Get ahead of a healthcare system merger or divestiture before it gets ahead of you

Get ahead of a healthcare system merger or divestiture before it gets ahead of you



This article first appeared on the HITMC website.

If you are a marketer in a healthcare system, chances are good you’ll have to figure out the rebranding implications of an M&A or divestiture transaction. Here’s why:

  • Last fall, the AHA released a study showing that healthcare mergers are a net positive. They bring “the capital and clinical expertise to expand best practices across systems, reducing costs and readmission and mortality rates.” Healthcare providers continue to pursue the kind of scale that will enable delivery of value-based care in an economically sustainable way.
  • In 2019, M&A deals in the overall healthcare sector remained strong, with 1,211 U.S deals announced for a total value of $91.2 billion, according to a report from PwC Health Research Institute. During this period, the absolute value of hospital M&A transactions increased.

The reality is that a healthcare merger can happen at any time. And when it does, marketers at healthcare systems scramble to figure out the brand implications, make recommendations, and then implement them.

A healthcare system M&A may result in a net new brand being be rolled out across both organizations. Or it could mean that one of the organizations will be folded in under the acquiring organization’s brand name. Another possibility is having to manage multiple brands in the market for some time. Regardless, there are common actions you can take today to ensure you’re in the best possible position to tackle rebranding when you get that call from your CEO informing you that a transaction is about to take place.

Instead of worrying, focus on ways to set your organization up for success.  By acting now, you’ll be able to avoid the known pitfalls of healthcare rebranding due to M&A, including a devalued patient experience and confused patients, missed brand transition deadlines resulting in a mix of brands lingering in the market for years, and overspending.

Have your house in order

You can’t plan for a project that doesn’t exist yet.

However, you can prepare a plan. How? By making sure you’re managing your brand today as well as you can. That means having a thorough understanding of how your brand is being represented in the market, including how your people are using branded assets. Identify exactly where money is being spent both inside and outside of the marketing department to manage the brand and which branded assets are produced regularly. Pay attention to key brand management practices such as:

Operational brand governance: Operational brand governance refers to the infrastructure required to ensure consistent and effective implementation of the brand across all channels, touchpoints, and stakeholders.

The word “operational” is important. Effective brand governance goes well beyond the development and enforcement of your brand guidelines. Operational brand governance is the process that enables your organization to operate in a way that promotes adherence to your brand strategy, builds brand value, and supports the intended employee and customer experience. The ultimate objective is to enhance long-term ROI—working smarter and doing more with less.

Operational brand governance addresses four key pillars:

  1. People – defining and managing the roles, responsibilities, ownership, and accountability of your people and vendors involved in brand;
  2. Process – effective, efficient, and well communicated ways of operating;
  3. Training – onboarding, educating, empowering, and engaging internal stakeholders in the brand; and
  4. Technology – the resources, tools, and platforms that support the infrastructure.

A  strong operational brand governance infrastructure requires the participation and effort of every area of an organization. That’s because the goal is to strategically influence all the various activities, interactions, touchpoints, and materials that comprise your consumers’ and employees’ experience of your brand.

Addressing operational brand governance prior to a rebranding gives you a leg up because you’ve already done the work to make sure everyone who works at your healthcare system knows the value of the brand and their role in communicating it. In effect, they are preconditioned to devote the time and resources it takes to roll out a new brand when the time comes.

10 steps to brand implementation success

Here are 10 steps to take to ensure that your new brand is implemented into the marketplace correctly.

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Brand management platform: This falls into the technology bucket mentioned in the previous section but is worth a separate call out here. A fully functional brand asset management system, or DAM, is priceless. When a rebranding hits, a properly configured DAM streamlines the process of identifying branded assets, automating approvals, and distributing new assets.  Too often the existing DAM hasn’t been optimized or isn’t being used properly. So, the organization has to add the purchase, installation, and training on a new DAM to an already miles-long list of rebranding to-dos.

Vendor rationalization: Especially in a decentralized organization, the list of approved vendors can get out of hand. Different hospitals may use different sign and forms vendors, for example. Costs spiral and brand expression becomes inconsistent. Do the work to identify best-in-class vendors and deepen those relationships now, and you’re likely to benefit from preferential pricing and better response times when the rebranding hits.

Get a seat at the executive table

Most healthcare marketers say that having a seat at the executive table provides access and boosts influence. It’s a big advantage when you are looking for approval for your rebrand strategy along with hefty rebrand implementation budget. While Marketing usually owns rebranding, brand change impacts impact the entire organization—all divisions, groups, and services lines. You’ll need executive allies to be effective. To see what this can mean to a healthcare organization read about MedStar’s approach.

Learn from the best

Healthcare systems of all sizes have implemented their rebrands very well. Atrium, for example, has gone through multiple M&A transactions and has managed it all very well. So have Nuvance, Hackensack Meridian, and University of Vermont.

While there’s no magic bullet as every healthcare system operates differently, look to organizations like these to understand how they organized, implemented, and reported on their rebrand.

Think ahead to how you’ll manage a major rebranding project

If your CEO actually does call you tomorrow with the news that your healthcare system is acquiring/merging/divesting, how will you manage it? Give some thought to who on your team could help organize the effort, how you will analyze and budget for the rebranding, and what key internal stakeholders you will need in your corner. (And there’s more to do: Check out this HITMC article I wrote last year, 7 Things Marketers Forget When Rebranding.)

The good news is that none of the work you do to get ahead of a healthcare system merger is wasted effort as these activities all benefit your brand. Even if you don’t rebrand/merge/acquire/divest, each action helps improve your organization’s ability to communicate your value to key audiences, grow, and achieve competitive differentiation.