Well, it's safe to say that 2016 is in full swing. We've rung in the new year, savored those last few days of holiday break, survived the first few weeks of being back at work, and now have fallen back into our everyday routines. A lot of aspects of daily life remain the same – and yet, a lot has and will continue to cause changes in healthcare marketing.

Those who work in healthcare are no strangers to change. And, we wondered, what challenges would be plaguing healthcare marketers in 2016 and how will we tackle these changes? At the 2015 SHSMD Connections Conference last October, SPM designed a poll and collected responses to a very important question for 2016: What complex marketing issue are you facing right now?

About The Poll

The poll was populated with 10 possible responses, as well as 'other,' where respondents could write in their choice. Options ranged from establishing system-wide branding to allocating scarce paid media dollars to managing the patient experience as the types of challenges healthcare marketers face.

Four responses dominated the poll:

  1. Branding due to mergers, acquisitions, and alliances
  2. Managing the patient experience, especially in support of population health
  3. Creating meaningful digital engagement
  4. Marketing across the generations of Boomers, Gen Xers, and Millennials

When analyzing these top responses, one fact became clear: 2016 will be all about managing change. Whether it's organizational change, the continued influence of retailization, the changing role of the healthcare consumer, or changes to target audiences as generations age and transform, 'change' is ever present, if not permanent.

In a series of four posts, we'll examine these changes in healthcare marketing in subsequent order, staring with the number one response.

Organizational Change

In our poll, 'branding due to mergers, acquisitions, and alliances' was the top answer with an impressive 21% of the votes. Of course, the wave of consolidation in healthcare organizations is nothing new. However, there's no sign of this trend stopping. According to PwC, 2016 is the year of merger mania.

Organizational change such as this has huge implications for healthcare marketers. Beyond due diligence and clinical integration, any organization involved in a transformation (i.e., merger, acquisition, or alliance) must conduct deliberate, robust brand planning. Your brand is not something to be put on the back burner to be hammered out later, nor should it be a peace treaty used to achieve concessions in other areas. It helps communicate to consumers and external stakeholders what this merger means for patient care and the community, as well as helps internal stakeholders understand how their job may be affected as a result.

Transformations, especially those involving mergers, acquisitions, and alliances, can drastically change both organizations' brand identity and perceptions. Keep in mind that through this organizational change, you must:

  1. Lean into your equity: Determine the most powerful elements of each brand's equity and develop strategies to exploit them.
  2. Acknowledge shortcomings: Identify each brand's negatives and include strategies to simultaneously shore up weak identities and reshape negative attributes.
  3. Clearly explain change: Explain the relevance and benefit of organizational change to consumers so that they may embrace it.
  4. Get your story straight: Build a solid Brand Story to inspire, inform, and guide your communications.

(More details on these key steps to branding through business transformation can be found in our Red Paper, which you can download below.)

The other layer to merger success is the blending of cultures. Your culture is the DNA of your organization. It reflects the values and beliefs your brand stands for. When culture is aligned with your mission and vision, the organization functions in a way that meets physician, patient, and community expectations. Just as you would with merging brands, assessing the cultures of the merging organizations and leveraging the strengths each brings to the table will ensure you achieve growth and success, instead of wasting resources on managing crisis and chaos.


No matter what angle you look at this year's top marketing issues, managing the changes in healthcare marketing will be key to achieving results in 2016.

Fortunately, with nearly 30 years of experience in the healthcare industry, staying ahead of change is one of SPM's (many) skills. To hear more about how we can help you navigate organizational change, especially as it relates to branding through mergers and acquisitions, download our Red Paper 'Mergers & Acquisitions & Name Changes, Oh My! The Case for Robust Brand Planning' below or reach out to us.

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    Dan Miers

    Chief Strategy Officer at SPM Marketing & Communications
    Dan anticipates “what’s next” in our complex industry and keeps SPM on the leading edge of healthcare policy and strategy. A valuable resource to all SPM clients, his strategic insights focus how we understand and apply industry trends to client issues. With 20 years of experience, Dan has two master’s degrees in healthcare administration and finance, worked in business development at an academic medical center, and launched a healthcare technology company. He is also a frequent speaker at industry events and an active member of the Society for Healthcare Strategy and Market Development (SHSMD).
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