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Why the ‘4 Rs’ of healthcare branding are even more important in the age of Dr Google

Technology & Data

Why the ‘4 Rs’ of healthcare branding are even more important in the age of Dr Google


How can credible health information providers compete – and conquer – in such a cluttered consumer space? How do we help differentiate trustworthy sources of health advice – those dispensing the ‘good oil’ – from those peddling ‘snake oil’ on the web? Sarah Cabret explores.

These are some of the questions that Family Planning Victoria grappled with while undertaking its recent brand evolution and name change (following half a century of operation) to Sexual Health Victoria. 

As anyone worth their marketing salt will tell you, the ‘two Rs’ of effective branding are relevance and recognition. This is backed by the third, research. And, finally, revision to ensure the brand is constantly meeting the market’s expectations. 

Research reflected what many in the medical and health sector have also reported: a heavy reliance (61 percent of respondents) on web searches for health-related information and symptom checking. The COVID-induced lockdown exacerbated dependence on ‘Dr Google’. 

Dr. Google

The rise in ‘diagnosis by keyword search’ is unsurprising. It’s convenient and a general feeling during the pandemic that GP appointments should be reserved for ‘really sick’ patients. The web is also an attractive option for people who feel shy or embarrassed about vocalising concerns of an intimate nature. 

The plethora of problems associated with turning to social platforms or Googling health information includes: the complexity of health issues requires an understanding of patients’ unique context to accurately diagnose and address; the growing amount of medical misinformation online; and the minefield of ‘sponsored’ content. 

In short, a mass of health information shared online is not written by accredited health professionals, therefore the information (although well-intended) can result in serious harm. In some cases, it can have lifelong impacts, such as unintended pregnancy or infertility in the sexual health space. It is difficult for many consumers to differentiate between a ‘sponsored post’ with the intent of selling snake oil, or those written but doctors as part of a health promotion campaign. 

The challenge for all of us who are credible health information providers and advocates is educating consumers about being sceptical and savvy regarding the sources to trust.

This includes:

  • Emphasising that Australia has a world-class health system and there are many government (look for ‘.gov’ web addresses), major hospital and not-for-profit organisations (‘.org’ web addresses), that publish credible information
  • Being attentive to the author of information and the platform you’re placing your trust – be careful of commercial sources and those that have been ‘reviewed’, not written, by a qualified expert
  • Avoid sponsored links and content – and definitely those with the word ‘ad’ attached. 

So, to revert to our original ‘4 Rs’ guiding principles for Family Planning Victoria’s brand evolution to Sexual Health Victoria, and hopefully offer some valuable lessons to others in the healthcare sector embarking on rebranding, we’re keen to share key learnings from our journey. 

For our organisation, having relevance meant reviewing our name to accurately reflect the organisation’s current service offering and focus, as well as society’s changing attitudes towards relationships, sexuality and sex. 

Since establishing our organisation in 1970, our remit has moved into a more equitable approach, with the breadth of the application of our expertise extending considerably.

Greater awareness and support of LGBTQIA+ communities has also meant that we have the ability and scope to make an even more meaningful impact in the community.

Our rebranding has included updating our visual identity – as a symbol of our services and values. We wanted a visual identity that incorporated storytelling. Therefore, we have adopted a new visual identity that features a speech bubble to symbolise the importance of having open conversations about sexual and reproductive health. The imagery of an open door reflects the organisation’s judgement-free environment. 

Similarly, removing ‘reproductive and sexual health’ from our slogan and retaining the core values/services of ‘care, education and advocacy’ makes it easier for consumers to understand what we provide and stand for.

Our immediate and ongoing challenge is to communicate who Sexual Health Victoria is: an inclusive organisation run by some of the best sexual health care specialists and educators in the country. Our services are for the sexual health of everybody; our purpose is to provide contemporary and equal access to sexual health care and education, regardless of age, gender, sexuality, religion, finances and otherwise. 

We trust that time will tell whether our new brand and name will achieve its desired objective of conveying a professional, approachable, welcoming, and inclusive organisation, which empowers sexual health choices and wellbeing for all. But as we all know, our brand is an evolving being as is the community in which we serve.


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