Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Healthcare Branding - More hospital mega-brands on the horizon as mega-mergers rise

This week’s Modern Healthcare magazine, long a leading industry publication for healthcare and hospital executives, recapped the number of “mega-mergers” taking place in the industry during the first quarter of 2017.  The article cites four such mergers between eight $1 billion healthcare organizations. 

According to a managing director of a larger international financial advisory firm in the healthcare industry, this is a trend that is likely to accelerate as hospital companies want “regional, if not national, reach to be more attractive to patients and insurers.”

Additionally, the article cites that many academic medical centers are operating at near capacity and are seeking community hospital partners to take patients requiring less intensive cases.  This is opposite of a few years ago, when these same large academic providers were partnering with community hospitals to generate more referrals for their highly specialized programs that require volume to remain viable.

There were only a handful of “mega-brands” in the marketplace a few years ago - Mayo, Cleveland Clinic, Hopkins, M.D. Anderson, etc. - so the implications of this trend impact hospital branding in a mega-way and bring to mind the importance of key branding indicators such as equity and relevance. 

“Where’s the equity” replaces “what’s in a name.”

These new mergers keep a focus on the equity that exists for brand(s) in the marketplace.  Decisions impacting naming, identities, brand strategies, and communications need to start with a thorough understanding of the recognition, reputation, and value a brand has among its current and desired market.  While seemingly obvious, there are countless examples of health systems that have moved away from existing, and high-equity, brand names in order to keep the peace among partners and/or start from a clean slate.  In many cases, consumers react negatively and still refer to “their” hospital or system by its original name (oftentimes, many years later) to the dismay of marketing brand managers.  The only true discipline to gauge the equity of your brand is market research among key customers.  And as one client recently reminded me, “it’s best to let sleeping equity lie,” if it is strong enough to tell the new brand story.  With all these mega-brands taking shape, the equity might lie in both organizations and a long, but strong, new brand will emerge.
  
What’s the new relevance of the new mega-brand?

The biggest buzzword in branding today is relevance – or what role and meaning does a brand have in the life of its consumers.  As mega-brands rise, so too must their relevance.   Again, focus group testing among consumers will validate what’s most important to them as you seek to identify your mega-brand strategy.  There’s a reason that two or more organizations have come together and, if it makes sense, that should be the story told to prospective users.  Key here is telling it in terms that they understand and find benefit in, and not buzzwords and cliché terms that only make sense to hospital executives.

It seems every few years, there is a new surge in hospital brand mergers – followed by an almost equal number of breakups.  If you’re considering a merger, how far do you want to walk away from the equity and relevance you’ve established in your marketplace?  If history sheds any insight, you might want to “let sleeping equity lie” and maintain as much of your equity as possible – even in this era of mega-brands.

A personal note:  Modern Healthcare was referenced in this article and it brings to mind the very recent passing of long-time publisher and healthcare leader, Chuck Lauer.  I had the pleasure of knowing Chuck, as he was a close friend of a former business partner of mine and frequent visitor to our office.  In fact, when I was considering leaving a large, general advertising agency, I was invited to meet Chuck and “pick his brain” on whether hospital advertising would remain a viable industry.  His conviction about how consumers would influence choice and that marketing would influence consumers was a key factor in my decision to join a smaller healthcare marketing firm.  As I approach 30 years in this business, I like to think that Chuck, as motivating and convincing as he was, was right again.  RIP Mr. Lauer.

Rob Rosenberg, President, Springboard Brand & Creative Strategy.  Springboard is a brand strategy and communications firm specializing in hospital, association, and life sciences branding and is located in the Chicagoland area. For more information on Springboard or to discuss this and other ideas, please contact Rob Rosenberg at 847.398.4920 or rob@springboardbrand.com.