Healthcare reform and economic upheaval have spurred a wave of consolidation not seen for two decades. These mergers and acquisitions have had an enormous effect on patient care and financial stability. And they also present unique challenges for healthcare marketers.

Once secure in their identities, organizations now struggle to understand what version of the company will, or should, emerge from the latest acquisition. Deal making is hard work, and while it might be simpler to reduce matters of branding to deciding on a name and logo, that’s not enough. Brand and brand strategy are not popularity contests or peace treaties to be hammered out around a negotiating table.

Healthcare organizations involved in transformations must conduct robust healthcare brand planning. They must have people who know how to lead through change.

Core Principles for Branding Through Transformation

1. Lean Into Your Equity

People have at least an unconscious perception of the healthcare options in their area. The sum of these perceptions is each organization’s existing equity. In transformations, it is critical to determine the most positive, powerful elements of each organization’s brand equity, and develop strategies to exploit them.

2. Acknowledge Shortcomings

Let’s not pretend that everyone M&A-Imgcomes to the table on even ground. The counterpoint to exploiting positive equity is honestly appraising each brand’s baggage. Inferior brands can tarnish stronger ones and negative perceptions can undermine positives. Your strategy must clearly identify each brand’s negatives and include tactics to shore up weak identities.

3. Clearly Explain Change

It turns out sometimes you can teach a dog a new trick and consumers can learn new things about a brand. Case in point, IBM, who for generations was known for typewriters and ThinkPad laptops, today is respected globally for artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, and business insights. Consumers can internalize and embrace change, but the benefit of that change must be relevant and clearly explained.

4. Get Your Story Straight

Second chances are rare in life, and a strong Brand Story ensures you make the best first impression. The Brand Story should express why your system and this transformation are vital to the organization’s impact in the community. A solid Brand Story will inspire, inform, and guide all your communications. If you can’t imagine the external and internal communications that would flow from your Brand Story, it’s not expressive, vivid, or descriptive enough.

5. Assess Trust

Hospitals rarely value trust, but it is what causes a person to reflexively seek out one hospital over another – especially when their world is turned upside down by an accident or illness. Studies consistently show that trust matters as much to a consumer as the actual product or service. A robust assessment of brand trust goes beyond market share preference, and delves into an alignment between your perceived abilities, weaknesses, and the consumer’s values. When healthcare needs force themselves to the center of people’s lives, brand is not an esoteric marketing concept, but the revenue-driving sum of deliberate steps taken over time.

The story of mergers and acquisitions is a story about change. Some people may want to run and hide from it. But it is those that embrace change—those who remain nimble through transformation—that will emerge successful.

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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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