New: Brand promise, visual identity,
and unifying brand architecture
Launched: April 17, 2013
Story in brief:
"The vision was in place" said Scott Davis, Chief
Growth Officer for Prophet; "but they knew their brand was not
strong enough to support it."
Formed by the 1997 merger of two North Carolina hospitals, this
non-profit service provider grew regionally, by acquisition, to
encompass 13 hospitals and 343 clinics, plus outpatient surgery
centers, medical plazas, diagnostic imaging centers and such, served
by 24,400 employees including 1,123 physicians in four states. Their
integration, into one coherent and superbly managed system would
enable both better quality of care and future growth. Integration
had been compromised, however, by a branding strategy more suitable
to a holding company than a hands-on operator. Visually, all units'
visual signatures featured Novant's blue type and green swoosh;
verbally, however, they continued to use their heritage names as their primary
brand -- in effect denying integration.
In January 2012, the trustees promoted Carl Armato from COO to
President and CEO. He brought with him an audacious goal, "to
make health care remarkable," and the conviction that a more
seamlessly unified brand would better engage Novant's people in that
Who could help? As it happened, a management colleague had
recently heard Scott Davis, Prophet's 'Chief Growth Officer' speak at a healthcare marketing conference;
end of story. Prophet won Novant's comprehensive identity
assignment, challenged, said Davis, "to build the brand that could
business strategy to life. In my 25 years' experience he
was probably the most brand-engaged CEO I have ever worked with."
The critical question: Would patients welcome a newly
dressed, more assertive and pervasive "Novant" as their health
care provider, master of such trusted local institutions as Charlotte's
Presbyterian Hospital? Prophet's due diligence included
reviews of extensive prior research, competitor position analysis,
physician interviews, patient focus groups and many work sessions
with Novant's leadership team. All findings confirmed that in
today's unsettled health care environment, the promise of a more
seamlessly integrated network, superbly managed for quality
in both care and service, is highly appealing both to patients and
to other health care providers -- thus rebranding could drive regional
expansion, as well as increased share in home markets.
The next question: how to rebuild the previously bland "Novant" (functionally viable as a name,
though not quite yet seated well enough to discard its
"Health" crutch), to more credibly represent that leadership
Finding an ownable color was an early focus of Prophet's New York
design team. It could be anything but blue, a North Carolina institutional
cliché (think Duke and U.N.C.), or blood red. Purple,
ultimately, was chosen for its fit to excellence, its warmth and above
all, for its availability and ownability.
Because "Novant" was felt still to need the "Health" industry
designator, Prophet's logo design explorations emphasized
symbol-based rather than wordmark-based strategies. And
naturally, symbol ideas included monograms, NH's as well as N's. But
when one positive/negative NH exploration produced a heroic N, a
colon, and a hidden H (quickly seen comparable to FedEx's arrow), it
seemed to capture the process. "We must have developed some fifty
logo treatments and refined six or seven" said Scott Davis, "each
with its own strengths. But the first time we showed this one, and
every time we showed it since, it dominated the conversation. Most
people see only the colon at first, and that alone opens a
conversation we want to have. When they discover the hidden H, they
no longer see just the colon. It starts a broader conversation on
what this new Novant is all about, and on the future of health
Prophet's designers locked the purple N symbol to a stacked
Novant Health wordmark (dark gray, all caps and in two-weights) to
form a complete (if complex) master brand identifier, also the
anchor in a unit signature system that enables retention of local
heritage names. The N symbol can also function as a
freestanding logo, and can even be locked to text other than the
name -- a themeline, for example -- in hopes the colon will
invite further conversations.
An internal launch event was staged in February, two months
earlier than the public launch, to provide needed production
time for public launch materials and to begin Brand Ambassador training;
1,000 key employees, drawn from all units, came together in
Charlotte for that purpose. (In a fresh
twist, in exchange for new logo-bearing hats, shirts and similar
'swag,' all employees were encouraged to bring in old-logo items for charitable donation.)
C.E.O. - Carl Armato, President and CEO
C.M.O. - Jim Tobalski, then Kati Everett, VP Corp.
Mktg. & Comm.
Identity planning and design - Prophet
Strategy lead Scott Davis (Chicago), creative lead Andres Nicholls
Strategy: For creating and
communicating a culture of excellence, driven at scale by coherent
leadership and shared values, the elevation of "Novant" from
endorser to master brand was an absolute requirement. Wrapping
it in a strong and distinctive visual system then makes the promise
credible, by manifesting the presence of disciplined,
Design: Most of the identity weight is carried here by
the color purple (okay... aubergine), a smart and effective choice.
Caution: As the months and years pass, insiders will tire of all
that purple. Outsiders won't. So stay strong, stay purple.
The N symbol however, (or N-colon or NH) is - to my eye - a mixed
blessing. It functions well, and is visually appealing, when in
isolation (whether or not the H bleeds or abuts an edge).
Purely visually -- setting aside, that is, whatever "colon" might
suggest verbally in the given context, and ignoring the hidden H (a
short-lived frisson, more conceptual than visual) -- when adequately
isolated, the three forms combine to make one effective symbol.
But when that N symbol gets locked to the stacked Novant Health
wordmark, in two weights yet, the resulting mark becomes one
cluttered clump; although the lockup is verbally
understandable, and for now communicatively effective, I
find it visually overcooked. (Better, perhaps, to use one weight
for both words, in confidence that people will nevertheless migrate
to Novant alone, the natural communicative name.)
Unit signatures, old and new...
CEO Carl Armato