A Deep Dive into Health Care Branding – An Interview

Recently on the DIY Marketing Bites Podcast , I interview Vince Parry on my podcast. He is a health care branding expert and shared a wealth of knowledge. Below is our interview, it was a meaty one! So – you can find the numbered sections to help guide you to the areas you are interested in. 

Hope you enjoy. 


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Diving into Health Care Branding with Vince Parry

Emily Foster: Hi Vince, thanks so much joining me today!

Vince Parry: It’s my pleasure Emily. Thanks so much for having me. 

Emily Foster: I think like we were saying before that my audience is going to get a lot out of this. Most of us are health care professionals. We work with the food industry or we work with other health care brands to help bring health and wellness to the forefront. So, I want to dive right in. I’ve mentioned a little bit about you already but in your own words, could you let us know sort of a bit about yourself, your background and what you’re doing today because I know you have a book that’s just come out, which is quite exciting I’m sure. So, please, let us know. What are you up to?

Vince Parry: Well, I’ve been in the health and wellness marketing, branding and communication fields for over 30 years. I come from a medical family, actually. My father was a doctor, brother is a doctor, mother was a receptionist in a hospital. I was working in pharmacies when my friends were mowing lawns and washing cars. So, I got an upfront look at the health care transaction model and I’m a writer, like I said, by discipline. So, you put the two together and you get health care communications. 

I worked in a lot of big agencies, Saatchi and Saatchi, Inventive health where I was the chief branding officer for 12 years. Last five years I’ve been working in my own design firm, Parry Branding Group, which is a full service health care brand identity boutique that’s specializes in health and wellness, which I know is very important to your audience. 

Emily Foster: We like health, Vince. So, tell me, what’s your favourite part about working with brands in the health and wellness industry?

Vince Parry: I think it’s the puzzle of it. When you work in consumer branding, and I say this in my book, it’s like playing checkers really, whereas health care branding it’s like playing chess. The transaction model and the issues are much, much more complex. The end user usually can’t make a determined purchase on their own if it’s a regulated pharmaceutical product, which means the brand has to appeal to both health care professionals and patients and insurance companies or payers or the other parts of the links of the chain. 

The products are very complicated and the diseases are very complicated. A lot of the times these are sort of life or death matters. So, you have to avail yourself of whatever the regulations and rules tell you you can and can not do. To use another sports metaphor, you’re playing tennis with a higher net. So, I really love branding and I’ve done consumer branding but I really love health care branding the best because it’s the one that challenges me the most and what I feel does the most good, quite frankly. 


Emily Foster: Definitely. Vince’s book is Identity Crisis, Health Care Brandings, Hidden Problems and Proven Strategies to solve them. I’m really, really enjoying the book. I’m about three quarters of the way through. What I find really interesting and you just mentioned now, Vince, was that health care branding is a bit of a … I don’t know want to use the word “beast” but, the health care professionals have to be on board as well as the end user, the people who are actually taking and using that particular medication, if you will. So, it is sort of two completely different sets of people you need to win over, isn’t it?

Vince Parry: Absolutely. You know in consumer branding goods you’re really brokering a sale, whereas in health care branding you’re brokering a dialogue. 


Vince Parry: You want to have a very productive and informative dialogue. It is a dialogue, it should be a dialogue anyway, between a health care professional and a patient. That’s really what the brand is trying to do, is trying to create that conversation but, it’s really funny. There’s a big, big difference between health care branding and this is one of the reasons it causes identity crisis is when health care brands try too hard to perform like consumer goods brands. 

Emily Foster: Yes. 

Vince Parry: They get into a lot of trouble how consumer goods branding is about a celebration of self. Hey, I got a new Dior bag! I bought a new BMW. I got tickets to see my favourite sports franchise. But, when you’re buying health, you’re not buying a celebration of self, you’re providing a restoration of self or a protection of self, trying to essentially get back what illness has robbed you of. It’s a very, very different type of process. 

Health care professionals are actually my number one audience because we got to the health care professionals first. I’d say at least six months of studies have shown that it takes somewhere between four to six months to build up about 75 or 80% awareness about a brand and its issues. We want to make sure that health care professionals are well informed because there’s nothing worse that when a patient asks a health care professional a question and it’s the first time they’ve heard this question. 

Doctors and nurses don’t want to be caught off guard. They’re still the number one, despite the internet and everything, they’re still the number one source of trusted information about health. You want to make sure that they’re comfortable and ready to have that dialogue long before a patient comes in armed with whatever they’ve picked up online or on TV or in print or whatever, to have that conversation. 


