When consumers are asked which brands matter most to them, it’s commonplace to see sleek, modern, consumer-oriented, largely tech industry brands leading the pack – the globally renowned entertainers, connectors, communications devices and services providers.
Interestingly though, in Prophet’s 2017 Brand Relevance Index™ (BRI) – ranking brands on how indispensable they are to consumers’ lives – we do see a decidedly different brand bubble up in the UK rankings: the national treasure that is Britain’s National Health Service (NHS). Tipping in at #14, it’s one of the biggest gainers of relevance over the past year, outperforming traditional players such as the BBC and disruptive platforms including YouTube and Instagram. But, why now?
NHS’s Increasing Brand Relevance
The UK political and social landscape, in good company with others around the world, has seen significant turmoil in the past year. From a new prime minister to the beginning of Brexit proceedings to leave the EU, there have been some shockers. The NHS’s increasing brand relevance perhaps speaks to a level of uncertainty for UK consumers that runs deep at the moment, resulting in a trend towards an even stronger appreciation for the very backbone of the nation. We want, and need, strong and stable services on which we can rely and depend.
Despite the strikes and the scathing ‘NHS in crisis’ news headlines, as well as mounting pressures on the institution and by extension the brand, the NHS is much more ‘beloved’ than ‘bemoaned.’ It even inspired a theatrical nod from Danny Boyle during the 2012 Olympics opening ceremony in London, themed around ‘the best of British.’ There undoubtedly exists a real love of the NHS, and if it’s not always ‘love,’ it’s at least certainly a pride in the equality, high standards and respect it demonstrates.
Brand Purpose Drives Brand Relevance
Delving into the research from the BRI, what is most striking is that the NHS is the highest ranked brand of any in the UK (and also comparably in the US and Germany) for the element “Has a purpose I believe in.” This globally significant spike around purpose gets at the heart of the resonance, resilience and continuing relevance of the NHS brand – deeply social, trustworthy and reassuring, with a purpose to serve all. As a nation, Brits are proud to have a healthcare service free to everyone: rich or poor, old or young, no one has to worry about affording good healthcare.
It’s perhaps for that very reason that the NHS doesn’t really have to make attractiveness a primary goal, though positive perception definitely helps its cause. The NHS brand illustrates a commitment to strong consistency, maintaining trust and quality perception. Its defined tone of voice is clear, honest, respectful and accessible. Communication about sensitive topics must aim above all to demonstrate genuine understanding, so listeners or readers feel empowered and informed. The NHS brand touches nearly everyone in the country and in a highly personal way, existing for all and essentially owned by all: it needs to connect with a wide audience, and it does.
Overall satisfaction with the NHS in 2016 was 63%, steady from the year before and generally on an upward trend in the 2000s. Intuitively, this seems pretty good for something so complex, political and intimately experienced by so many.
Innovation and Patient Experience Struggles
Where the NHS is lacking, clearly illustrated by the BRI results, is in the innovation stakes. There is undoubtedly innovative thinking happening behind the scenes, but it is not being framed up explicitly enough in messaging. There is significant opportunity to dial up the reality – that delivering high quality with limited resources and constant, diverse stakeholder pressures could and should entail the very definition of being innovative.
Additionally, the NHS has a significant struggle with aspects of its customer / patient experience. It’s notorious for a number of ‘pain points’ in some arenas: waiting times, both to book appointments and to be seen on the day, unequal distribution of resources (the ‘post code lottery’), staffing cuts which are feared to lead to lapses in care and sometimes do.
As a purpose-led brand, the authentic, transparent effort to address problems in the customer experience is credible – the NHS in particular is built on trust, even in the face of fallibility. Initiatives to understand patient experiences and enact change improve both its experience and its brand, despite the potentially great difficulty of executing wider scale change.
Ultimately, the NHS brand is not sexy, or as trendy as many top scorers, but it’s clear and steadfast value proposition strikes a compelling chord. UK consumers today, like those all around the world, are more discerning, educated and interested than ever before in where brands come from and what they stand for. The NHS and its Britishness make it feel homey, safe and evermore valuable, and it remains one of the world’s largest and best-performing publicly funded health services. Its gain in relevance in this year’s BRI is demonstrative of the consumer pull towards brands with a deeper purpose in turbulent times.
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