Hospital marketing – taking on CVS, Aetna, Walgreen’s, Amazon, et al.

How can traditional hospital marketing teams take on the disruptors?

If you roll-up the moves by CVS, Aetna, Walgreen’s, Amazon, JP Morgan, Berkshire Hathaway, et. al. – they equate to a new arena that puts the consumer at the center of health care delivery. It’s an arena that is more convenient, easier to use and less expensive for consumers. And it comes at a time when increasing numbers of consumers are taking on more responsibility for paying for their health care as the burden of costs is being shifted to them. How does this change hospital marketing tactics?

CVS and Aetna

The merger creates a goliath healthcare company with annual revenues second only to Walmart in the U.S. The combined entity will include Aetna’s 44.7 million members who will be able to access basically 10,000 new front doors to the health care system (9,700 retail pharmacy locations – including roughly 1,100 MinuteClinic’s). These doors will turn CVS Pharmacy locations into spaces for wellness, clinical and pharmacy services, as well turning stores into a hub for answering patient questions about their conditions, prescriptions and coverage.

“These types of interventions are things that the traditional health care system could be doing, but the traditional health care system lacks the key elements of convenience and coordination that help to engage consumers in their health,” CVS CEO Larry Merlo said. “That’s what the combination of CVS Health and Aetna will deliver.” Direct hit number one to hospital marketing.


Within 24-hours of the CVS/Aetna merger, Walgreen’s launched its new rebranding campaign. Paying homage to its roots with its new tagline of Trusted Since 1901, the effort is intended to establish the brand as a trusted, wellness-oriented provider centered on personal care. Walgreens is the country’s No. 2 pharmacy chain by size, with 8,100 stores in all 50 states, in addition to 400 Healthcare Clinics inside stores. In the coming months, it’s also planning on rolling out new in-store offerings, products and services designed to expand its value to become more of a health and wellness care partner. Direct hit number two to hospital marketing.


While its plans have yet to be revealed, the online gorilla and perennial disruptor has already received approval from several state pharmacy boards to become a wholesale distributor. And it reportedly held talks with drugmakers Sandoz and Mylan NV, which to many signals a possible entry into either pharmaceutical manufacturing, retail sales, or both. It too is riding the wave of consumers’ well-known dissatisfaction with the state of American health care (prescription drugs included).

Eight Practices to Drive Hospital and Health System Differentiation, Relevance and Growth

What are the right set of moves hospital marketing teams can take to address this disruption and ensure their differentiation, relevance and growth into the future? Here’s our list of eight practices for 2018.

1. Set Your Direction. Direction is the first step to defining your growth strategy and the future shape of the organization: your basis for advantage, segments of play and avoidance, mix of core and secondary service line growth, and critical supporting initiatives. While this is a cross-functional leadership effort, it is a requisite starting point for creating a high-level roadmap for allocating precious resources and uniting internal teams.

2. Determine Your Advantage. Following above, you need to develop a candid assessment of your strengths – whether assets, market positions, reputation or capabilities. Deep analysis might reveal not so obvious areas of opportunity where the organization can also excel and create new value for both customers and physicians.

3. Develop Intimate Consumer Understanding. As consumerism takes root, legacy health care providers must develop a more comprehensive understanding of the patients and communities they serve. Beyond just clinical data, personas should reveal a deeper understanding of patients’ routines, wishes and needs to help providers better engage and anticipate future health and healthcare needs in order to benefit your hospital marketing.

4. Stretch Your Competitive Mindset. Big growth ideas are born at the intersection of deeply understanding your advantage and deeply understanding the marketplace. But today’s health care marketplace is ever-changing. Looking at direct competitors is necessary, but not insightful. Health care marketers must look beyond those they most directly compete with – to experiential competitors (who might replace you) and perceptual competitors (who are changing customer expectations across categories). This is the mindset you need to make your biggest gains.

5. Approach Head-On What You Can Not Change. There are two undeniable shifts taking place in health care. First, care is moving away from campus-based acute care. Second, the consumerism train isn’t going to slow down. If the consumer really is at the center of your universe – their convenience, their cost-savings and the quality of their experience should be front and center. How to remain their go-to resource for community health? Improve access. Get as close as you can in order to deliver more comprehensive and effective care. Which means if you’re not in their home, you should at least be building partnerships at retail clinics close bye. Case in point, Walgreens is bringing telemedicine services to stores through a new partnership with NewYork-Presbyterian. You can see that story here.

6. Create Your Own Disruption. Someone on the hospital marketing team (if they’re not part of an organization-wide innovation team already) needs to be focused on tomorrow. They should be on the lookout for ways to disrupt your own model to deliver the best possible care and health and wellness to your communities. A simple way to help you consider all of the possibilities – in the context of the points above – is to remember the 5 W’s (who, what, when, where, why).

7. Meet Your Patients and Communities Where They Are. Which means being frictionless. More flexible models allow people to connect with doctors on their terms – via smartphone, video conferencing, kiosks, and other technology tools. At one major health network, 52% of its 110 million annual interactions between physicians and patients are already happening remotely. Putting simplicity at the core of the experiences you deliver shifts power to consumers, turns experiences into moments of delight, removes pain points and provides services where and when they are most needed.

8. Ongoing Dialogue. Content should be a key element to your hospital marketing strategy. But too many organizations focus on pushing content out rather than creating content that pulls people in. You should be feeding your audience content that is attention-grabbing, visual, emotional and uniquely yours (which doesn’t negate educational content for consumers seeking answers to specific health-related questions). Importantly, it should always be mobile optimized. Because about 60% of time spent on social media is through a mobile device.


Ultimately, your value and growth is based on providing what patients demand as consumers. But both your world and theirs has changed. To borrow a thought from Baiju Shan, Managing Director for Strategy at Fjord, “each time customers see evidence of design and technology that makes their lives easier, they expect to find it everywhere.” Which means it’s not only you versus competing hospitals, or even CVS, Aetna, Walgreen’s and Amazon – but Uber, Netflix, Apple and Blue Apron, et al. How you respond will determine your flight path and growth trajectory.


Eric Brody

Eric Brody is President of Trajectory, launched in 1999, the specialist health & wellness branding and marketing agency using every moment to move customers, brands and businesses upward. Prior to Trajectory, Eric served as EVP and Management Board member at Interbrand (the world’s most influential brand consultancy). Before Interbrand, he held senior marketing positions at Beiersdorf Inc. and L’Oreal and advertising account management positions at Marschalk and Benton & Bowles.He has also taught as an adjunct professor at Seton Hall’s Graduate School of Communications and has lectured at Wharton Business School and Emory Goizueta School of Business.