Case Study: How a New York Hospital Chain Overhauled Its Brand

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Northwell's new campaign
Northwell's new campaign Credit: Northwell

A decade ago, North Shore-LIJ Health System, a New York-based health care system with 21 hospitals and 61,000 employees, was suffering from name fatigue. The system's seven-word moniker, which some likened to a mouthful of marbles, was challenging for even the most articulate of speakers, including prominent local politicians. By 2015, the organization decided to take action with a new brand promise, marketing campaign, and name: Northwell Health.

"The reality is that the competition has gotten fierce—we have competitors moving into our backyard," said Ramon Soto, who was hired as senior VP-chief marketing officer to spearhead the rebranding effort. "It's now critically important a consumer knows who you are, what your value is and why they should go to your organization for the care they need."

With health care changes on the horizon from Washington, D.C. and the expected repeal of the Affordable Care Act, consumers face more uncertainty and confusion in the industry than ever before, and hospitals, like Northwell, are beginning to reassess the marketing of their brands.

"You can't be silent—if you are, you're defined by silence," said Mr. Soto. "I need to package the definition of who I am and build a destination health care brand so that before the injury or illness, you know you're coming to me."

After hiring branding firm Interbrand Health, the North Shore system whittled down some 600 names to the winning Northwell Health, which it debuted to the public on Jan. 1, 2016. Mr. Soto, a former marketer at insurer Aetna, noted that "Northwell" won high marks for its approachability and common language. He tapped J. Walter Thompson New York for a marketing campaign that would tell the system's story in a more engaging, less formulaic way than the competition, which typically opted for patient testimonials. The push was a big one—Northwell put $17 million behind the launch, compared with a $2 million advertising budget the prior year.

"We were confident in what we had to say and have to say about Northwell," said Ben James, executive creative director at JWT New York.

The corresponding campaign included a 60-second spot welcoming Austin Joseph, the first baby born on Jan. 1, 2016 in a Northwell hospital, which aired in the New York market for 10 days.

"It's this wonderful, optimistic way to tell our story in a different way and take advantage of the birth of this little one in our system and really be unique in our storytelling platform," said Mr. Soto.

Northwell also ran a series of other regional spots featuring more specific programs, like its robotics and cardiac programs, and an anthem ad focused on the brand's innovations, alongside an out-of-home push in the spring. All efforts were bolstered by a paid and organic social push.

The efforts paid off. During the first six months of last year, Northwell generated 390 million digital impressions; 13 million people watched its ads online. After nine months, the local Long Island, New York market had a 68% awareness level of the brand. The system also reported an 80% increase in online appointments this year, compared with before the campaign.

To maintain momentum, Mr. Soto is rolling out phase two of the Austin Joseph campaign—continuing the familial nature of last year's spots by highlighting the toddler's first birthday. A new 30-second commercial shows him walking, surrounded by family and friends.

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