North Shore-LIJ rebrands to Northwell

North Shore-LIJ Health System, which was created through a merger 18 years ago, announced in September that it was changing its name to Northwell Health. Working with InterbrandHealth, the new name marked the start of a broad rebranding campaign that launched full force in the new year, with a promotional video documenting a birth at midnight on January 1.

InterbrandHealth’s Executive Creative Director R. John Fidelino had a chance to chat with Northwell Health’s Senior Vice President and CMO Ramon Soto about what drove the change and how it impacts the company’s broader growth strategy.

Fidelino: Why did you think North Shore-LIJ needed a name change? What wasn’t working or being reflected in the brand?

Soto: There were three areas where the name fell down. First, it didn’t really reflect the depth and breadth of our system. It was named after two of the principle hospitals but we have 21 of them—in addition to world-class research centers, an insurance organization, a new medical school and 450 ambulatory facilities. I think we’re up to 62,600 employees. The smaller construct doesn’t allow us to communicate the scope of all that we do.

Second, it reinforced a Long Island-centric view of healthcare in a market that places more value on a Manhattan or New York-centric view. That prevented us from telling the right story—we always had to address the assumption that we are Long Island-based. Major regional expansion is a critical part of our growth strategy, and that assumption doesn’t play well in other markets—it has no brand value in Westchester County, Philadelphia, New Jersey, Connecticut or Massachusetts.

The third piece—which InterbrandHealth pointed out to us and we knew intuitively—is the linguistic challenges of the name. You sound out the first and second words but then the third part—LIJ—is an acronym. People trip over the name all the time. So when we’re trying to take consumers on a healthcare journey, establishing who we are becomes an obstacle that automatically hinders our ability to take that journey with them.

Fidelino: You mentioned your expansion strategy as a crucial driver for the renaming. Do you think this kind of expansion for health systems beyond the local market is something we’ll be seeing more of throughout the country?

Soto: Where geography is an issue, scale becomes very, very important, and you can achieve it a couple of different ways. You can go for market concentration, but then you run into issues with the FTC, competition and almost too much density within a specific market. Or you can go for geographic breadth—expand into a broader area so you get the economies of scale but you don’t run into the regulatory issues.

Our strategy is to grow based on market opportunity. We needed a name that was a good platform to do that so we could maintain consistency and simply transition our marketing to a different geographic area but tell the same story about who we are. I think the new name affords us the opportunity to do that.

Fidelino: Digging deeper into the brand name itself, how do you feel the Northwell name will drive your future?

Soto: The power with Northwell is its elegant simplicity. You take the natural power of the word “north,” which generates all these wonderful attributes of healthcare: direction, destination, partnership, journey. And we get to tap into that very naturally given our legacy with North Shore-LIJ. Then you tie that to where healthcare is going—a transition to “well care” as opposed to healthcare. Then you tie it all together—one word, one brand, one concept that’s ours to own. I think it really helps us simplify our ability to tell the story.

The name is a wonderful platform to talk about what’s new and different in healthcare. It is a little different from conventional names in the New York market but it’s very versatile. I think the natural attributes of the name are the connective bridge to who we are and what we do. It will take time to build that up but we’re happy with where we are.

Fidelino: You’re getting ready to launch as Northwell Health—is there anything that fellow brand marketers should know about bringing a new name into the world?

Soto: The amount of detail is often overlooked. We’ve got more than 2,000 external signs, a fleet of 800 vehicles, and hundreds of thousands of consumer touchpoints that need to be migrated to the new name. Additionally, there’s a new value proposition to promote in the marketplace: We need to build the right level of brand association with our old name—showing that North Shore–LIJ is now Northwell Health—and share the new story behind this innovation. Part of that has to be blunt—the worst thing we can do is confuse consumers.

The next hurdle is mobilizing the institution to do this collectively. The company has to embrace the brand and move it in a positive direction. That’s been the biggest lesson for me: For this to be successful, everybody has to have a vested interest in getting this to the right place. And the need to mobilize everybody and move in the right direction has probably been the hardest part of the job.

With that said, everybody is ready and energized, so we have momentum. There’s a lot of pride and excitement, and we’re really optimistic about where we’re going. We have a really good story to tell and a really good platform to tell it.

This interview originally appeared on brandchannel.

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Executive Director, Creative