Simplifiers Interview: Nick Ragone, SVP – Chief Marketing and Communications Officer, Ascension

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Behind every brand delivering simpler experiences for customers is a leader who recognizes the inherent value in keeping things simple. In this Simplifiers interview, I speak with Nick Ragone, SVP – Chief Marketing and Communications Officer at Ascension.

MM: What does your brand stand for, and how does it deliver on that promise every day?

NR: Our brand stands for delivering personalized and compassionate care.

Our promise really stems from our historic mission. We are a faith based provider system—the largest catholic system in the world and the second-largest healthcare system in the U.S.

MM: What role does simplicity play in delivering on that promise?

NR: Healthcare is evolving to become more consumer focused. Ten or fifteen years ago, healthcare consisted of a couple of defined networks of employer-based healthcare.

These days, consumers are much more informed and empowered. The expectations for healthcare doesn’t just come from big, traditional provider systems like us anymore, but rather from the retailers and tech companies. As a response to that, we need to be much simpler and have a relationship with consumers outside of the care setting. This trend towards consumerization has forced us to be much simpler in the way we make our care accessible to consumers.

MM: What are the challenges of creating simple experiences for customers?

NR: The biggest challenge is changing the culture in the provider world. We haven’t had to have a consumer-centric mindset in the past, or think about making a great end-to-end experience.

MM: How do you strive to conquer complexity within Ascension?

NR: We’re a big organization, spanning 24 states, with 150,000 associates. Previously, we were a loose confederation of healthcare systems, but now we’re truly integrated in an effort to make it easier for the consumer and associates to understand who we are, the way we operate, and the healthcare we deliver. We call it Our Journey to One Ascension.

MM: What are you doing to accelerate that journey?

NR: In the past, we were a confederation of hospitals systems, each of which had its own individual functions like HR, marketing, and clinical. Now, we’ve integrated and centralized these functions across our network in a horizontal alignment. It has really made a difference in the way we deliver care, inspire associates and operationalize our mission.

MM: What benefits has your company experienced from simplifying?

NR: We’ve been able to integrate our care much better, in large part because our own associates and customers can more effectively navigate our 2500 sites of care across the country. Our associates are now better aware of the offerings of other sites of care, and for this reason can better deliver specialized healthcare to our patients. Additionally, unifying under One Ascension has made it easier for us to share best practices across ministries.

MM: How do you strive to keep things simple for your marketing team everyday?

NR: Throughout our brand journey, we’ve become a single unified marketing community. In the past we had local campaigns. Now we’ve been running nationwide campaigns, which are all premised on the same insights but are customized for local markets. This approach has been much more efficient and allowed us to deliver an experience that is consistent across our ministries, while also customized.

MM: How do you lead as a simplifier?

NR: A lot of leading is being present. I travel our markets quite a bit, speaking to marketers and our senior leadership team about our brand work. Being present has allowed me to understand each of our ministry’s needs, and translate it at headquarters.

MM: What’s the most recent, simple customer experience you’ve had personally?

NR: I went on a Disney cruise recently with my wife and two kids. I was amazed at their ability to translate the Disney brand of magic moments to a seamless and personalized experience.

MM: What is the top piece of advice you’d give to a CMO who’s trying to engender simplicity in their organizations?

NR: Having a strong sense of your brand promise is critical. We’re blessed to have a well-defined, historic mission because we are faith based. Our mission has been around for decades, and it will be around decades from now. It’s easy for us to anchor our brand promise around it. For brands that don’t have that type of historic purpose, keep your brand promise simple, accessible, and tethered to your mission. If your brand promise isn’t easily identifiable, you’re probably missing the mark.

MM: What are the indicators that suggest simplicity is driving your business?

NR: The early returns are that simplicity is making a tremendous difference in both inspiring our associates and allowing us to deliver the type of care that’s needed in the communities we serve. We’re in an industry where you can see a correlation between the experience being simple, and your ability to help more people.

MM: What’s the biggest mistake brands make when they try to simplify?

NR: There’s a simplicity in delivering on your brand promise. That doesn’t mean you need to simplify your operations. Healthcare is extremely complicated, and delivering great care is not easy. It is important to design the experience so the average consumer understands how to navigate your offerings and get what they need.

MM: What does simplicity mean to you?

NR: As a marketer it means making things accessible and convenient.

This interview with Nick Ragone, SVP – Chief Marketing and Communications Officer, Ascension, was conducted, edited and condensed by Margaret Molloy. This is one in an ongoing Simplifiers series. Watch for others in the coming weeks.

Know a simplifier or would like to be included in the series? Please recommend an executive for my next interview: mmolloy@siegelgale.com

Margaret Molloy is global CMO and head of business development at Siegel+Gale. Follow her on Twitter: @MargaretMolloy and Instagram:@MargaretMMolloy

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