In today’s increasingly complex and competitive market, a customer-centric approach is paramount as healthcare consumers expect more than just a quality outcome; they demand a seamless experience.
Ascension Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing & Communications Officer Nick Ragone, who recently joined True North Custom’s Healthcare Insight advisory board, addresses this critical issue and highlights ways his organization has found success.
Since joining Ascension, the nation’s largest nonprofit Catholic health system, in 2014, Ragone has transformed the organization's marketing function from a local and decentralized community to an integrated, enterprise-wide team to support its 2,500 sites of care and more than 140 hospitals in 22 states.
Most significantly, it has allowed Ascension to begin rebranding all hospitals, ambulatory sites, and physician practices as Ascension—the largest such undertaking ever in the provider space—as well as creating a more strategic, data-driven, direct-to-consumer marketing approach.
Ragone knows something about branding, having worked at Ketchum Communications, a global branding and communications firm, for more than a dozen years, most recently running its Washington, D.C. office. His background is interesting: a graduate of Georgetown Law and the author of four books on presidential history and leadership, he brings a unique lens to his work at Ascension.
Q: In 2016, Ascension announced that it would be rebranding—I think the phrase you used is creating an ‘integrated brand’—the entire system, including all 2,500 sites of care. What prompted that decision?
Ragone: We made the decision to integrate the Ascension brand across all sites of care because it was a logical continuation of what we call our “One Ascension” journey—our effort to further align our organization, both clinically and operationally, so that we can better position ourselves to flourish in this rapidly changing healthcare environment.
It was the vision of our CEO Tony Tersigni—and I agree with it—that in order to truly ensure all our caregivers, associates, and providers feel like they belong to One Ascension, we needed to integrate the Ascension brand identity with our dozens of local brand identities and create a unique architecture that retains the legacy brand as a foundation and adds a consistent Ascension consumer brand. It has been very well received. Our communities love the idea that we’re not replacing the local brands they know and love, but rather connecting them all with the Ascension identity. As I like to say, when done correctly, 1+1 should equal 3.
The other reason we decided to integrate the Ascension brand across all our health ministries is because we heard from consumers that having the Ascension brand connect all our sites of care in the consumer marketplace makes access and navigation—both physically and online—that much easier and more convenient. That was an important consideration as well.
Q: Recently you keynoted Modern Healthcare’s annual Marketing conference and spoke about the transition in healthcare marketing from qualitative awareness to quantitative analytics. What does that mean?
Ragone: In the old fee-for-service world where consumers had little or no options, qualitative awareness marketing—TV, billboards, sports sponsorships—was more than sufficient to create awareness. However, in a world where consumers now have more information and many choices, and they’re making their decisions on mobile devices, qualitative awareness alone isn’t nearly enough to turn awareness into action.
It comes down to this: most healthcare engagements start with a search, and most of those searches begin on small devices. Therefore, your marketing needs to be online, driven by data, targeted to an action (like online appointment scheduling) and measurable. It requires a fundamentally different approach, one that providers historically haven’t done—but one at which other emerging healthcare entrants, such as retailers, pharmacies, technology companies, big boxes, are adept. Now we are effectively leveraging those tactics at Ascension to create a compassionate, personalized relationship with all those we serve.