How HIMSS framed its rebrand as more than a facelift

The storied health care organization wanted to reshape its core values to address changes in the health care industry. Here’s what communicators can learn from the exercise.

Many organizations see a rebrand as just retooling a logo or updating visual iconography.

That’s a mistake, according to Terri Sanders, senior vice president of enterprise marketing and communications for HIMSS. The global health care nonprofit that connects provider organizations, professional service groups and more (it counts its membership at more than 80,000 worldwide) just completed a comprehensive rebranding campaign.

Sanders says the process was highly illuminating, and offers takeaways for communicators in all kinds of industries, but especially in the health care field. 

Why a rebrand now?

It is crucial for any organization considering a rebranding campaign to answer why it has to change. For HIMSS, Sanders says it was imperative for the organization to adjust to changes in the health care industry.

“The rebrand of HIMSS stems from a shift in the health care industry itself,” she says. “Right now in health care, it’s really an exciting and transformative period … because there is an unprecedented amount of change occurring in the health space.”

One major change she points to is the influence of consumerism in the health care industry. 

“We are starting to see change really take hold in health care in ways we haven’t before,” Sanders says, “from the volume-based reimbursement model to value, quality of care and paying for outcomes and keeping people healthy.”

HIMSS wanted to respond to these changes and position itself as an industry leader.

“Our goal is to evolve our mission,” explains Sanders. “We really want to reflect our global scale and unmatched experience so we can support the industry as we are all trying to prepare for what’s next.”

The process has taken 18 months, with lots of conversations with members of staff and membership partners. 

“We want to be a catalyst for sweeping change in health care,” says Sanders. “We really want to see these changes stick, so for us the rebrand is a recommitment, not only to continue to provide relevant thought leadership and expertise and insights to the members that rely on us for professional development but also to the entire industry and the ecosystem of health.” 

The role of leadership

Sanders has some important takeaways for any organization contemplating a comprehensive rebrand. Her first point is on the importance of leadership.

“You’ve got to have buy-in and that appetite for change,” Sanders says. “Buy-in at that C-suite level all the way through to the rest of the organization is so important.” 

For HIMSS, that leadership comes from president and CEO Harold Wolf. “He had a really clear mission to position our organization for the future,” says Sanders. “He brought in an outside agency. He hired dedicated executive leadership to lead the rebrand effort who fully bought into the process from day zero.” 

That leadership set the tone for the rest of the organization as it went through its rebranding process. “That really established a core sense of urgency, expectation and a willingness across the organization to adopt change,” says Sanders.

“It trickles down. The mood of leadership becomes the mood of the masses.”

Work inside out

True change requires working from the inside to change external perception.

“Organizational transformation is a north star,” says Sanders. “It’s not a logo. You can’t approach a rebrand as a visual exercise.”

What does an inside-out approach look like? “It starts with a strategy and that strategy has to flow through the people who are a part of that organization both internally and externally,” Sanders says.  

Do your research

Rebranding is difficult, and leaders can encounter resistance to change. However, doing your research can be a great buffer against criticism.

“Information is power,” says Sanders. “Any good brand strategy is going to start with assessing the value of your organization the perceptions of your organization, every aspect.” She emphasizes that you have to be courageous, “not being afraid to turn over rocks and look behind the curtain—and maybe hear things that you don’t want to hear.” 

However, once you have the data, these insights can inoculate you from the criticism you will inevitably face as you attempt to make changes.

“Have that research validate the decisions that you make,” advises Sanders. “If you are basing your strategy on the data, no one can ever ask why because you can always point to the data and remove that subjectivity.”

Sanders adds that doing research the right way takes a lot of time. “We did it for 18 months,” she says, adding, “It’s worth it because it really helps you focus in on your purpose.”

Lean on employees

When doing your research, it’s crucial to include employees and make them feel a part of the process.

During the discovery and analysis part of the rebranding campaign, HIMSS used several techniques to engage its staff and membership. “We went out and interviewed members,” says Sanders. “We surveyed members. We pulled all the survey data that was ever collected. We had focus groups. We made them a part of our testing with our site.”

Sanders stresses that this approach was necessary because of how HIMSS defines its purpose and identity. “We let them walk with us every step of the way because HIMSS is our HIMSS,” she says. “All 80,000 of us make up HIMSS.” 

Be flexible

It’s important for leaders during a rebrand to have a little flexibility and be ready to adapt on the fly.

“You have to go into it knowing that your plan is going to require some adjustment,” Sanders says with a laugh.  “You start with your idea … in the back of your mind you know you always have to make adjustments and plan for the unknown.”

Part of what makes a rebrand so dynamic and difficult is that what you are trying to change isn’t a static object, but a living organism.

“You never forget that you are restructuring something that is living and breathing,” says Sanders. “There will be some pushback. Especially when you all are so committed and it really is a mission-driven organization.”

Have fun

Sanders last piece of advice is to enjoy the ride.

“A true rebrand is a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” she says. “The process is such a journey of discovery. It’s not just about the end result.” 

She adds that a true rebranding is an unparalleled learning opportunity for a communicator. “You will never get a more holistic view of how an organization is perceived by an audience,” she says. “It’s really a rare opportunity to shift the core of your organization and to bring that business strategy to life which is the most important thing.”

For a communicator who wants to demonstrate facility and expertise on the business side, a rebranding campaign might be the perfect addition to your work experience.

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