Emily Foster: Yeah, and it’s interesting too because as health care professionals, we are very much trained to not have a bias either. So, it is different, I guess, with the different brands. I mean, there are regulations for them too as to how they can advertise with health care professionals and more or less, “win them over” too. It’s a little bit tricky from the health care professional side to really be on board with one specific brand.

I guess one of the things that I wanted to bring up that you mentioned just a bit before and I believe in the book you called it the celebration fallacy. I love this because I think we still see health care brands doing this today where, as an example, I think you mentioned arthritis medication where it’s people running up the stairs, running down the beach, big smiles on and them, and the medication sort of comes on the TV at the end. It’s just not realistic. So, can you explain what the celebration fallacy is in a bit more detail?

Vince Parry: Sure, and I’m speaking to you from New York City in the United States so, the United States has … There’s no holds barred here. Any pharmaceutical can advertise on TV in 30 seconds or a minute. I know in other countries, in other global markets, that’s not allowed and quite frankly, I’m anti pharma ads on TV for many reasons. I just don’t think they help. I think they do a lot of damage.

Emily Foster: Right. 

Vince Parry: In any case, the celebration fallacy is in recognition to the fact that medicines aren’t soft drinks and hospitals aren’t hotels. They should behave differently because of the very thing I talked about earlier, which is it’s about a restoration of self or protection of self. So, this idea of a celebration fallacy is when you start to get ads that operate in entertainment magazine or entertainment forums like Bite TV or even in online portals that are trying to be less clinical and more sort of commercial, if you will. The brands start to take on the tone that you’d use to sell smartphones and vitamin water and you know, and clothing and things like this. 

Sickness isn’t entertaining and what happens is, is you get this clash of identities. One that’s supposed to be responsible and serious and helpful and nurturing and caring and another that’s trying to be funny and sympathetic and cajoling and it’s just the … The brand personalities clash and you get an identity crisis for the brand. It begins to look and sound like something people celebrate. There’s a commercial here in the United States on TV that was running for the longest time by a brand called Uralax, which actually is a very good laxative but they have people running around saying, “I love my lax!” 

Emily Foster: Yeah. 

Vince Parry: No one wants to talk about constipation. No one wants to joke about it. No one wants anyone to know that you have it. Let alone running around and having it crocheted on a pillow or putting it on a bumper sticker on your of ‘i love my lax’. It’s given pharma, I think, a very bad name. It sounds like we’re trying to unreasonably hawk products, which I don’t think is the case. I think it’s just, like I said, a mix match of medium and message. 

Emily Foster: Why do you think, because I agree with you here. I mean, I’m a dietitian and a lot of my listeners are dietitians so, we actually do talk about laxatives quite a bit but, it’s probably more than any other health care professional. But, what are your thoughts, why are health care brands still doing this? Why is it in 2017 we are still … They’re still promoting it as if it’s something fun, when really it’s obvious that it’s not. What are your thoughts on that? Why are brands still acting this way when it comes to advertising and branding?


Vince Parry: Well, I think it has to do at the procurement level at a lot of these pharmaceutical manufacturing companies. Here’s the equation. It’s like okay, so we want to go to the population at large. We want to go to consumers. So, who better to reach consumers than a consumer advertising agency. So, they hire these consumer companies, which operate on a consumer goods model. So, they’ve gone to the wrong person. It’s like if your roof leaks they’re calling a plumber instead of a roofer. 

Emily Foster: Yeah. 

Vince Parry: It’s they’re really calling the wrong people and I’m not trying to denigrate what the consumer agencies do when they stick to their knitting. They do a great job of promoting also into things like fast food chains and big pickup trucks and things like that but, they just don’t know what they’re doing and they precipitate and identity crisis. So, I think a lot of the times, because that equation falls to part when you say, when people get sick they cease to become consumers. They’re not themselves anymore. They’re behaviors are different and they’re buying habits are different and what they’re seeking in a buying experience is different. 

I call them, in my book, I call them resumers. They’re trying to resume as much of a normal life as possible that illness has sort of compromised in some ways. So, that whole equation of, hey, if you’re going to go to a consumer, hire a consumer agency. No, you want to hire someone who understands resumers. Someone who understands that they’re trying to restore something and that this isn’t a funny matter. The best thing I think a heath care brand tell somebody is that no one will know you have the affliction that you have. 

Vince Parry: Discretion, I think, is a great health care value. 

Emily Foster: Yes, I like that. I like that term resumer. I think there’s a lot of truth in that and it’s interesting because again, a lot of the health care professionals who listen to my podcast have their own businesses and really, I think, struggling trying to promote what they do to their potential clients because again, it’s not … We’re selling a service to help you get better and the messaging around that is really, really important. 

