Case Study

Establishing a Brand

One example of a successful branding initiative is the one developed by the Cleveland Clinic Foundation in Cleveland, Ohio. The outcome of its efforts demonstrates what branding can do for a healthcare organization and how a small outpatient practice can be transformed into a national brand.
The Cleveland Clinic was founded in 1921 by four veterans of World War I medical units, and it is now a leading American healthcare organization. From its start, the clinic was highly regarded for the quality of its specialty care, basic science research, and medical innovations. The clinic’s initial marketing approach—typical of healthcare organizations in the premarketing era—targeted the physician audience in an effort to increase patient referrals. Promotional activities consisted of developing and distributing fundraising brochures and disseminating press releases to the media..
In the 1990s, the clinic realized that healthcare consumers were looking for a trusted brand name, and thus it expanded its marketing research. This research indicated that local consumers highly respected the Cleveland Clinic name, so the organization focused on maintaining and protecting its brand through an integrated marketing effort. The 1990s also marked a period of hospital mergers and acquisitions in the healthcare industry, and the clinic played a significant role in this development. Over a two-year period, it merged with ten local community hospitals and formed the Cleveland Clinic Health System. The formation of this system presented a challenge in that the clinic had to decide how much it could share its brand identity without diluting it.
To address this challenge, the clinic established a four-tiered marketing approach that applied to all organizations using the Cleveland Clinic brand. Tier 1 members represent the core organizations—the conservators of the brand and directors of all marketing efforts. Tier 2 members include entities owned by the clinic but that have their own brand equity; in their advertisements, they are allowed to use only the words “Cleveland Clinic Health System” in half size under their own hospital name. Tier 3 includes clinic departments housed in hospitals the clinic does not own. They are not part of the clinic or the system, and the appropriate relationships are outlined in their advertising; they are prohibited from using the Cleveland Clinic name, logo, or tagline. Finally, Tier 4 includes organizations to which the clinic belongs. In these relationships, the clinic’s logo may be used only in visual arrangement with the logos of other participating hospitals.
As this case shows, the Cleveland Clinic has been successful in supporting the integrity of its brand while extending the brand’s positive image to other entities without diluting existing brand equity. Although not all healthcare organizations can be expected to have the same success as the clinic, this case illustrates how, with sound market intelligence and thoughtful planning, a successful branding initiative can be undertaken.

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1. What changes in the marketplace led the Cleveland Clinic to reassess its marketing strategy?

2. What were potential negative consequences of expanding the brand umbrella too widely?

3. How did the clinic adapt its marketing strategy to the new organizational structure?

4. How is the clinic able to preserve its commitment to its mission while at the same time marketing a complex organization?

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