Ilan Geva on how can a CEO build a strong brand in healthcare and medical tourism?

Mr. Ilan Geva

The 6th medical conference was held in Greece from 12th -14th February organized by EuroEvents, the famous European company. Mr. Ilan Geva, a globally renowned branding expert graced the event. His thoughts on the role of the CEO in building a strong brand in healthcare and medical tourism received huge applause. Dr Prem Jagyasi caught up with him in the meet for a brief interaction. Here are the excerpts.

Mr. IlanGeva delivered the key secrets and strategies in brand building

Dr Prem: Good Morning Mr.Geva. It is always interesting to hear from you. Lots of discussions on brand building are  floating around. Every organization big or small has felt the need to create a brand.  In today’s healthcare business it is more relevant given the growing market competition. So what according to you is the key to brand-building?

Your brand is in the hands of your CEO. If you have a visionary CEO, you have a good brand. If you don’t have a brave and committed CEO you don’t have a good brand. I don’t care which technology you use or how skilled are your personnel. This is true for all businesses including the healthcare business.

Dr Prem: That’s interesting.  Could you please explain more?

It is the CEO who must know what branding is and lead the brand. His job is not only to build the brand. It is the optimal thing.He should do more. He should understand the intricacies of branding.  Suppose, if technology is driving your brand then your CEO should be a tech expert. He should really understand the tech business and its contribution to the brand.

It is not that people should go to him every time to convince him of what is required to do. He should have the knowhow and come up with initiatives.Also, if humanity is driving the brand, the CEO should be compassionate as well. Else he would be rendered a mere technocrat. Being a technocrat alone does not drive business or build the brand.

Dr Prem: Then what the marketing department has to do? Don’t they have any role in it?


Not directly. The marketing department is not in charge of the brand. It may sound revolutionary. It may sound controversial.But, I strongly believe this.I have seen many marketing departments. They don’t build brands. They execute marketing strategies mostly based on market conditions.They are there to satisfy the CEO. At the end of the day, they execute the CEO’s orders. They are not independent. Of course, not all are like that…

Dr Prem:  Then what about the name, logo, slogan etc.?

This is an old concept, the name, the logo, the slogan help to create a memorable brand. All these things signify the product or service. Yes, this is the marketing department’s job to make it fine aligning with the product or service of the company.

You know, most of the marketing departments today are responsible for sales. It may seem contradictory. The line between marketing and sales is often blurred though there is a subtle difference. The chief marketing officer is often in charge of sales. If the sales chart does not grow, the chief marketing officer will not be there for long.

Dr Prem: True. So how do you define a brand?


The brand is an intangible asset that resides in people’s minds. It defines the expectations of the people of the benefits that they would receive from a particular product or service. The expectation of a certain standard or value, whatever you deliver.

Now, these expectations are not built over a day. These develop over time through communication but more importantly by your actions. You know people are tired of words. They see how you are acting on your deliverables. They judge you by what you do than what you say.

Dr Prem: Absolutely….

You have seen Amazon. It is a huge brand. But what are they doing? They are delivering other brands at your doorsteps ata specified date and time. This is what they have promised from day one. You place orders online and get those in 2 days. In some places, it is in 1 day. You are happy. That’s it. People are happy. Amazon is doing what Sears did 100 years ago. The technology has changed but not the approach. Of courseconsumer expectations have changed dramatically!

Branding is experiential. People experience your brand. Is it good, outstanding or bad? For a corporation, it is everybody’s responsibility to deliver the brand and create a great experience for customers.Being good today is a failure, you must be exceptional.

Dr Prem: In healthcare, doesn’t it resonate with patient experience?


Yes. It does. Today, we hear a lot about patient experience. It has been around for years. In a hospital, every employee be it physicians, nurses, janitors or even technicians everybody is responsible for delivering a great patient experience. Everybody has the responsibility towards the brand. This is something an organization needs to build, to take care of the brand.

There is nothing new as it existed forever. Patients judge your brand by performance. They experience your actions, not your claims. You know people are tired of hearing ‘I am the best’. All are claiming the same. At least I get extremely bored by these messages.

At the same time, you need to give time to grow on patient experience. The average time on the job of a chief marketing officer is 43 months. The average time for a CEO on a job is 100 months. How can you build a brand in 3 years? A CEO on the job for more than 7 years has a better chance.

Dr Prem: So do you mean to say that CEOs should do things differently to create the brand?

Well, in a way yes.If you scan a list of renowned CEOs and think deep, you will be able to spot a CEO who is different, the one who makes major brand decisions. It is not the marketing chief. This makes a big difference in brand building.

If you ask me to name a CEO different from others, I would say Indra Nooyi. I would place her at the top of the CEO list. Remember, she didn’t start Pepsi Co. When she joined as the CEO, the company has already established itself in the market. But she took charge of the brand.

What is amazing that during her tenure as a CEO, the revenue rose by 80%. The company became bigger and stronger. She took charge of the brand. She led the brand with her able team. Undoubtedly, there are many CEOs doing a great job and are commanding a respectable position.