Vince Parry: Yeah, absolutely. There are definitely settings where that kind of dialogue, an open dialogue, is absolutely appropriate but it’s not like you see in TV commercials. People don’t have lunch and all sit around talking about deep vein thrombosis. You do that with your health care professional. That’s perfectly normal setting to do that in. 

Emily Foster: Definitely. So, you quote in your book, “but the cold hard truth is that sick people don’t want anyone to know about their illnesses or treatments. They keep it to themselves.” You just sort of spoke on that and I just got back from a takeaway and restaurant innovation show in London. There were a group of dietitians that had a stand there and a lot of us are working with the food industry and the health and wellness industry to bring health and wellness to the forefront. 


One of the examples that I wanted to give was that a dietitian had worked with a steak house to develop a type one diabetes menu, to help those customers of that restaurant know how many units of insulin they would need to have to eat that meal. We’re working a lot with the food and health care industry in general. We get asked a lot on how to position the health and wellness messaging, if that makes sense? So, how would something like that type one diabetes menu for that steak house, how would you suggest or what are your thoughts on how that could be promoted because technically, you don’t want people to know that you have type one diabetes. You just want to be living a normal life. What are your thoughts around that?

Vince Parry: Well, two fold actually. One is, to rebrand it from a more clinical message to a more lifestyle oriented message. Again, I haven’t been involved in the programs that you site so, I’m unaware if they’ve done this research or whatever. The first thing you should do actually is ask the very customers themselves what they’d be looking for. A lot of times, health care professionals make the mistake of saying, “Well, I’m a health care professional. I know what’s good. Let me go do this for them.”

It’s much better if it’s done in concert with the audience you’re trying to reach and say, “I want to get this message across. How do you want to receive it?” Between the two … I mean, people don’t often know exactly how they want to receive it but the dialogue will produce some insights into what’s the best way to do this. There’s two big pieces of advice I could give. One is to mimic the ways that … I find it’s very difficult to make people do math. 

Vince Parry: Even when you see on some menus here in New York City where I live, they’re required to put the calorie counts up next to the food. 

Emily Foster: Yeah. 

Vince Parry: And stuff like that. So, a lot of people have no idea though what calories are. If they see, oh it’s 1,000 calories, I guess that’s good. But if you tell them no, you’re normally daily intake should be somewhere between 2,000 and 2,300 or something, whatever it is. Then, it puts it in perspective. So, I think that if you rebrand it and maybe create something like a health index or something along those lines. 

Emily Foster: Right. 

Vince Parry: So, number one on a health index would be the healthiest one. All the math has been done to figure out this is the meal that has the best chance of keeping you compliant with your recommendation, your healthy diet recommendations. 

Vince Parry: You often see that there’s a four point health index. Weight Watchers, which I know is big in the United States and I know it’s a global brand. 

Emily Foster: Mm-hmm (affirmative). 

Vince Parry: Are your listeners familiar with Weight Watchers?

Emily Foster: Yes, we have it in Canada and the UK as well.

Vince Parry: They have a great … By the way, I’m not affiliated with Weight Watchers in any way. 

Emily Foster: It’s okay Vince!

Vince Parry: But I think their customer relationship management program is one of the best in health care I’ve ever seen. They use points. They don’t even expect you to count calories. They just say you have 30 points for the day and this bag of peanuts is going to be four points and this bag of cookies is going to be eight points. You get the message after a while that I should be eating the nuts instead of eating the cookies. 

People are budgeting. They can do that. They can say, “You know what, with each meal I shouldn’t eat more than three health points or five health points” or something like that. You have to really make it very elementary and then, it becomes somewhat of a social game rather than necessarily, I’m treating myself or I’m denying myself the joys of eating. That’s one way is to rebrand it. 

Another way is to … So, there’s two ways. One is to rebrand it as maybe a … You know how Planters Nuts does a heart healthy mix. Now, I eat that mix because I have heart disease that runs in my family, for instance. Now, I don’t know why they chose the nuts for that mix. I don’t know why pistachios may be better for my health than cashews or any of that but I don’t have to need to know that. They’re just telling me this is a heart healthy mix so, rebranding it is one. Trying to create some kind of numerical index that’s more elementary. I think would be a better way, not a better way, but more of a proven way of going about it. Does that answer your question?

Emily Foster: Yeah, it does and I think a great example how I see that maybe some of my listeners have heard of before, especially if they’re from the US or Canada. So, in grocery stores in the US and in Canada, there is a program, not across all stores, but there’s a program called The Guiding Stars Program. Have you seen that before by any chance Vince?

Vince Parry: No, no. It sounds interesting though. What is it?

Emily Foster: Yeah, so it basically takes the guess work out and it is a rating system from zero to three stars. The more stars something had, basically, the healthier it was. There was science behind it and it was based on algorithm with how much fat, how much salt, how much protein and then, omega-3 and so on and so forth. 

