Nick Ragone on the Acceleration of the Ascension Brand Journey and the Healthcare Marketing Discipline

by | Feb 8, 2021 | Healthcare Industry Insights | 0 comments

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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