Dr Prem:  Which areas CEOs should focus more when it comes to creating a brand?

creating a brand

I feel there are three major constituencies that make a brand or an organization. Every organization has employees, stakeholders (shareholdares) and customers. In healthcare, we have patients. In some organizations, the CEO puts employees first. Others put patients first, Some operate with the shareholders in the number one position.

Guess what? These three approaches will create completely three different brands. Whoever you put first or is at the top of your priority creates your brand image. It does not matter if the hospital is of the same size, have the same number of doctors, nurses, rooms or same equipments and facilities etc.

Now, the guy putting shareholders first has fewer chances to survive. He will be concerned about shareholders and profit more than anything else. I am not hesitant in saying this. The organization putting the patients first will fare better in brand building. Another CEO that puts employees first will see a much better performance of the hospital. So it is up to the CEO to decide who will be the number one in the organization. This has a major impact on the brand.

Dr Prem: What other traits of CEO are crucial?

The CEO must be visionary. We hear a lot about this but very few are able to get close to it. Let us take the example of Dr. Reddy, the CEO of the Apollo World of Care. And what a brand he has created! He made decisionsimportant for the life of the organization. He has a strong vision. He asked for excellent outcomes and greatpatient acceptance. This is something very extraordinary I find. He touched the basic points of a healthcare business.

Moreover, he has compassion. This is very important in healthcare. Look, he is at the top of a big healthcare organization but still maintains this precious trait. He keeps personal touch in every little thing. I heard of one event about an overweight patient. The guy was so heavy that no single bed could bear his weight. Each and every bed would collapse due to his weight.

He personally took care to get a specially designed bed for this patient. This is called compassion taking care of special needs. Humanity, this is where he is going ahead. Where technology is pervading all aspects of healthcare he did not let humanity fade away. His motto is ‘Be hi-tech with hi-touch’.  What a wonderful motto for a healthcare organization!

Dr Prem: Great! This is really something different.

Mr. Ilan Geva globally renowned branding expert

This is not all. A CEO always needs to be curious. I hear Dr. Reddy despite being 90 years of age is still curious like a kid (laughs). Isn’t it something different? Any CEO, He/She should be always willing to learn. I would rather say, keep learning. You cannot say, Oh I know enough. I have nothing to learn. No, that is wrong. Keep asking questions, be curious and courageous. That is the way to succeed.

Dr Prem:  If you talk of humanity in healthcare, you cannot omit the honesty factor. What is your take on this? It affects the brand image a lot.

Yes. Next is honesty. I won’t say people in healthcare organizations are not honest but we have seen some tall claims. This is something dangerous. Some clinics are promising what they can’t deliver. This does tarnish the reputation of all involved in the healthcare business. There are scrupulous people around. This is hurting everybody.

Another factor is also there. If something fails or goes wrong, they fail to take responsibility. They simply step away from it saying it is not their fault , but someone else’s. So the blame game starts. But Dr. Reddy is a cut above others. He maintained his honesty towards his patients. He clearlytold them if they need a specific medical treatment, one he didn’t excel at, they might go to a different place. He did not accept them if he felt that he would not be able to treat them 100%. This is honesty, honesty in self-assessment in delivering promises.

Dr Prem: Human resources are the most valuable assets of an organization. How do you think they contribute to the brand image? What role a CEO has to play to align human resources towards brand building?

brand building

I would like to continue with the same example of Dr. Reddy, a man who understands his human resources so well. Trusted doctors, nurses and paramedics form the crux of the care regimen in healthcare. He is a person who understood the clear distinction between business management and clinical management.

Simply put, he wanted doctors to get into their business without the business getting in the way. Those who know me for long hear me always say:“doctors don’t do marketing. They suck in marketing”. They should be in the operating rooms. They are much better out there. Let the marketing guys do their job.

So tell me, how many CEOs you have seen like him who did build a global brand?

Dr. Prem: Not many…

I agree. There aren’t many. What if you didn’t start a brand from scratch asSir Branson did.

What if you step into the CEO role within an established organization? What I recommend is to become a thought leader. Become an authority in your field. And if you cannot do that, you cannot be a great, brand building CEO. I am sorry.

Dr. Prem: True..

6th medical conference

Let me take another example, Dr. Gianrico Farrugia who became the CEO of Mayo Clinic two years ago. He is also a thought leader. This guy writes, thinks and publishes. Definitely, he is spending more time among the people and not just sitting in the office all the time. This is something different. He is a good CEO.

Dr. Prem: What would objectives of a CEO in brand management?

A good CEO must set clear objective (s). Do you really want to be the best? I have heard a lot of claims along the line of:“Oh we are going to be the best medical tourism hub in the world”. You want to be the best, prove it. Come up with supporting evidence. You want to be the most famous? Well, how much money do you have at present (smiles)? What are you willing to invest in that objective?After all, people normally say we don’t have marketing budget for that.

And if you want to be a global brand? Here you need to think about it seriously. Do you have what it takes to build a global brand? This was what I was talking of while discussing honesty. Do you really have those traits? You need to ask yourself. If you do not have all these things but go on trying, you may look quite ridiculous. What I mean to say, a proper self-assessment is important for a CEO to build the brand.

