Whether for-profit or nonprofit, healthcare organizations join forces for all kinds of reasons: to expand their footprint, to pool resources, to add complementary services. Mergers and acquisitions are paths to growth in this field. For healthcare marketers, the challenge becomes uniting two entities—with different values, personalities, missions, cultures, and teams—under a cohesive brand.
Branding a healthcare merger is different from an acquisition, where a larger organization absorbs a smaller group into its existing operations. Creating a new brand from two combined ones is so complex that it often takes outside expertise to objectively analyze the two organizations and find common ground. In our experience, getting the new brand right plays a critical role in the success of the merger.
If your healthcare organization is eyeing a merger, here are five things that you, as a marketing leader, need to know and plan for.
There’s a swirl of activity leading up to and during a merger of two healthcare organizations or nonprofit agencies: business, financial, and legal. Branding may get lost in the shuffle.
At what point does marketing get involved to lead the branding process? In our view, that doesn’t happen as early as it should. But the essential business strategy and organizational vision—the why of the merger—should be in place so it can inform the branding.
As a marketing leader, you can begin asking brand-related questions as the executive team is working through the financial and legal negotiations. What does the new entity look like? What does it stand for? What is the new culture? How do the new organizations work together? What is the story we want to tell about the new organization? Raise these issues early in the merger conversation so your marketing team can hit the ground running on brand strategy once the letter of intent is in place.
Too, you can advance the idea that brand strategy is business strategy. It’s not just about the new color palette; brand is the cultural glue that will hold the new entity together. Brand can’t be the last of a series of steps in the merger process — it needs to happen in tandem with other key decisions.
Doing thorough due diligence is even more critical in a merger of two organizations, perhaps more so than a routine rebrand. You must have a clear understanding of the merging organizations’ brands and businesses. This step of the brand strategy process is research heavy. Audit and assess both brands: their mission/values/positioning, services, culture, audience, and stakeholders. Create a detailed and highly visual inventory of all communication platforms and pieces, previous marketing assets and campaigns, print and digital materials.
Most importantly, talk to people. Interviews and surveys are a must, not only for understanding the brands but also for helping to ensure that all-important buy in by the merging organizations’ staffs. People need to be heard and feel listened to, especially because mergers give rise to uncertainty about the future. Gathering input from staffers across the organizations will help build buy-in for the combined brand.
Your primary goal for branding the new entity is to blend the commonalities between the two organizations and align those strengths with the new business strategy. The new strategy may be fairly well articulated, but it’ll take deep research to unearth all the ways the two entities sync up.
The brand strategy process follows a linear path that starts with a thorough audit of the two merging brands along with competitive research and the communication inventory mentioned above. Armed with that research, you can begin to identify areas of alignment that point to new positioning for the combined organization. Only then do you move into creative exploration and expression including a new name and logo.
There’s urgency surrounding any merger, and you’ll likely face pressure to move quickly to develop a new name, logo, and graphic standards so the brand can launch. But there are several steps in the brand strategy process you can’t sidestep: employee and stakeholder interviews, competitive research, and a solid roll-out plan.
Generally speaking, the smaller the group involved in the branding process, the better to ensure consensus and keep momentum going. But that may be possible in the case of two merging entities because you’ll need to loop in folks from both institutions. To manage input and facilitate decision making, form a panel of representatives (ideally four to six but no more than eight) from each merging organization. Whoever is involved, you’ll need to gain agreement and cooperation at every step.
It may be tempting to trumpet the merger to the public immediately, but experience tells us that it’s best to start winning over internal people first because they’ll be the ambassadors of the new brand. Create a full campaign to introduce the merged brand through in-person presentations, events, and collateral. Arm your people with knowledge and tools they’ll need to communicate the brand uniformly. Get them excited, and then you’re ready to introduce the new brand externally.
For external communication, focus on the breadth of your stakeholders: clients/patients, community leaders, legislators and regulators (if that’s essential to your operation), media and the public at large. Messaging should focus on the what, why, and how—what the merged organization offers them, why it’s better than before, and how the community benefits from this more powerful resource.
Finally, you’ll need a tactical gameplan for updating all the brand touchpoints with the new identity. Go back to your communication audit and inventory every place where the brand mark shows up. If time and budget allow, it’s best to update everything at once rather than having two different representations out in the market, which can sow confusion.
From start to finish, anticipate that the new brand will take at least 3 months to develop and launch.
And be sure you have metrics in place to gauge its success, both positive (number of new clients, increased social media engagement, revenue) and negative (staff complaints and turnover, reduced patient levels, revenue erosion).
When your healthcare network or nonprofit agency is in the early phase of a merger with a peer, let’s talk. We can help your marketing team create a new brand that sets the organization on the right path.
Tenth Crow Creative is a brand marketing agency that creates, aligns, and promotes the external and internal messaging for organizations that support living healthier lives. Through insightful branding and compelling marketing campaigns, we help these essential organizations find their identities and effectively communicate to their stakeholders so they can fulfill their missions.