And, like you said, the end user, the customer in the grocery store, didn’t have to think about it. They just knew that if they went to the cereal aisle. If they saw a cereal box with one star on it versus three, they knew the three was better for their health. It was funny because that actually had a bit of a backlash between health care professionals that were working with the program because there was a lot of criticism as to if it was too simple. But the reality is, and I think you just drove this home, it’s not that you’re dumbing it down. It’s the fact that people don’t have time to learn the science behind it and don’t necessarily want to. They just want to live a healthier life. So, the consumer really, or the customers in that store, really, really liked the guiding stars program but it had a lot of controversy between different health care professionals and I think that just comes from a lack of understanding that the end user, the customer, doesn’t want to necessarily know everything behind the scenes. They just want to be healthier. 

Vince Parry: Yeah, especially with a chronic illness because again, going back to my thesis about the idea that when you get sick you’re not yourself so, when you’re buying health care you’re trying to buy a restoration of identity. On a chronic basis, you don’t want to sit there and say, “Oh, I’m the person who now has to count calories. I’m the person who now has to know my hemoglobin A1C. I’m not the person that …” I’ve heard people say that, that there was this change to their identity, and you say, “you know what, no. You’re just a person that has to be a little smarter about the way you eat, and a little bit more disciplined about the way you exercise and behave. Here’s an easy format to help you do this, so you don’t feel like a leper. So, you don’t feel like some wounded member of society. Yeah, go to the aisle, just eat three star stuff.”

Now, I sympathize with the health care professionals who say that might be too simple, but there’s a middle ground somewhere between too complex and too simple. If it’s maybe not three stars, if it’s something else, if it’s five and if the scale needs to be expanded. But, the principle is the same. You have to make it so that it becomes more easy to adopt it in to your life so that people don’t struggle with it and distract themselves from, let’s face it, the rest of their non sick lives. They want to deal with the rest of their non sick lives as normal people. Any system that makes that turn key and easy, is going to be complied with. 

Emily Foster: Yeah. That’s great. I’m glad we had that discussion because I think that gets brought up a lot in health care with any sort of programming, whether it’s a food rating system. Like you said, the calorie counts on meals. Now, there’s a shift too where it’s … it isn’t all about calories but that’s sort of the easiest thing to put on a menu so that’s what ended up going on there. So, there’s controversy about all of that, which is always – 

Vince Parry: Well, that’s the counter argument too. The fact that it might be overly simple is that, just because, like you said, if you’re just looking at an insulin perimeter, you may be ignoring the fat content, you may be ignoring the nutritional aspects of what you’re eating. Let’s face it, dietary needs are very, very complicated. Especially when one perimeter is out of wack and the metabolism tries to rally around that. Everything begins to change in ways where you need to be a little more holistic in how you approach it instead of just counting one variable, in my opinion. That’s my opinion anyway. 

Emily Foster: Definitely. So, changing tack a little bit here, in your book you went on to talk about the five best practices for a successful brand strategy workshop. I think this is something a lot of health care practitioners, because they worked in research or clinical studies, are quite familiar with facilitating focus groups for research or program development. So, could you talk a little bit about the five best practices for a branding strategy workshop and perhaps, how a health care professional working with a brand could use that.

Vince Parry: Sure. God, I see I have to remember all five. 

Emily Foster: I know. I’m not trying to put you on the spot here Vince. I just thought it was interesting! (laughter)


Vince Parry: Well, the whole idea … First of all, we need to see workshops as a tool, or a focus group as a tool, meaning it’s a means to an end. There are many different ways of using that means to the different ends that you want to achieve. When you’re doing a focus group, you’re trying to understand either of a consensus of opinion, which, I think, is what focus groups are best for. Or, you’re trying to understand a division of opinion, a very clear division between one part of the group and another part of the group. 

The workshops that I do are trying to do something a little bit more like the first part of it, which is we’re trying to build a consensus around what brands stand for. That’s how I work with my clients. You have to use the workshop as a tool because what happens is, is you’ve got a bunch of different individuals, and they’re from different backgrounds, meaning the different disciplines. Some are medical clinicians, some are marketing people, some are the lawyers that have to talk to the FDA or the EMEA about restrictions. Some are from the EU, some are from Asia, some of are from the United States. So, you’ve got this amazing, sort of, heterogenous body and how do you build a consensus about what a brand stands for?

