A national or regional medical tourism branding strategy is essential to distinguish your product from all the other destination offers.

Creating a National Destination Brand Identity for Health Tourism

Branding is not a difficult thing for individual stakeholders to do if they:

  • know who they are
  • know something about their competitors, and
  • Know how they want to be perceived by others.

Throughout the world, more than 100 countries have announced medical tourism market entry intentions. Almost all of them have overlooked the crucial step of developing a well-developed national or regional medical tourism destination brand identity.  Instead, they abdicated official tourism and market strategy for the nation or the region to individual stakeholders.

Individual stakeholders tend to focus their attention on individual products or services. After all, they have no legal authority to set destination branding and promotional policy, strategy, or standards. Since they cannot set the destination in motion, hospitals and doctors attempt to rush ahead to the stage of attempting to find customers and revenue.  This leads to a cacophony of consumer messaging and fails to set the destination apart or create “singularity” – a branding term that means “to create in the mind of the medical tourism consumer, the perception that there is no other product in the market quite like your product. But it also acknowledges that no one brand has universal appeal.

What is branding?

Many get caught up with the word “brand” and believe it’s this technical term reserved for corporate powerhouses. The reality is that every health tourism destination and individual stakeholders at each destination —and in this day of social media, should establish what their brand equals.

Know What Your Brand Means

During this breakout session, participants will be guided by our health tourism branding expert using a whiteboard to start by identifying what the brand means to policy makers, stakeholders, and consumers.

Participants will contribute all the characteristics that describe what the national health tourism brand will be and how it is to be perceived.  Once the list is complied, it should be fine-tuned and discussion will address how to ensure there is full command of the national brand in alignment with individual stakeholders’ brands in order to reach customers and referral sources.

Owning one “Word”

The adjectives and characteristics that make up your national and regional health tourism brand(s) should differentiate you from your competitors and provide a clear understanding of what your health tourism brand is not only capable of doing, but also what it is known for.  It should also assist you in how you positively move consumers to favor your products and services.

If you want to build a brand, you must focus branding efforts on owning a word in the prospect’s mind. A word that nobody else owns. Unfortunately, conventional marketing of health tourism has been based on “selling” health services and room nights at spas and resorts when it should be based on branding.

Marketing is not selling. Marketing is not branding. Marketing is not public relations. And marketing is not advertising. Keep that in mind when you encounter laws and reglations that constrain or prohibit physician and hospital advertising.

As you build your brand awareness and in the mind of the consumer or referral source, you can build a powerful brand. Evidence from many medical tourism destinations and individual stakeholders supports the argument that without a powerful brand, all the advertising, sales promotion by health tourism facilitators and travel agents, web designs, and public relations or GNTO promotion won’t help you achieve your objectives.

Branding strategy should be developed first from a publicity point of view. The best way to generate publicity is to be first in something. It is highly likely that you can claim that your country was first to medical tourism. But it is likely that if we dig and peel away layers, your country or region is first in many other categories. The best way to make news is to announce a new category, not a new product.  This can set your destination apart in a positive light, and generate enormous amounts of publicity to describe what is being done, how it is being developed, funded, how it will operate, and how your destination can lead some part of the medical tourism industry.

This distinction will attract others to come and study what your destination initiated and examine lessons learned. They will come to regard you for your innovation, systems , and for creating a position of leadership and developing national and regional business pride. As others come from afar to study this, their arrivals and room nights will also enhance local tourism turnover. Those involved in working with these visitors will also benefit from the Train the Trainer experience because it takes a deep level of understanding to be able to explain it to others. Training sessions and short courses to present case studies and teach skills and techniques can also create MICE revenues that will contribute to financial sustainability of the cluster.

Three Steps to Branding Success

If you are too closely tied to the project, consider inviting a medical tourism branding expert to do a brainstorming workshop with a small task force of public and private sector stakeholders. Elicit commentary and engage the participants in dialogue to build a strategy and implementation plan and budget allocation and timeline that will help to cover three primary workshop objectives:

  1. Understand the business niche you are in as a nation and how you differ from competitors.
  2. Dissect and analyze your target audience and referral sources to the core.
  3. Fully grasp how your product and services hit the sweet spot of your audience’s needs.

Creating Brand Ambassadors

To be successful, every stakeholder, politician, marketer, and employee working in health tourism sector or its subcategories must know what the brand stands for and are true to the brand in everything they do. How this will be executed at your destination is as much cultural as it is technical, because it involves working with people, companies and political agendas.

Often the owner and management of the brand (in this case the public sector) will know what the brand equals, but the people actually interacting with customers may not fully grasp the national brand and its intent or how to align their private sector strategy with it. It is important that everyone is reading from the same playbook and knows what the brand stands for and how to represent it properly. A consulting expert can draw out and elaborate ideas of how to best proceed to accomplish this through education, training, communications, setting brand standards, and managing information.

Most health tourism destinations do not know how to articulate the ways they differ from others. They are unsure how to craft an internationally worded message about the character of the brand. As a result, employees at the clinic and hospital level have brand confusion and questions. Instead of being sure when it comes to their brand interactions, they guess how they should represent the brand. With a solid message, you can outperform other health tourism competitor destinations. Your stakeholders and their employees will have a much deeper relationship with consumers and earn glowing accolades and testimonials.