Dr Prem:  We often come across the term brand leadership. How do you build it?


You know, there is a classic brand leadership vs brand management model. You have to start from tactical thinking to strategic thinking. It is a big difference. It has to be from the perspective that people are reactive to things. You have to be visionary and think strategically about the future. Don’t look at what has happened in the past. Don’t always watch what your competitors are doing…You need to broaden your focus considering the future. Try to do things that have a broader scope.

Dr Prem:   Can’t the brand manager take the charge of brand leadership?

Well, this is another area where people often do not understand what should be expected from an average brand manager. You know, there is a long list of required responsibilities if you see the job listings. Freshly graduatiung students are thrust into the job market with an immediate expectation that they can perform the job of an experienced veteran.

Many MBA graduates look for the position of brand managers as the first job preference.  They get selected withgreat pay but they are handed over a stunningly long list of job requirements. The company wants them to perform all these things and as soon as possible.

Now, if the brand manager is assigned all the necessary tasks then what is left for the CEO and the Chief Marketing Officer? These guys will have nothing to do.  This simply doesn’t make sense. This is the moral of brand leadership in an organization. In the middle, we have the CEO as the brand leader. He should launch the activities based on the right decisions to create the brand. There is no easy way. It is tough. It takes time. It takes investment. It takes commitment and dedication.

Dr Prem: What are the prime tasks for brand leadership that a CEO has to perform?

Mr. Ilan Geva

There is a to-do list for brand-building CEOs in the healthcare category.

A CEO must personally be involved in research and development and innovation. I know some CEOs who are on top of the subject, Because they need to know what’s going on and have to be personally involved in dealing with something like R&D. It is part of the legacy of their brand.

He must be involved in travel and public speaking. He should author articles and books and give interviews. This is what we call PR but not the traditional format. It is more than that. It is an activity takes time and effort.

A CEO must personally be involved in visiting employees. Visiting patients. He must sit at call centers and take calls from prospective patients. You need to understand them. You don’t always get these while sitting in the office. You get data but that doesn’t do all things for you. Data doesn’t keep you in touch with potential patients.

CEOs must participate in international committees and be present in global conferences. This is crucial for CEOs to do andthey have to do it all the time.

CEOs might personally be involved in viewing all the marketing materials, make sure they fit the vision and mission of the brand. In short, they must lead. They are leaders. So they can delegate some work but be in control of the brand performance at all times.

We can pick up a few great CEOs in medical tourism who have created a role model in brand leadership. Ognjen Bagatin, the CEO of Poliklinika Bagatin, Croatia. A guy who is involved in all stuff of the organization. Another brilliant example is Dragan Primorac and his wifeJadrankaofSt. Catherine Specialty Hospital in Zagreb,. Dr. Vlasta Brozicevic, the founder and leader of Terme Selce, a pioneer in sports medicine in Croatia,The great thing about her is she cannot be replaced. They are great leaders who built the business being involved in everything.

Dr Prem: Health tourism involves a lot of tourism. So would it be better if more clinics seek CEOs from the tourism and hotel industry?

No. That’s the only answer. Let me explain why. Doctors also drive cars to their clinic. Would we hire a doctor to run Rolls Royce? I don’t think that there is a connection. These are two different businesses. One thing could be good if somebody has a good understanding of hospitality. It is a different quality.

If you understand hospitality, you will know how to provide the personal touch in the healthcare business. This helps a lot. But just because somebody ran a hotel successfully doen’t mean he can achieve the same in running a hospital or clinic, this idea simply doesn’t work.

Dr Prem:  But International Patient director can be from hotel industry?

6thMedical Tourism Conference and workshop

Yes. But definitely not a CEO

Dr Prem: Completely agree. But they can complement the requirements

Yes. Only in specific areas related to hospitality. Nothing more than that.

Dr Prem: Thank you Mr. Ilan for your invaluable thoughts over brand-building and the CEO’s role in it.

Thank you too for such a great interaction. I have co-authored a new book named Global Brand Management.

I often recommend it for aspiring CEOs eager to build global brands. You can refer to this book for further inputs.

Dr Prem: Sure. Have a nice time. Hope to see you again.

Internal branding is more important

Anna Guchok, Holistic Wellness Expert

In a recent interview with Anna Guchok, the holistic speaker and expert in wellness and medical tourism, he shared his insights on branding where he emphasized on internal branding.  Branding is a continuous process it does not end when people start talking good things about a specific brand.  To develop internal branding, an organization should work continuously by training the employees, learning from mistakes and listening to the customers to improve the performance and reputation of the brand. Successful global brands work on this philosophy.

Doctors need to create their own brand

doctors too need to engage in marketing and promotional activities

In healthcare, doctors too need to engage in marketing and promotional activities may be with a bit of professional help. With ample online opportunities available online, it would just take few hours of time instead of a huge marketing budget. To make themselves visible to the patients available online, they need to create their own brand making the best use of online digital channels. There is no other choice. A doctor needs to be active on social media, write books and articles or launch a unique website and create the image to the patients why they should choose him/her.

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