It’s not just about me sitting down on a piece of paper and writing out three or four strategies that I think are pretty smart. A workshop is really designed to help bring people along with a self discovery type of approach and come to a consensus in a more organic fashion. So, the idea isn’t just to build an agreement. It’s to build enthusiasm and connectivity between many different parties. So, that’s one aspect of it, is to realize that you’re trying to build a consensus here about how to go about doing something. And-

Emily Foster: Sorry, could I just jump in quick because I’m curious. With these focus groups or with these workshops, are you bringing the health care professionals, and the potential customers as well or would those be two separate workshops?

Vince Parry: It’s a great question. Those are two separate things because the dynamics are a little different. 

Emily Foster: Ok. 

Vince Parry: We do one workshop where we’ll work with health care professionals around … Usually, it’s around diagnosis, and the health care dialogue. That’s when I’ve used it mostly, rather than brand advocacy necessarily. 

Emily Foster: Right. 

Vince Parry: Where you bring six doctors into a room, and you sort of have a little mini focus group and talk to them about, “Okay, weight management.” I’m just making this up. 

Emily Foster: Sure. 

Vince Parry: Weight management, I’ve done a lot of this. Who brings that up? You or the patient? How long do you talk about it? Do you use any visual materials in your discussion? Do you give them anything to read? What are the types of questions they ask? What’s your role in it? Are you an advisor or are you a dictator or are you a friend? Etc. 

Then, you bring them in a research setting for those that haven’t been there, behind a two way mirror, one way mirror rather, so that the doctors are observing a group of patients that come in. Yes, it was the exact same questions and guess what happens, Emily. The answers are all different. 

Emily Foster: Yeah! I bet! I bet. What an eye opener for the health care professionals, I bet!

Vince Parry: Exactly. So, my job then is, well what do you do with this if you’ve got two different perspectives. I haven’t done my job really. So, as I said before, we bring the two groups together and then, point out the differences and try to identify conversation starters, barriers to more open dialogues and things like that and try to arrive at a mutually brokered discussion model that we can then put into educational programs for health care professionals and even patients. 

You’ve probably seen those little brochures maybe in doctor’s offices, how to talk to your doctor about diabetes. How to talk to your doctor about vaccination or whatever the case may be, whatever the issue may be. Those pamphlets are authored by patient advocacy societies, such as the American Cancer Society and other types of medical societies and patient advocacy groups. Or, they’re created by manufacturers having people like me do the research on them in focus groups and in workshops to build, again, very important, a consensus. You want an agreement. You want an enthusiast agreement between all parties so that everyone feels an ownership of their role in the dialogue. 

Now, another aspect of it is, is people get into a bad habit that when you ask direct questions, they lie. This is human nature. This isn’t people being disingenuous. This is just people being human nature. If you ask doctors, “So, how much TV do you watch?” They, “Oh, I really don’t watch a lot of TV.” You go, “Well, what do you watch when you watch TV?” “Oh, I watch news programs.” Because they don’t want to be seen somehow as being less than ivory tower professionals that are oh very educated and everything, you know?

Emily Foster: Yes. 

Vince Parry: But if you change the way you ask a question. For instance, if this brand were a TV show, what TV show would it be and why? I’m just completely making this up. 

Emily Foster: Right, right. 

Vince Parry: They’ll say, “Well, it’s more like a reality TV show.” Suddenly they start talking and don’t even realize they’re revealing, yes they do watch TV and they’re revealing it in a way that helps us because they’re trying to make an analogy between a particular brand, and a particular TV show. Well, it’s more informational in nature. It’s not fake. It’s real because of the reality TV show. It’s more aligned with musical goals, like The Voice, rather than like humiliating you like The Bachelor or something like that. 

Emily Foster: Yeah. 

Vince Parry: That’s the next lesson in doing workshops and focus groups, is to give people exercises, and these exercises are taken from behavioural psychology where behavioural psychologist use a number of different techniques, and you can find them in behavioural psychological text books or just read my book. 

Emily Foster: There you go Vince. Nice little point there!  No, to be honest though, I do think when I was reading through your book, and I’m still going through it now, there are some really good lessons there for health care professionals, even if they’re still working in a clinical setting because like I said, a lot of people are working with groups of people. They’re looking to get an answer for how people are interacting with things and how they liked different programs. Like you said, using some of those different analogies, so it’s not directly about, “do you watch TV?” As an example. Your reframe it and you get more valuable answers. 

Vince Parry: Yeah, there’s one example in my book that I mentioned where, whenever you talk about Alzheimer’s patients, the one thing everyone talks about is, oh, they feel so bad they can’t remember the name of their grandchildren. Well, we tested that hypothesis. We had, and this is on behalf of a brand I was studying. I said let’s test that hypothesis. 

Emily Foster: Yeah. 

