If you’re in the business of health care marketing and strategy, you can do all the right things and still lose. You can work from your health system’s strategic plan. You can focus on your hospital’s key priorities. You can nail your KPIs and business metrics.

And still come up short.

Because the entire health care landscape is changing. Fast. Every day there’s a new headline about a mega-merger. Traditionally non-health-care brands like Amazon are poised to disrupt the way we buy pharmaceuticals. And the rapid fire policy changes in D.C. impact every facet of health care brands.

To be sure, there will be winners and losers. Your brand’s future comes down to recognizing the patterns of change and responding accordingly.

We’re living in a time of 0 to 1 changes in the health care landscape. Meaning, we’re not experiencing gradual, incremental changes. We’re seeing sharp, distinct, profound, and intense changes that impact everyone.

Here are three “0 to 1” health care shifts:

The shift from local to national health care brands

It used to be that small community hospitals competed with other local hospitals. Every region had its own flavor of health care brands and providers. Now with the mega-merger headlines about Ascension and Aetna and the speculation that Amazon will be getting into the pharmacy business, we are now in an era of national health care brands.

The shift from supply-driven to demand-driven health care

The strategy to drive new patient volume in the past had been to put an Open sign in front of the new hospital or clinic or MRI suite and patients would show up. Back in the day we called it the “Field of Dreams” strategy, based on the film’s rejoinder, “If you build it, they will come.”

Health strategy consultant Candace Quinn says that today’s health care consumerism has shifted the power from the companies and health systems over to the consumers. Now, consumers shop for the best health care quality and cost.

The shift from hospital to home

One of our clients told us that in a few years, if a patient has to come inside one of their hospitals for care, then they’ve failed the patient.

Population Health is no longer a wistful thought. Health care is transforming itself such that I could now be writing this to you in a coffee shop on a Friday afternoon while hundreds of miles away technicians are monitoring my vitals and physiological response to medication. In just a few minutes I could be looking my doctor in the eyes via my smartphone, to let her know I’m feeling great, while enjoying my Chai Tea.

No need to take off work. No need to hunt for a parking spot. No need for an expensive MRI. As the title goes of the book by brilliant thinker Eric Topol, “The patient will see you now.”


These 0 to 1 shifts point to a future that’s both exciting and terrifying for brands. A future where there are only winners and losers. And how you read these patterns—and respond—will determine what future you’re building.

In fact, the future for your brand comes down to one of two decisions:

Will your brand try to buy or try to earn its way to the top?

You can try to buy your way to market dominance. You can be the only game in town, the health system that has the contract with the biggest insurance provider. You can force your consumers to use your services because they have no other choice. And because they have no other choice you have no incentive to make their experiences exceptional, remarkable, transformative. Why bother? They have to use you. Until something happens and they have a choice. Then they will leave your brand forever.

You can try and earn your way to market dominance. Be the brand that cares the deepest. That goes the extra mile. That remembers every patient is unique. That this could be the most traumatic day of your customer’s life so you’ll give them dignity. Or you might tell your employees that the customer might be having the most stressful day ever so let’s make giving her what she needs radically easy—so much so that she’s likely to rave about you to friends.

Soon there will only be two distinct positions for health brands: commodities that customers could take or leave (and will always, inevitably, leave) or brands that hold sacred trust with the customer, in which the customer will buy whatever you sell, and return to you again and again because you make their life better, easier, healthier.

Commodity or Sacred Trust: which brand positioning is your organization moving to?

In later posts this year and in special resources (make sure to sign up below), we’ll share strategies for building sacred trust with your patients and customers.

In the meantime, here is one question to help your organization choose its future.

Who is my “Ground Zero” customer, the most important person I need to champion, support and design our entire organization around?

Brands like Amazon win because they keep their customer top of mind with every decision they make. But many health brands are different, aren’t they? Leaders of health brands often make decisions for shareholders and other audiences long before they arrive at what’s best for their Ground Zero customer.

Health brands that earn their way to the top champion their customers. And health brands that try to earn their way to the top champion other interests.

And if you’re working for and with brands that don’t put the customer first, no amount of slick marketing will disguise what your customers know to be true: that they won’t be customers for much longer.