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Healthcare and Hospital System Co-branding Strategies

Partnerships are a reality and necessity in healthcare today. Companies of every kind, such as hospital systems, insurers, outcare facilities, physician practices, etc., are joining together with the goal of providing better outcomes, increasing reach, sparking innovation, upgrading services, and improving economics.

There are different ways to co-brand these arrangements. The most common approach is to use what is called a 50/50 linked co-brand, where the partners’ names are given equal weight and aligned alongside each other. Sometimes the names are separated by a typographic device such by a dash (-), a slash (/), a vertical bar (|), an ampersand (&), or a plus sign (+).

Sometimes this approach is reserved for a company’s most significant and noteworthy partnerships, where both parties contribute or bring equal value to the relationship. However, these linked co-brands are often used indiscriminately across partnership and acquisition portfolios—thereby diluting the potential importance and marketing impact that this approach may have.

Partnership linked co-brands are often used as a migration strategy towards an eventual acquisition—enabling acquired brand equity to stay intact for a certain length of time.

However, there are other co-branding approaches that may be suitable, including using an endorsement strategy (where an existing facility is explicitly identified as a partnership of the two entities) or creating a new name for the partnership.

Determining the right time and place for a 50/50 linked co-brand 

The Mayo Clinic Care Network is a good example. The Mayo Clinic has entered into quite a few partnerships over the years, including affiliations with hospitals, universities, and research centers. In 2011, in an ambitious effort to expand its reach and secure its leadership position in an era of rapidly health care, it created “The Mayo Clinic Care Network.”

Hospital systems across the United States and abroad eagerly joined to tap into Mayo’s expertise and resources. When a new partner meets certain membership criteria, it is permitted to represent participation using a 50/50 linked co-brand with The Mayo Clinic Care Network logo. For example:

While The Mayo Clinic does employ linked co-brands for some other ventures, the use of this linkage for this highly significant and visible undertaking allows Mayo to shine as a leading global healthcare network.

Similarly, Memorial Sloan Kettering, a recognized leader in cancer research and care, created the “Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Alliance.” This affiliation allows hospital systems to tap into MSK’s considerable knowledge base and clinical trail experience. Here too, members, once they have met certain standards, are allowed to represent their membership with a 50/50 linked co-brand.

The fact is MSK, like Mayo, does use linked co-brands for other types of affiliations as well. However, here too there’s something remarkable about this innovative alliance that makes a linked co-brand seems particularly notew


Yet another example is Duke LifePoint. Not-for-profit Duke Healthcare and for-profit, Tennessee-based LifePoint Health, have come together to deliver a new standard of quality and patient safety to hospital systems and to the industry as a whole.

How can you best manage linked co-branding decisions?

Aetna is a good example of a healthcare company that created guidelines and decision trees to determine which branding approach would be optimal for particular situations. To meet its requirements under the Accountable Care Act (ACA), Aetna has entered into a number of hospital partnerships to improve efficiency and affordability, including Banner Health, University Hospitals and Inova, to mention a few.

Aetna created guidelines for how to brand these partnerships, based on what it calls a PADU model—that is, what approach is preferred, acceptable, discouraged or unacceptable. The intent is to optimize the role of the Aetna brand while recognizing the local presence and brand equity of the partner.

For example, in localities where the Aetna brand is strong enough to best represent the partnership, it would strive to use a 50/50 linked co-brand with Aetna as the lead (the preferred approach). This is the case with its ACO with University Hospitals.

In other situations, where it would be more prudent to emphasize the hospital system since they have more equity and will be more involved with day-to-day operations, the order was reversed (the acceptable approach). This is the case with its ACO with Banner Health.


In other partnerships, the decision tree led to a new name (discouraged unless the right criteria is met). This is the case with Innovation Health endorsed by the partners.

The PADU system is not only effective in determining the right co-brand approach, but in guiding negotiations with potential partners as well.

In sum
A great deal of attention is paid to finding the right name for a new company, a merger or an acquisition. It seems that in some situations, less attention is paid to how to best co-brand a partnership.

Co-brand approaches should be an integral part of an overall brand architecture strategy. In this way, a company can be assured of telling its complete story and optimizing the value and impact of all of its brands.