Vince Parry: We had Alzheimer’s patients write down a list of the things that they worry about the most. The top five things you worry about the most. Then, we had them do a pie chart and we said, allocate different pieces of the pie to the things you care about most. So, in other words, what you got was the thing they were considered most got the biggest piece of the pie and second biggest piece, third biggest piece, etc. The first biggest piece wasn’t not remembering their grandchildren’s name. It’s was being a burden on their own children. That was their number one concern. 

If you didn’t do that exercise, you’d never know that. So, again, people like to be distracted. Or, I shouldn’t say like to be, need to be distracted in order to really participate in a workshop because it’s a discovery process. They need to be surprised at what they learned. It’s like, “Oh, I thought it was this. It’s really this.” It’s a very indelible lesson and people learned it all together so they become a little community of belief. That’s really what branding is all about, is creating these communities of belief about either a product, a service, or a company. 

Emily Foster: Yes. It’s very easy to walk into situations like that and just assume you know the answer. Like you said, as health care professionals, we can be guilty of that because we do work with these clients on a day to day basis but as you said before, what people say to your face, and we know this is health care professionals. It’s like when you ask how much alcohol do you drink on a weekly basis? Oh, a couple glasses a week. Oh, yeah so how big are those glasses? You start to get into it and it comes out that it’s a lot more than that. Right, wrong, indifferent usually the first time you ask a question like that, people aren’t going to necessarily come out with the most accurate answer. So, you can’t really assume the first answer of what you already think you know is the right thing, if you will. 

Vince Parry: Yeah, depending on the answers, people lie, I’d say, anywhere between 30 and 60% of the time. That’s the studies that I’m familiar with so, it’s human nature though. I never lie to my doctor. I think that’s a fool’s errand. I want them to know how much I drink every week and tell me to stop. 

Emily Foster: That’s right, yeah. Well, you’re not everybody Vince, let me tell you! So, you brought up, in your book, because not everybody on the show is a marketer, brand versus branding, can you just quickly give us a run through the difference because you sort of started off your book with that. So, brand versus branding. 


Vince Parry: Yeah, there’s a lot of confusing definitions out there so, I try to simplify it as much as possible. It doesn’t start with the product service or company. It starts with the customer. 

Emily Foster: Mm-hmm (affirmative). 

Vince Parry: So, branding is the art and discipline. It’s both. It’s more of a discipline almost than an art. But, it’s the art and discipline of taking a value that customers have about themselves and then, transposing that value into a product, service, or company so that when those customers engage with that product, service, or company, they’ll see a flattering reflection of their own values and say, “That’s me. That’s what I want to be. That’s what I don’t want to be, etc.” They make choices that way. 

Brands are basically product, services, or companies that represent a unique set of values. But those values are bedrock values of the customer and that’s one thing health care doesn’t do a very good job of. They love to talk about their products. Their products are very good. The products are amazing. They extend life, they reduce suffering. They reduce pain. They help people live longer, healthier lives and all this stuff. I mean, the health care industry is amazing and it’s not surprising you want to just shout to the roof tops about how great your brands are but, quite frankly, a brand is something that’s very customer focus and starts with the customer and understands, “Hey, I’m looking for authoritative, respectful, clinical advice.” Alright, let me put that into a brand and we’ll call it Advil. 

Emily Foster: Right. 

Vince Parry: It’s not flashy. It’s not serious. I’m sorry, it’s not flashy, it’s not whimsical. People aren’t out playing tennis taking these pills. These are people with real pain and guess what? You’ve just put a doctor in a bottle as authoritative, respectful, and serious. That’s a way of imparting the values they want to buy into the product, service, or company that they are buying so that they say, “I’m buying back a piece of myself or, I’m buying something that maintains who I am.”

Emily Foster: Right, and for those of you who are listening, if you’re not from North America, Advil is ibuprofen so, there are many sort of brands of ibuprofen but Advil is the big in North America that Vince has just spoken about. They’ve done quite a good job with their branding, haven’t they? I know you mentioned them in your book but, they have got their sort of branding down pat. 

Vince Parry: Yeah, I was very fortunate to work on the brand went it went from an RX brand called Motrin to a consumer brand called Advil in the United States. I was very fortunate to work … I worked on both that and it’s number one competitor from Bristol Myers called, Nuprin at the time. That’s off the market now. 

Emily Foster: Right. 

Vince Parry: They positioned Nuprin as a lifestyle brand whereas Advil was, “first there was asprin, then there was Tylenol, and now there’s Advil”. Making it look like an evolutionary or revolutionary process, which quite frankly it is. The pills in the United States are brown. They’re not exciting. They’re get it done medicine. They’ve done a tremendous job and they’ve never veered from it, even with new competitive introductions. Nothing has really surpassed that in the last, God, 35 years, 40 years. 

