Taking care of the care business

The care sector is changing fast in challenging times. Which companies are going to thrive, and what is the role of branding in care?

Branding | 3mins read | Michael Gough

Taking care of the care business
Taking care of the care business

Care is something we will all depend on at various points in our lives, and a healthy care sector is vital to a healthy society. Despite its importance and the number of big companies involved, the sector hasn’t been known for its household names or brand recognition. That may be beginning to change. 

 

How are you going to maintain standards of care? How can you improve job satisfaction and staff retention? And from a business development point of view, how are you going to distinguish yourself in a sector that is constantly getting bad headlines?

 

Something rotten

All is not well in the care sector. There are periodic scandals and high rates of dissatisfaction among clients and staff. Perhaps most tellingly, there’s a retention crisis: of the 1.5 million people employed in care in the UK, 430,000 leave the profession each year. It’s often poorly paid and thankless work, with staff under constant time pressure.

This is partly a political problem, a failure to fund social care adequately. There are ideological aspects to the crisis in care: an over–reliance on market mechanisms such as competition and efficiency in a sphere of life that ought to be about relationships, trust and compassion.

The commodification of care has opened the door to investors looking to extract profits from the care system, with one in eight care home beds in Britain now owned by hedge funds or equity firms. When this happens, shareholder value trumps both user and staff satisfaction.

All of this is a major challenge to care firms. How are you going to maintain standards of care? How can you improve job satisfaction and staff retention? And from a business development point of view, how are you going to distinguish yourself in a sector that is constantly getting bad headlines? 

 

Many of start–ups are using new technology to streamline processes and empower users. That raises the bar for older companies, and established care firms are going to have to look at new technologies to maintain relevance.

 

Disruption cometh

A 30% turnover rate is an alarm bell that doesn’t just suggest an industry in crisis, but one that is open to disruption. The country’s population is both growing and ageing – and we have not yet reached our peak. In the coming decades, the number of people over the age of 75 is expected to increase by millions. It’s not just elderly people who require care. Government figures suggest more than half of the public spending on adult social care is allocated to those under the age of 65. Demand is growing, piling pressure on a struggling sector. While that exposes weaknesses, it also creates all kinds of opportunities.

Already a growing number of start–ups are finding a foothold, whether that is in flexible and transparent staff management, care planning or reporting. Many of them are using new technology to streamline processes and empower users. That raises the bar for older companies, and established care firms are going to have to look at new technologies to maintain relevance. Some are already responding. British Home for example, a 160–year–old care provider, has been experimenting with a variety of new technologies to improve their service.

Start–ups are also challenging the care incumbency through branding. The care sector hasn’t traditionally prioritised brands, but the newcomers do. Consider the polished simplicity of Florence, for example – a name that brings to mind Florence Nightingale. Or Lottie, which also takes a personable brand identity, this time for finding care home places.

These firms are deliberately targeting the known PR weak spots in the sector. Lottie calls itself ‘the people’s care company’, a purposeful rejection of the tickbox mentality mentioned earlier. The quality control start–up PerfectWard has heard the complaints about being rushed, and talks directly about freeing up more time for care. So does Birdie, which promises ‘more time’ and ‘better care’. 

 

The arrival of these bold and approachable brands in the care sector ought to prompt a rethink for long established firms… It’s all too easy to assume that you know your business and the way that it is perceived, but as the market changes around you, your position within it will shift.

 

Staying in the game

We’ve already seen this kind of disruption happen elsewhere. The established ‘big four’ banks were caught napping by brand and tech–savvy challengers such as Starling, Metro and Monzo. The ‘big six’ utility firms have seen their dominance threatened by firms such as Bulb or Octopus, who redefined the user experience and harnessed clear and impactful brand language – though recent events show that many new energy brands didn’t get a toe–hold in the industry.

The arrival of these bold and approachable brands in the care sector ought to prompt a rethink for long established firms. To begin with, don’t assume anything. We always say that relevance is like fitness: if you don’t work to maintain it, it will slip away. It’s all too easy to assume that you know your business and the way that it is perceived, but as the market changes around you, your position within it will shift.

The best thing to do is to ask. Find out what your customers and staff value most about you, and where they think there is room for improvement. Do a survey, and take the time to understand how you are perceived.

Secondly, let the feedback from your survey guide your brand development – what strengths did people identify? Does your brand reflect those? Do prospective customers see them on your website? If you were to compare your brand’s pitch to others in the sector, how distinct does it sound?  Are you using the same phrases as your competition?

Finally, does your visual brand reflect this new reality? This isn’t about following trends necessarily, but if your audiences are aware of modern and human sounding start–up brands, their expectations will be shifting. No matter how good your service, you may find yourself overlooked if your brands appears out of date and sounds out of touch.

If you want to run through this process with your company, book a brand review with us. We’ll help you measure the effectiveness of your brand, test the assumptions you hold, and give you a fresh perspective from an experienced brand strategist. A review will reveal quick wins to maintain relevance, and provide recommendations for the longer term development of the brand.

 

Email me to find out more.