Manipal Hospitals, part of the Manipal Education and Medical Group (MEMG), aspires to serve not just people in India but reach those in need of medical assistance, world over. Considered among the top few healthcare groups in the country, it has a network of 15 hospitals and three primary clinics in India.
Swaminathan Dandapani, executive chairman, who took over the helm of the hospital nearly a year ago, has experience across industry segments. And he states, building a brand in the healthcare segment is not a very different exercise from building one in other industries he has worked in such as automobiles, commodities and IT services.
“Branding is about positioning your product or service as a differentiated offering,” he simplifies while adding, “The customer is no longer just the king; he is the emperor.”
Dandapani also stresses that the branding message itself should be kept as simple as possible. The power of a brand is in attracting stakeholders and retaining loyalty. The different stakeholders – customers, investors, and employees across levels – who engage with it should find the message relevant to their context. He admits that it is a complicated process with lots of dos and don’ts to achieve a simple outcome. Yet, that very simplicity defines the power of the brand, regardless of the industry vertical it operates in.
Holding on to a promise
The logo, the most visible message of branding, is a promise to customers – of delivering quality and a memorable experience. It is a promise to employees of honesty and genuine care. To investors, it is a promise of safety and growth; while to the society, it is a promise of being a responsible citizen. “These are nothing but home truths but these messages cut across verticals,” Dandapani says. The process of delivering on this promise holds the key to a positive brand building exercise.
Using the example of Manipal, he elaborates on the tagline ‘Life’s On’ and indicates that it is the promise the corporation is making and is expected to deliver on.
The logo, the most visible part of branding, is a promise to customers – of delivering quality and a memorable experience. It is a promise to employees of honesty and genuine care. To investors, it is a promise of safety and growth; while to the society, it is a promise of being a responsible citizen. These are nothing but home truths but these messages cut across verticals. The process of delivering on this promise, while not easy, holds the key to a positive brand building exercise.
The tagline, the services offered by the hospital, means different things to the different people who engage with it for different needs. There are the patients, the relatives of patients, employees, investors and stakeholders and the community at large. For Dandapani, the underlying question that decides the course of action to further the brand is – is the brand able to deliver on promise? The brand represents the image of the organisation and gets interpreted from the way it reaches out to its stakeholders. “A great revelation to me is the way the logo – though it gets interpreted in different ways – converges to a single promise. This reiterates my earlier point that a logo is a promise and organisations must deliver on it,” he says.
In order to deliver on that promise, the aligning of all employees – who are the means through which the message gets communicated – to the brand’s promise is important.
Dandapani coined this acronym called GDP, referring to Growth, Differentiation and People. It is something he coined while he was CEO of Infosys BPO, a fully owned subsidiary of Infosys. He wants to inculcate this three-way thought process of Growth – referring to overall financial growth of the organization, Differentiation – the various aspects through which Manipal can differentiate itself through its service offering and People – how people can evolve as individuals through the work they do at Manipal.
Focusing on ‘GDP’
To achieve growth, expanding to markets beyond the south of India has been the focus. Apart from Jaipur, Goa and the rest of India, Manipal has gone international with its presence in Kuala Lampur.
For differentiation, Dandapani realised that while investors, patients and employees are already a part of the organisational focus, the friends and relatives of patients were not top of the mind. Patient centricity, clinical excellence and ethical practices were already ingrained and so, looking out for the needs of relatives and friends of the patients and putting a smile on their faces, will rank higher on the priority list. At the moment, the team at Manipal is searching for an apt term to denote this important group of people.
“When I worked in the automobile industry, it took a year and a half to get feedback on our new products; in the BPO sector, it was two quarters. In the healthcare industry, it is instantaneous,” he says. “If I take the lift and I see anxious faces, there is my feedback. So my question to my people was, can we make a smile the DNA of the organisation?”He believed that would signify the life in the hospital’s tagline. And this is the differentiator Manipal has been diligently working on, while Dandapani emphasizes that this is work in progress.
The speed of execution has changed, admits Dandapani. Technology has made three things more efficient at the hospital, be it customer experience, delivery excellence and clinical excellence. “But for the technology itself to be efficient and easier, we need people. The employees, while also having expectations from the promise the organisation makes, are also responsible for the differentiation. It is they who deliver on the promise we make,” he stresses. For its own, Manipal is focused on creating an ecosystem that is safe, harmonious, creative, open and transparent, encouraging creativity and innovation.
“Whether delivering on the promise a brand makes it an art or science, it is possible only through the employees, processes and technology,” he points out. As Dandapani says, in doing a few simple things right, the respect an organisation earns is immense.
“Every brand has a future. Some may be mismanaged, but if we know how to correct the mistakes, we can get back on our feet. Telling the truth is no more sinful,” he signs off.
Brand is a promise
Keep the branding outcome/message simple
Growth, Differentiation and People are three key aspects that go hand-in-hand
Employees are the medium of translating vision to action so they need to be aligned to the brand and its message in its entirety
By getting a few simple, subtle things right, an organization can earn immense respect and fan following