Emily Foster: That’s interesting.Thanks for taking the time to explain brand versus branding. I know it’s probably a fairly basic thing but nice for us to know. The last question I wanted to ask you was more about something that I get a lot of questions on and it is about logos. So, a lot of health care professions or professionals that are leaving the NHS or any sort of public or private health care system, where they’re fully employed or trying to starting their own businesses, whether it’s within the food industry or as a consultant, as a freelancer. I get a lot of questions on how important is a logo? Where do I start? And that’s in your book. 


What I really liked in your book is that you compared logos to flags. So, I’m wondering if you could speak about that. 

Vince Parry: Sure. Absolutely. I think logos are one of the most misunderstood pieces of communication on the planet. Everyone knows what an ad is and what it’s supposed to do or a TV commercial and what’s that supposed to do but, I don’t think there’s a real good understanding, even among people in the agency worlds who have a great understanding of what a logo is. 

To me, a logo is like a flag. It shouldn’t be the star of the show. The star of the show is what the flag represents. So, it’s the person, it’s the service, it’s the product, it’s the company that’s being represented and the values that are being represented. What a logo should do, basically is, it’s just … It’s a symbol that basically sums up in people’s minds a connectivity between that brand and the values that the brand disposes. It can’t be more than a couple because you’re dealing with a series of letters, letter shapes, colours and maybe a symbol or something. That can bare only so much weight. 

So, the common mistake everybody makes is either to under design their logo, which means let me just pick a type face on my Macintosh computer and that’ll be my logo. Or, over design it, which agencies do all the time, which is let me make this a circus. Let me have five different things going on and the logo is squished and I’ll make it four colours and we’ll highlight the period over the “i”. What happens is, the logo becomes such a distracting flag you lose sight of what the brand is about because it’s trying to do too much and as a result, when something tries to do too much it fails to communicate anything at all. 

An example I give in my book is take a look at the American Flag. The American Flag is the most over designed flag in the world. Its original intention was about unity with its 13 stripes for the original colonies and a star for each of the 50 states or however many states. It had to be redesigned 36 times because as each state would come in they keep redesigning it, you know?

Emily Foster: Yeah. 

Vince Parry: And yet, if you hold that flag up unity isn’t the value that we esteem anymore. I mean, our country is seriously divided into red and blue camps and freedom is the value that’s come out and yet, our flag really doesn’t stand, visually, for freedom. It stands symbolically for freedom but visually, it’s a very regimented flag. 

so, the simpler you can make your logo and the more original you can make your logo in basically using custom type faces and things like that and minimal amounts, especially in health care, and minimal amounts of colour and wackiness or whatever, the more your brand … You can fill your flag up and fill it with meaning that’s going to be immediately understood, rather than try to force that meaning down people’s throats when you design the flag. Leave it more of an open book so to speak. 

Emily Foster: Right. 

Vince Parry: If you look at like the Japanese flag, which is just a … It’s a red ball in the middle of a white background. It represents the rising sun, which says basically they’re the first country that gets the sun in the world, which means the sun rises on their country. But, that has a whole sort of host of implications about pride and about geographic orientation and stuff that still allows for the nuances about what the Japanese are all about as a people and a culture.

Emily Foster: Yeah, and I like the analogy with the flags because I think that’s easy to understand as well. The other question that I get a lot about logos is, “is it important” … So, a lot of people will sort of dabble in … They have their own business but it’s maybe a side business until it starts to pick up momentum and obviously, the logo isn’t necessarily the first thing on people’s mind. But I don’t know, maybe it should be. I’m curious to hear your opinion. When they go freelance and when they start their own business; how important is it to start with a logo or can you start with something quite simple and then, as you’re discovering sort of what your, I guess, brand if you will, is about then, you get a logo made. What are your thoughts on that?

Vince Parry: Well, if you’re pretty certain about what your brand stands for, then you should do a logo because it’s a visual asset. I mean, think of it like an asset like money in the bank, so to speak. 

Emily Foster: Yeah. 

Vince Parry: In your brand equity bank, in the tools that you have to sort of introduce people to your brand. If you’re pretty sure about what your brand is, it means you have a strategy. I want to be all about efficiency. I don’t know, whatever the brand is going to stand for. 

Emily Foster: Sure, sure. 

Vince Parry: I want to be about power. I want to be about reassurance. These are the kinds of values you have to get it down to. One or two big ideas like this. A logo is a way of teaching people how to understand that very quickly. But, if you’re on the fence and you’re still evolving your identity and you’re saying, “I’m not quite sure. I’m experimenting here and there.” It’s perfectly okay to sort of lay out a type face that you feel comfortable with. 

