managing the three W's: Who does what by when. When you're implementing a major change management effort with 70+ people and they're all operating on different objectives, sometimes you don't close a meeting by defining who's doing something, when is it going to be done. That’s what every marketer should be asking at the conclusion of every meeting, and it ensures guiding principle No. 2—accountability.
The fourth one is building and managing knowledge assets. That’s about truly investing in your team, setting up collaboration tools for team development, growth, education, just truly investing in these individuals. The only way we were going to get to where I knew we needed to go was through our people. We have to invest in our people first, and the people have to continue to enhance their skills and knowledge base for us to get there.
What kind of collaboration tools helped achieve this?
Everyone on our team has an individual development plan and we have timelines associated with that. I want to know: What are your career goals? What are areas that you want to grow in? What support are you going to need to get those? What additional resources can we apply? And then we come back, and we keep tracking this on a regular basis. We're building knowledge. We're building education. We're empowering and enriching growth.
What came after the basic guiding principles?
I identified three core strategic priorities for the marketing department. Building the brand was the first strategic priority. We had a tremendous opportunity to truly discover the brand. What is the brand essence? What's the experience that the customer has with us? How are we unique and different? What's our emotional connection? That was one area, a true opportunity to tell people about this significantly large organization and really engage with the customer.
How did you sell brand to the executive team?
When I outlined for the board and our executive management team the reasoning behind this and the positioning that it can give Encompass Health, I had full support across the board. But first, I had to articulate the vision. You can't just walk in and say, “I want to launch a brand campaign” or “I need to start to explore the brand.” You have to have a vision for it, and then you have to have some research to back you up.
What was the next strategic priority?
Digital experience. We’re the largest post-acute care provider for rehabilitation hospitals in the country and we had one person dedicated to website management. We had to go through a significant redesign to actually implement digital, so I went out and hired a director of digital marketing.
The smart thing that you do as a head of marketing is, you hire smart people who know a heck of a lot more than you do and you get out of their way. You give them the resources that they need to be successful, the resources or whatever expertise that they need. We have an overall strategy for digital marketing, and I’ve empowered her to go and grow her team and build the resources she needs to ensure that our digital strategy aligns with what we're trying to accomplish.
What’s the final strategic priority?
Customer and market intelligence. That individual is responsible for the experience side of things because that person is obsessed with the customer. She's truly zeroing in on customer behavior, what their needs are, how they want to be communicated with. We're a b-to-b-to-c company, so when I’m saying “customers” here, it's our referral source partners at an acute care hospital. We need to have a partnership with them. Not just sell to them but provide a level of service and storytelling to them.
How did you get employees to buy into the vision?
Each individual department has strategies that align with achieving our business goals, and those are rolled up to the operations of the entire organization. If you’re digital marketing, you have strategies on how you're going to build growth. If you're the content team, you have goals and strategies that align with that. If you're a regional marketing manager, your job is to be the center glue that brings everything into one and packages that solution to the actual end customer.
Everyone is accountable to the overall same plan, and everyone specifically knows their role and how it plays with measures around it as well. Luckily, when you have a vision, when people see that they can contribute to it, people want to invest in the vision. There's not much I need to do on my end because people are about developing and growing their personal craft.