LeadingAge Magazine · May/June 2016 • Volume 06 • Number 03

Making Your Organization Brand-New

May 14, 2016 | by Gene Mitchell

Re-branding and renaming a long-established organization can be an uncomfortable exercise in introspection and adopting new ways of thinking about its place in the world. Here is how 4 providers in differing circumstances navigated this complex task.

Last month, United Methodist Homes of New Jersey, which operates 5 life plan communities and 5 affordable housing properties in the Garden State, changed its name to United Methodist Communities with the tagline “Abundant Life for Seniors.” The move was made to better reflect the organization’s service offerings—including an increasing commitment to home and community-based services—and to create a brand with better statewide name recognition and impact.

In Stanton, CA, Quaker Gardens, a single-site life plan community, celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2015 by re-branding and changing its name to Rowntree Gardens. Despite a good reputation and a sound financial position, the organization’s board and management saw a need to update the community, raise its profile and modernize its campus to appeal to new generations of residents.

Jewish Home Lifecare in New York City recently re-named itself The New Jewish Home, its second re-naming in less than a decade. The Home’s leaders wanted to call more attention to the variety of its network of services and its commitment to innovative new services.

In the Phoenix area, when Arizona Baptist Retirement Centers’ 4 communities faced challenges caused by the housing market crash of 2008, the organization re-branded itself as LifeStream Complete Senior Living to raise its profile and attract new residents.

These providers assessed their place in their markets, researched alternatives with the help of branding firms, and made changes to alter consumer perceptions and align their public “faces” with the futures they desired.

While some provider organizations re-brand and rename, others are going the affiliation route. Just this month, two large California providers, ABHOW (American Baptist Homes of the West) and be.group, got the go-ahead from the state to unify, forming the largest not-for-profit provider in the state and the sixth-largest in the nation. LeadingAge will examine this and other affiliations, mergers and acquisitions in future issues.


“We wanted to have a brand that would be more outwardly focused, that would speak to our movement into home- and community-based services,” says Larry Carlson, president and CEO of United Methodist Communities. “We also wanted to update and modernize our language, and move to a monolithic brand.”

The organization’s 10 communities have for the most part been known locally by their individual names, rather than as branches of a statewide organization. That identity deficit created marketing challenges, but also caused difficulty in building relationships with health systems and in advocacy.

“When we would go to Philadelphia to work on our hospital partnerships, [VP of Operations] Carol McKinley would go to these meetings and people in the hospital would ask, ‘Why are you here, we want to talk to Collingswood Manor,’ and we would have to say ‘No, you’re really talking to United Methodist Homes of New Jersey, that’s just one of our buildings,’” says Carlson. “It gives them a recognition that we have a depth of resources in our system; people only saw it in silos.”

A statewide voice is also helpful when advocating in Trenton, the state capital, says Carlson.

Part of the organization’s rollout of the new brand is this brief video from Carlson explaining the changes.

Operating in the noisy New York megalopolis, The New Jewish Home wants to maintain its position as a leader and innovator, and the rebranding process offers an opportunity to raise its profile and market its variety of services.

“We’ve been around 168 years, but feel the need to stand out in all the areas we operate,” says Frederic Bloch, senior vice president, development and communications for The New Jewish Home. “There are so many important things we thought it was important for constituents—patients, families, hospitals, donors, elected officials—to know about it.”

“Our new name builds on our legacy of excellent clinical care and our passion for innovation,” says President and CEO Audrey Weiner, “and it makes clear our single-minded commitment to provide the best and most humane care for elders now and in the future, whether we’re providing that care on one of our campuses or in our clients’ own homes.”

According to Bloch, the earlier name change, from Jewish Home and Hospital to Jewish Home Lifecare, “served us well but it didn’t quite cover the transformative nature of everything we were doing. The board wanted us to be bold; standing out is important so people are having conversations about aging.”

Rowntree Gardens’ re-branding and renaming went hand-in-glove with an updating and refreshing of the main building on the 8-acre campus, including a complete overhaul of the common areas and several dining rooms, a parking lot and an exterior welcome area completed late in 2015. A new outdoor grill and dining area has been one of the biggest selling points for prospective residents, and very popular with current ones. Further work will occur over the next couple of years to update apartments.

Though financially sound, the organization wanted to attract younger seniors, including more couples.

“It started at the board level,” says CEO Randy Brown, who is also chair. “We knew we were 50 years old and needed a refresh, and we wanted to be more of a leader than a follower. We had plateaued. Memory care, skilled care and assisted living all remained fairly full. On the independent living side we knew we needed to improve the numbers. The board thought the big risk was not doing anything.”

A re-branding process can involve many phases—market assessments, organizational self-evaluations, changes in services offered, even new construction or renovation of bricks-and-mortar assets. Quite often, it includes considerable soul-searching by boards and management teams. But the outcome the public sees first and foremost is a new name.