But, again, it’s not random. There are lessons in the book that talk about this. That if you want to be about being powerful versus about being reassuring, imagine the different type that when you go look through the type faces, it’s going to change. Put your brand name, either your personal name or the name of your company or whatever, put it in different type faces. Try it out on your computer and see how the typography changes the visual meaning of that word, of your brand. That’s a fun exercise to do. 

Emily Foster: Yeah. 

Vince Parry: Then, there’s a whole host of colour psychology. Different colours mean different things. So, I’d probably read a little bit about colour because different colours mean different things. Green tends to mean renewal and innovation. It’s like the Spring and it has its own meanings, green, like about being a responsible citizen these days, going green and stuff. Blues are associated with reassurance and confidence an authority. That’s why police uniforms are blue. 

So, that’s one reason you should consult a logo expert is they can give you some good advice on what kind of colours that you should be using. In the absence of any direction like that though, with people who are still experimenting, I would avoid multi colour logos and go with just one or two to keep it simple. But pay attention to it because the last thing you want is an opportunity presents itself and you’re going to be featured in an advertisement and you don’t have a logo. Now, in three days, you’ve got to come up with something that should have taken a few weeks to think about. That’s when you know you made a mistake and you didn’t prepare ahead of time. So, at least have something that’s ready to go. I don’t know if that answers your question or not but-

Emily Foster: Yeah. 

Vince Parry: If you have a good idea, if you have a solid idea, I would go right to a logo and try to get that down on paper because opportunities will knock and you’ll be ready. 

Emily Foster: Mm-hmm (affirmative). I think, yeah … It’s funny because I think a lot of people probably just feel as though “well what if I want to change it in a couple months time?” I say, well, the idea is that if you have a firm idea in your head as to what types of clients you want to work with, what you stand for, then this is a logo. Invest in it now, whether that’s money, time. Invest in it now and it’ll serve you well in the long run. So, I think that was some great advice there about the logo. 

A lot of health care professionals moving from a clinical environment to more of a freelance environment have a lot of questions about that so, thank you for taking the time to answer it. 

Vince Parry: Sure. Also, take a look at what everyone else is doing too because if you’re a dietitian and your first idea is to have a knife and fork and a plate in your logo and you found out, oh you know what? 20 other people have that same symbol in their logo. That’s also very important is do a little research.

Emily Foster: Yes. Great advice. Great advice. So, again, Vince’s book Identity Crisis, Health Care Brandings, Hidden Problems and Proven Strategies to Solve Them. Vince, you want to give us just a quick overview about what the book’s about? Then,we will part ways!

Vince Parry: Okay. So, I initially wrote the book for people working in the health care industry and then, I had a very bright agent who said, “You know, a lot of these ideas Vince are about health and wellness and anyone who is touched by health and wellness issues should read this book.” So, it went from a rather dull academic book to somewhat more of a story telling book. The book actually recounts my time and I’m still going strong, my time in the health care … In the trenches working on well known health care brands, working on the issues about how to understand illness and how to package it and communicate about it with customers so that there’s a real engagement, and a true engagement, and an honest engagement about it. 

The book goes from talking about health and wellness in general, and our changing ideas about it, to more disciplines about how to actually do it. How to actually hold workshops. How to design. How to do research, etc. So, it’s a mixture of some nice sort of chapter length essays on health and wellness in general, about the different parties involved, all the way to procedural aspects about actually how to get it done. The book is available at online book retailers. Any online, .com, book retailer. You can order the book either in paperback or in an E-book format. 

Emily Foster: Are you thinking about doing an audio book?

Vince Parry: I haven’t had a demand for it. Why? Is that something that you think people would want?

Emily Foster: Well, I’m just thinking because I’ve seen you’ve been on a … I forget the guy’s name but I’ve seen you’ve been on a couple of podcasts so, that audience is very receptive to audio books and I know I’m biased because I quite like audio books. But, I do think it’s something that … I don’t know what the process with that is but I would consider it, definitely.

Vince Parry: Well, it sounds like me reading my own book. 

Emily Foster: Hey, that’s alright. It’s nice that way. It’s personal, right? And people read a lot on the go too so, that’s why I love podcast as well. 

Vince Parry: Well, I’m going to pitch that idea to my agent and see what he thinks about that. Thank you. 

Emily Foster: You should. You’re welcome. Vince, again, thank you so very much for coming on the show today. Just a wealth of knowledge and I feel very honoured to have you on the show. If you, again, if you want to pick up Identity Crisis, you can head to probably the widest one would be Amazon. So, Amazon, you can pick up Vince’s book there or any other online book retailer. But Vince, thank you so much once again! It was great to have you. 

Vince Parry: Well, it was really fun talking with you Emily. I really appreciate it. Thanks so much.

Emily Foster: Thanks so much and good luck with your book!

Vince Parry: Thanks!

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