Winning brands work continually with experienced, professional medical tourism branding experts to build a strategy and implementation plan and budget allocation. Beware the branding expert that wants to allocate budget to congress and event sponsorship without having a solid brand and product strategy in place first!  Also ask for a reasonable timeline that will help you to:

  1. Fully capture what your national health tourism brand equals in an easily digestible format
  2. Elicit what it will take in training and development, time, and funding allocation to train stakeholders and their employees to embody the brand and what it equals.
  3. Have systems and protocols in place to aid employees in keeping the core of the brand top of mind.
  4. Using the cluster as a management services organization to put a system in operation to encourage stakeholder and employee support of the national health tourism brand message and reward them for acting in the national health tourism brand’s best interests.

If a consultant’s proposal even mentions conference sponsorships and stand rentals before your brand strategy and product are strong, you must question whether they are there to build your brand or sell exhibition space! Don’t let your ego and starry-eyed hope get in the way of practicalities. Even if you have a stand, what will you say to stand visitors if you don’t have a product to describe and significant medical tourism volume and outcomes at which to point?

Do go to the event and walk around. Visit other stands of the gullible. Ask questions. Talk to others. Don’t tie yourself down to the stand in the beginning. Go as a learning experience and observe. You may come away feeling as if you dodged an expensive, brutal bullet!

Communicate Your National Health Tourism Brand to the Public

The systems and protocols you associate with your national medical tourism brand will help reinforce the importance of of those who represent your brand. This is less about what they are saying to customers and more about how they are acting and embodying the brand.

Ask your consultant for guidance in planning and executing the steps it will take to know and live the brand as a nation. Get them to help you explain what your brand means to others. Communicating your brand positioning is not just about the adjectives you choose to support what the brand equals. It also involves the methods and manner in which you are communicating the brand to the general public and, more importantly, to your target consumers. You will succeed in marketing and promoting brand awareness of your national health tourism product when everyone involved knows how to communicate what your brand means and how to create the message that will resonate with foreigners.

A competent consultant with the experience and technical knowledge about what facilitators do and how they can help you can also guide you to:

  1. Devise the manner in which stakeholders and facilitators and marketers should interact with customers.
  2. Put together a check and balance system to ensure marketer- and employee-to-customer messaging stays on brand.
  3. Carefully consider the first and last impression you want to make when communicating the brand with the public.
  4. Identify phrases, ideas for copy and descriptions that hit the bull’s-eye when communicating with customers or clients in order to know what the brand stands for and also how to properly communicate in order to not cause brand confusion.

With the right expert, you can emerge from the workshop with a high-level checklist of points to touch on while engaging with customers, to stay in line with the brand and what it represents. You will bring back ideas that can be developed into tools that can be used for training for situational encounters. You will have a resource of planned responses to standardize the message or response when a customer makes a request or has a question. The resource can be shared with stakeholders to inform them how to give the appropriate answer or response. A competent and experienced medical tourism branding expert can also help you to develop and produce the guide and show you how to maintain it and give you an idea of the budget and time required for each part of the project. If they are really good, they will show you how to save money in the process, and will supply a short list of experienced experts to help you. Beware the ones who also sell the services. Ask if there are any commissions being paid by those vendors. If you are paying a consultant, they have a fiduciary duty to act as your advocate. Getting commissions for recommending those that pay them commissions is called agency; not advocate. There’s a big difference…and you are ultimately the one paying those comissions in the price you pay for the services.

Get Target Customers to Amplify Your Brand

Finally, when your target consumers understand the nuances of your brand and can distinguish how your brand differs from the competition, you will achieve success and sustainability. This is harder to achieve because you lose a bit of control of the message through its interpretation by consumers; however, if you have solid techniques in place to keep the message on-brand, straying from what the brand equals will be minimized.

An experienced medical tourism public relations expert can help you to:

  1. Develop proposed guidelines to implement that can ensure all communications, individual or mass, are consistent and in line with brand positioning
  2. Determine who will have the authority to review all outside messaging and any brand associations
  3. Find ways to reward loyal customers and fans with ways to show your appreciation
  4. Development of a brand filter or a systematic questionnaire to ensure all communications and associations are consistent with the brand. This filter should include questions that help leadership and stakeholders determine whether or not the national health tourism brand is being properly communicated and represented.

If you communicate your national health tourism brand message with public relations best practices, your target audience and brand positioning will be easy to understand. Your stakeholders and their employees will also be great brand ambassadors, and your most avid consumers will be as well. When your consumers are fans of your brand and identify with it, they, too, will become vocal in spreading your brand’s message. Word of mouth marketing has always been a priority in extending a health tourism destination’s brand and offerings, but it is even more crucial in this age of social media. You want your consumers singing your praise across the various social media platforms, not only in the form of “Likes” but also in sharing their positive experiences and pictures. Their endorsement is more powerful than any commercial or copy you could produce.

Check out some of the articles and questions in the forum on medical tourism branding to learn more!