The aging-services field, selling services that many consumers would rather not think about, is understandably sensitive to the language it uses to describe its services. All of the providers we spoke to had to face the limitations and strengths of their old names and craft new monikers to set a direction for the future.

An additional complicating factor for many LeadingAge members is the place of religious affiliations in their names. Many have re-branded with secularized names, though in some cases adopting names that allude to their religious origins. Many others have maintained explicitly denominational names, while a third group has kept denominational names but reduced the emphasis on them, for instance by moving them into a tagline.

Every provider we talked with says the main issue with a denominational name is the public perception that an organization is only “for” a certain group.

“It depends on what the soul of the organization is,” says Don Giller, senior project manager for BrandEquity, a marketing and brand communications firm that has worked with many senior living providers, including United Methodist Communities. “Those that have the religion in their name, it can be because that’s how they started 100 years ago. Is there a close connection [today]? Is there a structural relationship? In [some] cases they are committed to being faith-based but recognize that putting one religion in the name may not be market-sensitive.”

Giller notes that as participation in mainline religions is trending down, there are fewer people relating to specific denominations.

“Every organization is different,” Giller notes, “and in general I would say that to reach a broader audience it may make more sense to be less specific in the name—unless it really remains part of the soul of the organization.”

For The New Jewish Home, maintaining a close connection to its roots is a priority.

“Clearly there was debate about it,” says Bloch. “One of the reasons we decided to keep it was because everyone else was not,” an allusion to several other health care providers in New York that have taken “Jewish” or “Hebrew” out of their names.

“We were formed by the Jewish community and served only that at one time, but soon thereafter began serving everyone.” He acknowledges that the latter point needs to be continually reinforced and cites the Torah’s instruction to "honor the elderly" (Leviticus 19:32) as one of The New Jewish Home’s foundational values.

Bloch says the other words in the new name were also carefully chosen. “New” refers to the organization’s commitment to continuous innovation. The word “Home”—which many senior living providers are rapidly leaving behind—was chosen to refer to its positive meanings.

“People who have known us for years refer to us as ‘the Home,’” Bloch says. “Also, by building a Green House and small houses we have emphasized that this is ‘home,’” and should look like home, not like an institution.” He adds, however, that the fastest-growing part of The New Jewish Home’s business is, in fact, care in clients’ own homes. Regardless of where clients live, he says, “‘Home’ is a comforting word, a place you want to be and return to. Without the ‘New’ in our name it might be narrowing, but this is actually broadening.”

The most distinctive element in the new name might be its tagline—“Age Like a New Yorker”—that appears under the new name and was chosen to convey the fact that The New Jewish Home serves all New Yorkers, whatever their race or religion. Bloch says, “It’s a quintessentially New York institution,” operating in one of the most demanding and diverse urban environments in the world. (He also admits liking the way the tagline conveys attitude.)

For leaders at Rowntree Gardens, the old name, Quaker Gardens, put emphasis on identity rather than services.

“We did focus groups, and everyone saw [our name] as a connection to who we were rather than what we do,” says Brown. “But throughout the process we wanted a name with some connection to the Quaker faith. ‘Rowntree’ comes from Joseph Rowntree, a famous Quaker philanthropist from the UK. We have no direct connection to him but we have the same values.”

The organization kept “A Quaker Gardens Senior Community” as a tagline under its new name, and its website says, “Welcome to Rowntree Gardens, a senior living community by Quaker Gardens.”

LifeStream Complete Senior Living had the same concerns about public perception.

“We were formed by a small group from a Southern Baptist church just down the street in the late 1970s,” says Donna Taylor, executive vice president and COO for LifeStream. “But we were never formally affiliated with a Southern Baptist church except for a brief period of time.”

As the organization coped with declining residency in 2010, its research confirmed the “Baptist Village” name was a barrier. “We had a lot of people asking if [they] had to be Baptist to live here, but you can never count the calls that never came,” says Taylor. “The board decided a change was necessary.”

Taylor says the re-branding consisted mainly of the name change and some cosmetic upgrades. “We learned through the process that who we [already] were culturally was very good, and we had to find ways to articulate that.”

Taylor says that despite the name change, LifeStream still considers itself a faith-based organization.

Leaders of United Methodist Communities began their thinking about a new name by identifying antiquated words.

“We didn’t like the word ‘Homes,’ and while everyone says there’s no place like home, no one wants to be put into a home,” says Carlson. Some of our buildings were also called ‘Manor,’ and we didn’t feel that was contemporary.”

More important decisions had to be made about “Methodist” and “United Methodist.”

“We didn’t want to be exclusionary in any way,” says Robbie Voloshin, corporate director of marketing, who managed the re-branding process. “But we found that people felt good about the name, and [thought] ‘United’ was also a strong word. After a lot of deliberation we realized we’re not the type of company that needed to stray far from where we were. The name wasn’t broken and the brand wasn’t broken; it just needed a broader vision.”

