Marketing executives helped build brand behind innovative health care tech company
Sarasota-based Roxanne Joffe and Sam Stern's branding work with Voalte led to some significant victories.
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Organization: MagnifyGood (agency was CAP Brand Marketing when it did work for Voalte)
Client: Voalte. Sarasota health care technology firm connects nurses and health care workers through voice, alarm and text communications. The company went from startup to a major exit in a little more than a decade, from a 2008 founding to this past March, when medical technology and equipment giant Hill-Rom Holdings announced plans to acquire the company. The deal calls for publicly traded Hill-Rom to pay $180 million in cash, plus up to an additional $15 million connected to the achievement of specific milestones, for Voalte. The acquisition is one of the biggest, in total sale price, for a homegrown Sarasota company in a generation.
Task: Longtime branding experts Roxanne Joffe and Sam Stern, husband-wife entrepreneurs, started to work with Voalte on the company’s branding in 2008, at the starting point. Despite its small size, Voalte had big plans to disrupt the health care industry by introducing innovations in real-time mobile communication.
At the time, the company was a startup without a brand. Founders Trey Lauderdale and Oscar Callejas were building the company with then-CEO Rob Campbell, a veteran tech executive who had experience working for Steve Jobs at Apple and co-founding a firm that developed programs such as PowerPoint. (Campbell also has the rare distinction of having worked directly for Jobs and Microsoft founder Bill Gates.)
Joffe and Stern, at the time running a firm called CAP Brand Marketing in Sarasota, designed a proposal that appealed to Voalte’s leadership. The pair now heads up the nonprofit and social sector-focused agency MagnifyGood, with Joffe founder and president and Stern CEO.
For Voalte, they were tasked with helping the company stand out from others in the field, back in a time when app development was a hot, but unknown, sector. The objective, Stern says, was clear: “These are the players in health care. They are stodgy and they look the same.” Voalte on the other hand, he says, was a young, energetic company full of optimism — and a digital solution to a big problem — that didn’t want to look or feel like “the other guys.”
Highlights: Voalte wasn’t initially called Voalte. It was called Innovus Healthcare. “The first thing we started talking to them about," says Stern, "was the name isn’t going to work."
Stern and Joffe came back with four to five alternative name options — one being Voalte. The name included elements of three words that describe what the company does: “Vo” for voice, “al” for alarm and “te” for text. The name, Stern says, cut to the chase and says exactly what the company is. The accent mark that’s part of the Voalte logo doesn’t serves the usual purpose of an accent mark to indicate pronunciation. Instead it’s a design element aimed at making the company look different, serving as an exclamation point of sorts.
After the new name was set, the next steps involved determining what Voalte’s identity would look like. Again, Stern says the motive was clear: “break through the sea of sameness” in the industry.
When Joffe and Stern presented Voalte’s leadership with some color palette options for the company, they chose the boldest, most innovative option. That included hot pink. “Whatever we proposed, they trusted us,” Joffe says.
Once pink became a key element of the company’s branding, she says it built from there, with Lauderdale suggesting employees wear pink scrubs. The pink stood out at events such as major industry trade shows, where the majority of people wore white shirts and suits. The scrubs worked: it created a lot of buzz about the company.
What was key, both Stern and Joffe say, was the leadership team took the brand to heart. “They embodied the brand, and I think that’s a really important thing with branding,” Joffe says.
Marketing for the company was developed through a process-driven approach, she says, which involved testing concepts with end users. They created a series of promotions built around the theme of “Nurse Betty,” a fictionalized nurse who represented clients of Voalte.
The pieces feature black-and-white photographs of retro nurses with tongue-and-cheek copy. They were used in a variety of ways, including for advertisements in industry publications.
The Nurse Betty concept was edgy, but it helped build an emotional bond with clients. Like with color palettes, Stern says they usually present clients with three ideas for marketing concepts: one that’s safe, one more middle of the road and one that — as he puts it — pushes the envelope. Nurse Betty pushed the envelope.
After several years, Voalte grew so much it hired its own in-house employees to handle marketing and communications. Joffe and Stern continued to do some work for the company, including public relations and trade show marketing.
Over the course of their involvement with Voalte, the pair worked on the company’s visuals, website, trade shows, PR, social media and communications strategy.
As the first impression many potential clients have of the company, the branding was crucial for the business to succeed. “You have to have a great product, but the first things people come into contact with is your name and how you look,” Stern says. Then, once people are intrigued by those elements, he says that leads to them wanting to know more about the company.
Outcome: The measure of success for Voalte’s branding — just as it is with other clients — Joffe says, is clear: sales. If resources are invested into a brand, she says the company and marketing agency involved have to ask whether that investment brought a sufficient return. “We have to be driven by the success of our clients,” she says.
It was a “no-brainer” Voalte was successful, Joffe says, with measurements of the company’s triumphs present on a regular basis, up through the sale of the business to Hill-Rom. It was fun, she adds, to watch the company’s explosive growth — and know they had part in it.
“You have to have a great product, but the first things people come into contact with is your name and how you look.” — Sam Stern, CEO, MagnifyGood
As Voalte grew, Stern says specific metrics included the company picking up more hospitals as clients, increasing the number of health care workers using its products and hiring more employees. When the company was halfway through its first decade, its mark of success was the hospitals — major health care players — it kept signing up to use Voalte. “They were hiring people like crazy,” Stern says. “That was the measurement of success.”
More metrics? According to a Hill-Rom press release announcing the acquisition, Voalte has more than 200 health care customers, more than 84,000 devices on its mobile platform and annual revenue approaching $40 million.
There’s no doubt in Stern’s mind Voalte’s brand contributed to its value. “If you look at competitors, they stand out,” he says. “Their thinking was so different. They were visionaries. It’s one of the biggest pride points of my career.”
Read all of the Business Observer's 2019 marketing issue articles: