As VP and chief marketing and communications officer for Ascension, Nick Ragone has led the largest rebranding ever in the healthcare space. Find out how he’s keeping the system’s communities engaged during the pandemic.
In a conversation for the Healthcare Insight for Marketers podcast, Nick Ragone discusses the Ascension brand journey, new ways of keeping the team engaged and how healthcare marketing is evolving to compete in this new era.
Nick discovered chess when his son asked him a simple question that led to a movement in St. Louis — which happens to be the epicenter of chess. “He came to me about five years ago and asked, ‘Do all the schools in St. Louis have an after-school chess club?’ That was the genesis of the program, and since then we’ve raised over $600,000 and expanded to 40–50 schools and even a couple of other cities like Chicago and Nashville. We do a study every year and find kids in the program attend and enjoy school more, they’re more confident and better able to solve problems. The benefits have been extraordinary. It’s one of the proudest achievements of my career.”
The pandemic has accelerated the Ascension brand journey. “When I started seven years ago, we had 20 different brands in our markets. They were all amazing, extraordinary healthcare systems with deep roots in the communities—but none of them were really connected in any meaningful way. It’s taken the better part of five years to create one, national Ascension brand and that’s allowed us to communicate much more efficiently and effectively across the country during the pandemic. Our 160,000 associates feel like they are connected to each other now because we’re all Ascension caregivers. Most of our marketing over the last year has been about caregiver gratitude and patient appreciation and they love hearing that story. Whether it’s a colleague who works in the same clinic or thousands of miles away, they’re still part of the same Ascension family.”
The Good Day Ascension podcast has been an essential communication channel during COVID-19. “We have 160,000 associates spread out over 27 states, and the pandemic has challenged us with finding new, creative ways to communicate to them in real-time. One of the things that I kept hearing is that our associates love listening to podcasts, so back in March we decided to extend the Good Day Ascension brand that started as our intranet, then became a magazine and now it’s morphed into a podcast and soon to be a taped TV show. We created it as a way to communicate during COVID and share some of our amazing caregiver stories, and now each episode gets tens of thousands of downloads. It’s been wildly successful.”
His marketing team is closer and more productive than ever. “We flipped a switch on a Friday in early March and literally went remote with 50,000 non-clinical workers over a weekend — and didn’t miss a beat. I have 200 team members around the country and in some ways, we’ve been more productive than ever. For us in marketing, we’re privileged to share the stories of our caregivers who are working extraordinarily long hours. We feel like we owe it to them to keep up the pace. My team is energized by that, and a year in, we’re still running on the adrenaline rush of telling those stories.”
Healthcare marketing is maturing at a rapid pace. “Healthcare marketing has been a laggard for years, particularly hospital marketing. It consisted of what I would call good qualitative awareness like TV commercials and billboards. As long as you had awareness in your market, most people had very little choice depending on their payer network. Now the healthcare landscape has completely changed. Consumers are way more empowered, there are a lot more options for care—and the qualitative model no longer suffices. We’ve been looking at different industries and have adopted strategies from other markets, like CRM-based marketing to track outbound emails, texts and even phone calls to follow the life of the customer journey.”
Listen to the full interview!
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