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All signs point to more change ahead for healthcare in 2021.

Industry insiders and outside analysts predict mergers and acquisitions will proliferate coming out of the pandemic. Case in point: the BDO 2021 Healthcare CFO Outlook Report. Among those surveyed, 42% say the pandemic will cause increased consolidation, 28% said their organization will merge with another entity in 2021, and 24% plan to enter a joint venture. This means there’s a good chance leadership at your organization is actively planning or, at the very least, weighing the merits of a merger. 

Consolidation has so many implications for the digital front door that it’s easy for a marketing executive’s mind to swirl with questions about implementing a new brand architecture, merging website properties, managing additional media and marketing channels, and the ultimate impact on SEO with thousands of pages of extra content. To avoid getting mired in details that could stall progress, it helps to frame the bigger picture in the context of three key points.

Find the Connective Tissue in the Culture

When two companies come together, it’s essential they identify their shared DNA. In healthcare, this is the mindset or mission that characterizes why and how an organization cares for patients and the community. This is essential to articulating why the business union will bring greater value to consumers. Exposing the connective tissue in the culture that links the two organizations will help inform a differentiated position in the market.

From there, this shared DNA must be reflected throughout the digital experience in every aspect, from design to user interface to messaging. Existing patients, potential customers and internal stakeholders—from senior leadership, to physicians and team members—should be able to feel something about the health system through the experience provided on the website and how the culture is brought to life across all of the digital touchpoints.

Integrate with the Consumer in Mind

Change can make many people uneasy, and internal stakeholders will be keenly focused on how the new relationship impacts them. They may be hypersensitive to their own online visibility or intensely loyal to previous brands and websites. Don’t get derailed by internal politics. The marketing team’s unique and vital role in the integration process is to bring the voice of the patients (the customers) front and center, and to keep the goal of meeting consumer expectations among the very top priorities.

Having led marketing in hospitals for 18 years, I understand the complexity of healthcare politics and don’t mean to downplay this challenge. Certain stakeholders, like key physicians, can wield considerable power. The reality is, I needed the support of clinical leaders as well as functional units across the system to achieve marketing goals and objectives. My team and I were better off for engaging key stakeholders in the process because their involvement in planning and execution helped foster support for our overall initiatives. When it comes to building consensus, particularly with physicians, frame marketing discussions within the context of proven processes, best practices, the literature and outcomes whenever possible. Show them evidence that a digital experience that prioritizes consumer needs and expectations is one of the most powerful signals that there’s solid care behind the scenes.

Protect the Brand Promise

If it wasn’t apparent before, the pandemic has made it crystal clear that hospitals are an essential part of the infrastructure of a community. Not only that, they’re often among the largest employers in a region.  As such, deals to consolidate make major headlines. In the excitement and desire to capitalize on the buzz, leadership may want to move quickly to launch a major marketing campaign and unveil a newly merged website. Exercising some cautious restraint will go far to protect your brand promise.

Higher quality, easier access to more resources, and seamless coordination of care are chief among the patient benefits that organizations often commit to deliver through consolidation. One of the worst things you can do as it relates to brand is over-promise and under-deliver. Meaningful improvements to care and the patient experience require transformative change. According to healthcare consulting firm Kaufman Hall, managing the complexities of actual integration after a merger requires a systematic and disciplined process comprised of four key stages: design, organizing, planning, and execution.

For newly united healthcare providers to embody their brand and enhance patient experiences, human beings and back-end systems need to work together. Electronic medical record systems have to be integrated. New clinical best practices and care navigation processes need to be put in place. Call centers and billing systems have to be in sync. Marketing can play a key role in mapping new patient journeys across the expanded system to identify potential gaps and opportunities in both the digital realm and the off-line world.

When providers adopt a unified brand across a system, it sets an expectation in consumers’ minds.  Making a brand promise through marketing that the organization is not yet prepared to keep can cause damage that it may take years to undo.

Seize the Opportunity to Shine

Few challenges give marketers a chance to stretch their muscles and demonstrate value like a merger. So, seize the opportunity to shine! Those in the marketing trenches know it is not merely about creative design and clever messaging, it is about business management and growth. Whatever leadership was looking to accomplish through the deal—greater market presence, a broader patient base, an expanded continuum of care—it will take effective marketing to help realize these goals.

At Primacy, we have partnered with many healthcare organizations to help them manage marketing through a merger or acquisition. Feel free to contact me with any questions branding, digital experience or overall business strategy.