Integrating brands during M&A and when building a new platform is always complex… and often messy. Every week wasted can impact value creation and returns, and successful private equity dealmakers need and want to get a new company up and running as soon as possible. When this doesn’t happen, and you’re left with poorly integrated brands within a platform, you’ve, in essence, limited your ability to grow from day one. As McKinsey said recently, “While buy and build can be a winning strategy, mediocre integrations turn deals that might have been transformative into slow-growing add-ons. At worst, poorly managed integrations can erode investor returns.”
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The answer for many PE firms? A strong marketing partner and integrator. Many PE firms today look to marketing as a way to fuel growth. For these efforts to succeed, however, you need an experienced marketing integrator.
The right partner can guide the process, helping firms build strong brands, integrate technologies, and refine the digital patient experience.
Develop Your Brand Architecture Strategy
Your first and most significant action during integrations? Developing your brand architecture. Everything flows from this essential starting point. Developing your strategy as soon as possible should be your top priority—failing to do so or delaying it to a future date can result in more work and lost returns for your organization.
In developing your brand architecture strategy, you must evaluate the brand equity of each company, consumer affinity, competition, as well as patient demographics in each market. Some brands may have a loyal patient base that you don’t want to lose, while others may have a negative reputation. If the founding doctor is retiring, it may be time to sunset the brand.
Careful consideration is necessary as your brand architecture decision will impact:
- Visual identity
- Marketing technologies, with a particular eye on integrations, licensing, and cost efficiencies
- Agency retainer and marketing management fees
- Your marketing team structure (master brand vs. regional brands and field teams)
Finally, consider how you will approach analytics and tracking. You want cohesion in your approach, with methods to aggregate and unify data effectively for the most concise analyses. As Rich Briddock, SVP of Media & Analytics, puts it, “Tracking is a huge challenge if you have a ton of disparate brands, and in particular, if they have different websites that are built in different ways. We’ve definitely had situations where we’ll have 50 Google Analytics accounts that we are putting in, and every single analytics goal within those accounts are set up differently. They don’t marry to each other, but then the client will want to see the data aggregated across all of them.”
Consider a Hybrid Brand Architecture Approach
Taking a hybrid approach can often be the best answer. Lauren Leone, SVP of Healthcare Marketing, certainly thinks so. “Reputation is something that, in certain cases where it is really strong, there is no replacement for it. It may be that your acquisition strategy is reliant on a message that the local brand remains. There are a lot of challenges there, and we don’t claim to prescribe one or the other, we work with clients in both. I think one thing that we’ve seen a good bit of is a bit of a hybrid model.”
It’s important to remember that there is not a black-or-white solution for every platform. Things can get complicated, of course.
What you need above all else is a marketing integrator that understands the pros and cons of different brand architecture strategies and how that rolls down into marketing execution.
The decisions made in these early days will impact marketing efficiency and performance well into the future. You need a partner that can think at scale and is able to communicate how these decisions impact the brand’s goals writ large and small. “The idea that it’s a binary house of brands or all under one brand, is not correct,” according to Rich Briddock. “It’s more of a spectrum.”
Audit & Unify the Tech Stack
As you begin to assess the status of tech across your acquisitions, more often than not, the case will be that each healthcare group has its own legacy systems. One location uses EPIC, another uses Phreesia, and so on, until you are looking at an entire array of siloed stacks with no way to bring them together.
Integrating tech in any sector is complex, but it can be particularly difficult in healthcare. One reason for this is how mired in the analog many healthcare brands still are. As you look across your ecosystem, you may find, for example, that one brand is utilizing online booking, while another is still booking appointments on the telephone.
Too often, marketing gets lost in this mix. To address this, you need a marketing partner that understands patient workflows and how to integrate marketing technologies with online booking systems and EHR and patient management systems.
A good integrator has deep experience in healthcare and will help bring clarity to your tech stack. One way in which they can do that is by conducting an audit. Most healthcare companies, despite their growing suites of technologies, are surprised to learn that they don’t have a clear, documented understanding of their tech stack. More importantly, they have no clear view across their acquisitions of the data available to them.
An audit can provide a kind of roadmap, one that helps your organization identify:
- Where you need to drive better technology adoption to boost efficiency across the organization
- Opportunities for strategic data integrations (through APIs) that can bolster and enhance data management
- Which technologies your organization no longer needs and are ready to be phased out
Remember, healthcare is particular—any integrator you choose must have a deep understanding of each part of the digital patient journey and how patient data is stored. This is essential for accurate and thorough data analysis and reporting. A disparate tech stack where technologies and marketing platforms don’t integrate will make it difficult to extract the performance insights you need to grow your brand.
Translate Growth Goals into Action
As you continue through the process of platform development, make sure to maintain focus on a strong, shared mission. As McKinsey recently noted, “A shared mission focused on a deal’s full potential is the glue that will make partnerships sustainable across the PE firm and the portfolio company’s management team. Lack of this core alignment often sits at the heart of disrupted mergers, and it manifests as lost momentum, missed targets, and talent attrition.”
Defining a shared mission is one thing—translating it into action across your platform (and functional departments) is more difficult. Flat, one-dimensional growth goals just won’t cut it. To drive dynamic growth goals, it’s essential to work with a marketing partner that gets the complexities of multi-site healthcare. What should you look for? A marketing partner that understands:
- Your Total Addressable Market (TAM) — What are the demographic nuances that impact patient acquisition strategies in your particular healthcare niche? Where exactly can you win?
- Service Lines— Nuances between low vs. high acuity patient acquisition marketing strategies. What are the steps of your unique patient journey, and how do your patients buy?
- Industry Benchmarks — How exactly is success defined in your healthcare niche?
Capacity is key in this, as well. Your marketing partner also needs to be aligned with your operational teams and know operational capacity limits, asking:
- Which locations need more patients?
- Which are maxed out with long wait times?
- Which service lines and patient segments are most profitable?
Then— and only then—can you develop real, attainable marketing goals that drive value creation and translate across your marketing program and channels. Remember, ambiguity never helps. As Rich Briddock phrased it, “If one thing has been evident again and again, it’s that ambiguous media goals lead to failure and wasteful spending for multi-location healthcare groups. In contrast, robust goal setting brings tangible direction to your pay-per-click (PPC) advertising plan and its performance.”
Successful M&A stems from operational readiness, strong goals, and competent integrators. Across these efforts, marketing can be a real driver of value creation, provided it is part of the discussion during the post-deal phase as you develop your platform strategy. Turning to a strong marketing integrator can ensure alignment between your executives and PE firm investors, and help you capitalize on real growth opportunities, pulling you out of the mire of ambiguity and keeping your strategy on track.