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Leadership/Management

From the Officer's Desk: Branding and Organizational Identity

The cycle of organizational identity

Leaders must be committed to ensuring their organization establishes and maintains a positive business image. This must be a top priority and ongoing commitment for all members of the organization.

Successful organizations typically have clearly established identities that differentiate them from their competitors. Just providing a product or service is not enough—leaders must ensure their offerings are embraced by consumers and connect with them emotionally. Consumers will embrace a product or service if it adds value or creates a positive experience in their lives. 

The concept of branding goes well beyond the scope of this article; however, considering some basic branding fundamentals may prove beneficial for EMS organizations. 

It is not uncommon for public safety agencies to seek support from their community and elected officials. If such agencies don’t have a plan to promote their organization’s identity and commitment to maintaining a positive brand image, can they truly expect support from a community that’s unfamiliar with the services they provide? If an EMS organization depends on promoting its services only to those who request them, it will miss a huge opportunity. 

To avoid that mistake, start by creating a strong organizational identity and brand. 

Organizational Identity

Ritz-Carlton, Disney, Amazon, Southwest Airlines, Starbucks, Nike, Vizio, Zappos, and Netflix are all recognizable corporate entities, but how did they achieve such strong identities? Organizational identity is built upon delivering a quality product or service and ensuring it adds value and creates a positive experience for the consumer. An organization’s identity is created by internal stakeholders establishing a clearly defined mission. The stakeholders then provide the organization’s product or service to consumers, attempting to deliver value and a positive experience. Depending on the experience, consumers determine whether they will support the product or service, which will then take form as the organization’s brand. 

“Brand” is a feeling or perception the consumer has. The product or service is then evaluated in that context, resulting in a brand experience. The brand can either be positive or negative as perceived by the consumer. As a brand comes to be seen as positive, it becomes distinguishable from its competitors, elevating the organization’s identity.

Establishing the Brand 

Organizational leaders must clearly articulate the product or service the organization provides. In EMS patient care will be one of several essential services provided. 

Delivering quality care to your patients must be the organization’s primary mission; it is a promise made to the community for times of need. However, the delivery of quality EMS service is only one part of the equation—it falls to the customer (patient), customer’s family members, coworkers, bystanders, hospital personnel, emergency department physicians, and others to decide how well the service was provided.

An EMS organization’s internal stakeholders may do everything possible to make the service being provided exceptional; however, external stakeholders must also be considered when determining whether the service is good or bad.

If external stakeholders acknowledge the service as meeting or exceeding expectations on an ongoing basis, then a positive EMS service brand will begin to form. If care falls short of such stakeholders’ expectations, then the organization’s brand (service) image will begin to suffer, harming the department’s identity. 

Maintaining a Positive Brand 

Just as with clinical care, organizational leaders must routinely monitor service outcomes and continuously adjust and improve to enhance brand awareness. This can be achieved by: 

  • Emphasizing the mission and vision that define the organization’s identity;
  • Interviewing patients and family members to gather feedback and adjust or improve the service;
  • Conducting patient surveys (by mail, by telephone, or preferably in person);
  • As an organizational leader, observing the level of service being provided by spending time with EMS crews; 
  • Working with external stakeholders such as physicians, emergency department personnel, and vendors, and seeking feedback as to how the organization can improve; 
  • Quality management reviews of EMS service delivery from all levels;
  • Marketing the organization’s product or service.

Marketing the Brand 

Leaders must empower their personnel to continuously deliver and market the organization’s brand. This should be part of the brand management plan. 

A logo can be a useful visual representation. Logos should be simple to read and clearly define their company’s type of business. Similarly, taglines should be simple and short and should clearly articulate a positive message about the organization’s identity. Some good examples include “Just do it” (Nike), “Just plane smart” (Southwest Airlines), and “I’m lovin’ it!” (McDonald’s). 

If leaders don’t promote their brand, it will be difficult for their organization to maintain a positive identity. Any department’s identity is complemented by the success of its brand. 

Closing  

Look at surrounding agencies and ask yourself, Does my organization stand out? Does your organization provide a service that is superior or somehow different from your competitors? The goal of every organization is to be recognized by internal and external stakeholders as providing superior service, adding value, and exceeding customer expectations. 

It is important to benchmark your organization against successful organizations that do a great job of promoting their identity and brand. All members of the organization must continuously demonstrate why their brand is superior to other EMS providers' and why community and council members should support their organization. 

Orlando J. Dominguez, Jr., MBA, RPM, is assistant chief of EMS for Brevard County Fire Rescue in Rockledge, Fla. He has more than 30 years of EMS experience and has served as a firefighter-paramedic, flight paramedic, field training officer, EMS educator, and division chief. 

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