WHPRMS April Blog: Healthcare Marketing in the Time of COVID-19, Eight Additional Steps as the Crisis is Upon Us

In my last blog Seven Critical Steps Healthcare Marketers Must Take in the Times of COVID-19, I wrote that credible information, disseminated according to a carefully planned crisis communication strategy is a critical responsibility of every hospital’s marketing department. By now, you’ve emphasized prevention, promoted verified information, described changes in your hospital’s practices for well patient visits and non-urgent care, served as a resource for community organizations, and used internal communication tools to share critical, timely and encouraging information with your employees.

As I write this blog, we have not yet begun to flatten the curve of cumulative total and newly reported COVID-19 cases in Wisconsin. In real time, your medical triage teams are bracing for more COVID-19 patients and struggling to provide care in the safest and most effective way. You too, have worked diligently to address the immediate concerns of your patients. Now, it’s time to re-focus some of your efforts to be better prepared for this ongoing crisis and the indeterminate future of healthcare marketing.

Here are additional recommendations you may find helpful:

1) Support your employees. Many in the community are reaching out with kindness and want to show appreciation for those on the front lines. Provide easy to find website content with instructions as to how they might safely drop off food, flowers, gift cards, homemade face masks and more. Create banners thanking employees and place them in highly visible locations, inside and out. Demonstrate empathy with care and focus. Remain dignified and positive with your communications. Take care of your employees first, then focus externally.

2) Proactively focus your communications on how this crisis impacts your people and your products / services. Reinforce your brand with the actions you take and the value you provide. Reinforce your mission – most of which undoubtedly involves caring for your community. Show the public how your brand’s medical mission corresponds with your efforts to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus disease and treat patients stricken with COVID-19.

3) Adjust your media plan. Work with your marketing agency to negotiate with TV stations, radio stations, newspapers, and magazines to get concessions or postponements on pre-existing contracts. Devise a plan to leverage discounted media and other marketing budget opportunities once the crisis passes.

4) Adjust your creative messaging to make certain it is appropriate for the new reality.Humorous ad copy may now sound offensive or out of touch. Build trust and stay empathetic to what people are going through. Don’t stop marketing, though. Your audience suddenly has more time on their hands and are looking for guidance for their healthcare problems. Dialing back marketing efforts means you will be depleting your patient pipeline and increasing the time it takes to ramp up to normal once restrictions are lifted.

5) Promote the actions of your leadership, nurses, respiratory therapists and others working under extreme conditions. You’ll garner additional goodwill and can simultaneously grow your rankings on Google. Double down on longer-term search engine optimization with captivating healthcare services content, first person interviews and staff profiles. Continuously review and adjust your SEO and placements based on verified results. The more consumers see your name, the more trustworthy and credible you become, increasing the likelihood they’ll choose you in the future.

 6) Listen for changes in customer sentiment and behavior. Now more than ever, it’s important to know what customers feel and do, and why. Voice of the Customer (VoC) programs must listen for references to COVID-19 or other shifts. Social listening discussions concerning health concerns, brand impression or information needs provide critical feedback. Sales and account management teams should also report what they hear. They can help to monitor customer care emails, phone calls and service chats for changes in concerns or sentiment.

7) Pivot towards digital alternatives. Webinars, videoconferences and podcasts can be created to replace cancelled and postponed community events and classes.

8) Safeguard your marketing budget. As the economic fallout of the COVID-19 crisis becomes more evident, all organizational functions will be called on to prioritize spending. Fight to avoid across-the-board cuts that impact your marketing budget. Instead, look for ways to drive efficiency and to reduce or postpone obligations that won’t bring value or may be tone-deaf in the current environment. Leverage your existing and future budgets to ramp up digital delivery via apps and other mobile tools and services, including telemedicine.

In times of crisis true leaders prove their metal. Now, more than ever, you must show that you are proactive, concise, confident and current in your communications. And, that you are able to pivot towards the ever-increasingly relevant virtual and digital formats to deliver upon your brand and mission.

The upside of every crisis is that new opportunities evolve. The healthcare business will be forever changed by the coronavirus, and therefore, so will healthcare marketing. Get ready and hang on tight. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.

Below, I’ve provided some helpful links to guide you during this uncertain time.

Gartner – Adapt Your Marketing Strategy for COVID-19

Geonetric – COVID-19 Resources for Healthcare Marketers

Healthcare Success – COVID-19: Healthcare Marketing Adjustments to make in Response to Coronavirus

MySHSMD – Online Member Community

James Shulkin has been a member of WHPRMS since 1999. He is the principal at Windflower Consulting.

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