Carlson says, “We spent quite a bit of time 2 years ago revisiting our vision, mission and values statements, which led to our new tagline, ‘Abundant Life for Seniors.’ Our old tagline was ‘Excellence in Senior Care,’ and there’s nothing wrong with that, but quite frankly if you can’t claim excellence in this business you shouldn’t be in it.”

The new mission statement is “Compassionately serving in community so that all are free to choose abundant life,” an allusion to John 10:10.

All four of these providers used branding/marketing firms to help with brand self-evaluation, to conduct market research and focus groups, and to develop new names.

BrandEquity’s Giller says his clients often come to him after completing some kind of strategy exercise, and want to see how well their current brands support those strategic plans.

“Very few come to us and say ‘We need to rebrand,’” he adds. “It’s usually an assessment that they want. In other cases, it could be that there has been a reputational problem in the distant past, and whatever issues were present have been resolved, but there’s a problem with the current brand.”

“Finally, there might be a desire to reach new audiences or to extend themselves,” Giller adds. “In the case of aging services it’s often the next generation or the one after that, and they want to know how the current brand relates to that.”

BrandEquity uses what it calls a “4 I’s” process: inquiry, interpretation, invention and implementation. Giller says the whole process, from start to public launch of a new or modified brand, usually takes 15 to 18 months.

The inquiry step is understanding the current position of the organization and identifying key factors when defining a new brand. Interpretation involves determining what sets an organization apart from its competitors and the “brand architecture,” i.e., the ways the different elements of the organization relate to each other and the brand. Giller says the “master brand approach,” in which all the operational pieces of the organization are subservient to the brand, is most common today.

The invention phase involves developing a new name and visual portrayals (logos, color schemes, etc.). The implementation phase is just what it sounds like, and can be lengthy because of all the internal and external details to be attended to.

United Methodist Communities’ Voloshin says her team filled every last inch of a large whiteboard with all of the things that the brand touches—collateral materials, the website, company vehicles, signage for all 10 communities and more.

“The idea was to have it all done the same day so that when we announce, we flip a switch and the website goes live, the stationery is ready, and everything else is ready to go,” says Carlson.

Getting buy-in from stake holders—trustees, residents or clients, and staff—is one inescapable part of the process.

“Our name change was a huge step and departure from the familiar for some residents, especially those with a Friends heritage,” says Jeff Davis, a Rowntree Gardens board member. “Some people embrace change and some are resistant to it. The particular group of marketing people who helped us did a great job of addressing it in terms of marketing and branding.”

Carlson says the United Methodist Communities re-branding met little resistance: “If we had strayed further away from our United Methodist name there would have been more pushback.” The changes were announced to staff and residents 1 week before the public announcement and Carlson says there was no pushback, probably because the name change was minimal.

Voloshin says tying the re-branding to the strategic plan, and aligning it to the mission, vision and value statements, made the changes relatively easy for most people. “There was not huge resistance,” she says, “but the why question is very legitimate; people need to ask it.”

The New Jewish Home used Siegelvision to help with its re-branding, and more than a year’s worth of research and speaking to stakeholders was involved.

“Buy-in was important because it allowed lots of different stakeholders to take ownership,” says Bloch. “It wasn’t easy but was instructive; it involved management, governance and staff. Staff was really helpful in coming up with a purpose statement. [“The New Jewish Home is committed to transforming eldercare for New Yorkers so they can live meaningful lives in the place they call home.”] That’s why it took so long. There were ideas presented and rejected but it was a long and important buy-in process.”

At LifeStream, the board was largely of one mind, according to Taylor. “They are all evangelicals, though not necessarily Baptists. There was some concern that we’d lose contact with churches. It was not a debate over ‘Should we or shouldn’t we,’ just concern that we take the right path.”

The process at LifeStream was kept secret until launch. The Colorado-based CSK Group (now SIGNAL.csk Brand Partners) was the branding firm used.

“Part of the reason we didn’t involve everyone was the tenuous nature of the market at that time,” Taylor says. “We did a lot of storytelling and reminded people that who we are was not going to change.”

Several rollout meetings were held for residents and for staff.

“With our associates it was just, ‘OK, can we go back to work now?’ For them it was not a big deal,” Taylor says. “The residents had a much stronger reaction; the good news is that we had prepared ourselves with answers and consistent messages. Between residents and associates we held 16 roll-out meetings in one week.”

Rowntree Gardens’ Brown says, “The word ‘liberating’ resonates with me. We could all look around and sense we needed something. Once we did research it became clear what steps were needed. We knew it was time to get busy. We thought we’d get pushback from community members but we really didn’t.” Brown says a change to the community’s cable TV service had caused much more pushback than the re-branding did.

Like all of these providers, Rowntree Gardens knows that market needs and perceptions of the organization must be tended to continuously.

“The feedback we’ve gotten on the new look, the new menus and our other changes is extremely positive, and all of that reinforces us,” Brown says. “The marketplace has gotten more sophisticated and educated. We have to stay up with that, take [its] pulse, stay ahead of needs for programs, activities, dining experiences, etc. From here on out, change will be a normal part of the process.”