Branding labour-intensive services
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Independent research reveals that American consumers prefer Mayo Clinic to any other healthcare institution if they have a serious medical condition and their personal finances or health plan is not an impediment. How did this happen for an organisation that opened shop in the middle of a Minnesota cornfield, had a one-person marketing staff until 1992 and advertised very little?
The answer derives from how strong service brands are created. Mayo Clinic meets or exceeds the expectations of most of its patients by delivering an integrated, thorough service experience. Patients don’t just get a doctor, they get the entire organisation. From exercise physiologists to endocrinologists, Mayo Clinic assembles the expertise and resources needed by the individual patient.
Imagine a huge store that sells almost everything, with experts in each department who work together to solve the individual customer’s problem. This is how Mayo Clinic is designed for medical consumers, a legacy from its co-founders, Charles and William Mayo, who advocated the practice of medicine as a co-operative science.
One of the authors (Leonard Berry) recently spent a sabbatical year at Mayo Clinic studying its service system and performance. The Mayo service system doesn’t always work as intended but it does work most of the time, earning patients’ trust, loyalty and praise.
As Mayo Clinic’s director of marketing, Kent Seltman, recently wrote: “There’s a humbling lesson here for marketers. Great brands, in the end, require great products or great services. Perhaps we in marketing exaggerate our importance in the building of great brands, particularly great service brands. The things we do to create buzz in the marketplace are clearly secondary to word-of-mouth in consumers’ selection of healthcare providers”.
A brand is not a name, logo or advertising slogan; a brand is a person’s dominant perception when the stimulus of a name, logo or slogan is presented. A brand, in short, is a reputation that develops most durably from customers’ actual consumption experiences. Marketer- controlled communications such as advertising can play important roles in brand development, including creating awareness of the offering, stimulating trial, and providing language and imagery to frame the desired brand. What marketing communications cannot do, however, is rescue a poor product or service. If customers’ experience with the offering differs from the advertising message, they believe the experience and not the advertising. Advertising provides an investment return only when it is reinforced by positive customer experiences. No US retailer advertises more effectively on television than the discount chain Target but the advertising works only because customers like shopping at Target
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