The Med Becomes Regional One Health

A big problem with creating brand names is that people don't always use them the way you want them to. We don't like long or complicated names, and we won't use them.

We shorten them. The University of Tennessee is "UT." Or we create nicknames. The University of Mississippi is "Ole Miss." Until The University of Memphis comes up with something easier than nine syllables, it'll remain "Memphis State" to many.

Federal Express didn't want to be FedEx, but the public chose two syllables over five. The company finally capitulated.

The CEO and board have changed The Med to "Regional One Health." But people won't say "Regional One Health" just because the board and CEO tell them to. People will try to shorten it, which won't be easy. They'll try to create a nickname, which won't be easy. Or they'll just keep calling it "The Med."

Brand names fall into five categories. 1) Proper names, such as Pugh's Flowers; 2) geographic, such as Southwest Airlines; 3) alphabet soup, such as IBM; 4) word combinations such as Kleenex; or 5) work-descriptive, such as Budget Car Rental. (The Internet created a sixth for the likes of Yahoo and Google.)

Most successful names are brief, identify the business category, and many imply a benefit. A great brand name is 1-800-Flowers. It identifies the business and how to buy. Holiday Inn identifies the category and implies relaxation. Budget Car Rental tells you it's cheaper than Hertz.

In 1983 the board of John Gaston Hospital changed the name to the Regional Medical Center at Memphis. John Malmo Advertising, Inc., was hired to tell people it was better than a charity hospital. We knew the public wouldn't use the new name. We suggested the board keep the official name, but allow us to create an identity people would use. We created The Med, and despite naysayers the public accepted it quickly.

Then TV commercials featured The Med's three centers of excellence, Level 1 trauma center, neo-natal center, and burn center. The number of privately insured patients increased almost immediately. Alas, hospital management changed, and the advertising was stopped.

Medicine is a job for professionals. Naming brands is a job for professionals. It's hard to believe that professionals were involved in "Regional One Health."

It's unclear what "Regional," an adjective, modifies. "One" or "Health" or "One Health?" It's hard to know what the three words are intended to mean. They don't seem to fit together, don't define a hospital (the primary business), or imply a benefit. The words are not euphonious, and the name is long and generic.

More important, though, is that changing the name is not the solution to The Med's public persona. The way to attract more privately insured patients is to give them confidence that the hospital is safe and effective. That will take a lot of the right advertising continuously. A simple, memorable brand, like The Med, would help.

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