Healthcare rebranding and the value of expertise

Some firms build, at least they say they do, vertical-focused practices like retail, hospitality or healthcare. Other firms specialize in a capability, like branding, digital or social media. And still others specialize in understanding and communicating with a particular audience, like millennials or boomers. Regardless of how you slice it, there’s enormous value in expertise. I like to use the analogy of a firm being a tourist in a country versus someone who is a resident. A tourist flits along the countryside. A life-long resident understands the back story, the culture, the people, the politics, the forces at work. It’s the difference between being an outsider vs. insider.

The Value Of Healthcare Expertise

Every vertical has its nuances. This is certainly the case as it relates to hospitals and health systems. Everything about the industry — from regulations, industry forces at work, business models, the different stakeholders involved in decision-making, to category-specific KPI’s — requires specialized understanding. And if you’re a client shopping for a new agency resource (maybe for a healthcare rebranding), understanding these nuances should be important to you. There are a few other things to consider as well. First, the odds of failure of hiring category experts is much lower. Second, experts can hit the ground running and their footing will be more secure. Third, experts can deliver faster business impact.

Tourists, borrowing on the above, have a tough time becoming true client business partners. Because they don’t understand the intricacies of the business. But this doesn’t mean that experts shouldn’t look outside their industry. Indeed, they should. Because inspiration and ideas about how to create growth and value are always found by challenging conventional industry practices. And we’d argue that expertise is a more productive starting point for looking for outside category inspiration — because you’re grounded in rules of the road that just can’t be altered.

Case In Point: Healthcare Rebranding

In the case of a hospital or health system rebranding, for example, an agency’s experience and expertise should weigh in heavily on your decision to let them lead this kind of transformative event for your organization and communities. What you need to remember (and what we’ve all heard from when we were young) is that the devil is in the details. What might seem like a straightforward process at first, is not. In the case of a healthcare rebranding — every step of the journey,  from discovery through to roll-out, involves attention to details that only experienced firms will be able to have a handle on.

Clues To Pinpoint Expertise

Let’s create a scenario of a healthcare marketing executive meeting for the first time with a prospective agency partner for their planned healthcare rebranding initiative. Here are six clues to help determine whether the agency is a tourist or a resident.

1. Category-Specific Language. Experts speak the language of the category. No one immersed in healthcare talks in terms of company sales, cost of goods, purchase/repurchase, etc. Instead, insiders will talk patient volumes (in-patient, outpatient, service line), payer mix, preference, referrals, physician satisfaction, rise of consumerism, etc.

2. Internal Stakeholder Perspectives. In the case of a rebranding, the agency will be meeting with a range of internal stakeholders who have different (though likely complementary) agendas in mind. Be it board members, donors, administrative leadership, medical leadership or cross-functional team leaders  — an agency should come equipped with an understanding of where each of these stakeholders is coming from and what success looks like to them.

3. External Customer Perceptions. If the organization needs to conduct research among customers, how does the agency determine the right segments to speak to? Considerations might include those utilizing current services or prospects for higher-margin services; acute or chronic condition patients; those in primary or secondary service markets; boomers who’ve known the organization forever, or millennials who represent the  future success of the organization. In any case, decisions need to be purposeful and actionable.

4. KPI’s. When you speak with an agency about what success looks like on the other side of a rebranding, what do they talk about? Positioning the organization for long-term success is a valid response, but a generic one. When you dig deeper and ask what this really means — is it about volume (and what kind of volume)? More patients across a more favorable payor mix? Facilitating continuum of care expansion strategy (both services and geographic reach)? End-customers and physician satisfaction and recruitment? Everything should track back to your organization’s strategic plan and goals.

5. Selling-In Like A Political Campaign. Beyond a branding exercise, a healthcare rebranding is a change management initiative. You’re changing the relationship different people have had with the organization, which sometimes dates back many years, and who have great pride in it. It’s critical to understand and be sensitive to that, and then build a path to success. It’s akin to a political campaign, e.g. understanding your different constituents, what drives them, personally engaging them and giving them the confidence that this is going to be done well.

6. Insights. To unearth the insights that can be turned into client business opportunities, this necessitates understanding how the business works in the first place, where it’s going and the category-specific trends and challenges its facing. So you need to consider, is your agency really grounded enough to help you thrive into the future.

If you’re a healthcare marketing executive contemplating a hospital or health system rebranding, your agency partner’s expertise can mean the difference between success or failure. The stakes are high, so choose your partner objectively and wisely.


Since 1999, Trajectory has partnered with hospitals and health systems to guide their healthcare rebranding efforts. Reach out to start a conversation.


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.