Strategic Marketing in the Wake of COVID-19

By The SHSMD Team posted 07-15-2020 11:40 AM


During a SHSMD podcast, Jennifer Horton, vice president of strategy at Ten Adams Healthcare Branding, Marketing and Advertising, relayed her post-COVID strategy advice: “Health care marketers need to remember that your consumers have changed. You are now almost working in a completely different industry; you have to relearn a lot of the new behaviors and the new expectations.”

For decades, health care marketers have been working hard to improve consumer perception. When the COVID pandemic hit, community perceptions shifted. They started to understand the real commitment of the health care workers, the sacrifices they’re making and all that they’re doing to serve their communities. This is a critical change for health care marketers.

A recent NRC survey backs up this new attitude. That study found that 48 percent of consumers feel more positive about the health care industry since the COVID outbreak. This presents a huge opportunity for marketers, Horton commented. ”We’ve been trying to move that perception for years and now it’s happened. So what do we need to do to lock that in?”

Horton suggests the concept to keep in mind is good will. Now is the time to review your brand and your brand’s platform. In the past, your brand positioning may have been focused on high technology or a new building or program. Revisit your messaging and shift your focus now to the more human side of health care.. Look for ways to be real and authentic, not overproduced, she says.

Revisit Your Consumer Engagement Strategy

This is also a great time to revisit your consumer engagement plan. You want the public to feel that you understand what’s needed, which right now is finding more virtual opportunities. The public used to be more reluctant to participate in health care-related events. Now, people are hungry for health care information and becoming involved, but in a more physically-distanced way.

Another way to leverage this good will is to continue with your social media posts. “When COVID-19 hit and communities started shutting down, communications teams within health care really became frontline reporters,” noted Horton. “Now, even as your organization starts reopening and things start getting back to a new normal, continue to tell those stories and keep the messaging going.” 

Another facet of your reputation strategy should be to continue being the source of information for your community, she says. Find ways to partner with your city and county. Right now, the health care voice is one of the most trusted voices. Find a spokesperson, someone to be the human face to your organization who can speak authoritatively on medical issues.

Horton points out that, “A potential impact of COVID is that consumers are paying more attention to infection control. For decades, we have struggled to get our patients and families to really embrace safety, infection control and prevention,” We have talked for years about population health and the need to enable consumers to own their own health care. Now we have seen a dramatic shift to consumers who are actively involved in protecting themselves.”

Moving Toward Telehealth

In conjunction with this shift, health care is moving toward telehealth, noted Horton. Most hospitals and systems had this on their horizon. “It was something they wanted to do, but were running into traditional obstacles (from internal inertia to low consumer adoption). Once the pandemic began, one rural hospital went from zero telehealth visits to managing thousands of visits a week,” she commented. 

“Some may want to rush back to the old way of health care, with the primary care physician always serving as the gatekeeper of health care. I think you’re going to see telehealth shifting into a more prominent role. We believe the consumer’s positive experience with telehealth will make it significantly more difficult to return to the old way of doing things,” Horton said.

Health care marketers can take a lesson from this. Horton advised, “We need to start being prepared to design a nimble strategy and approach. If your organization is able to bring things to market much quicker or make big shifts, we as marketing and communications experts are going to need to move even faster than before.”

One way to accomplish this is to a shift to a quarterly strategy model, she added. “So, each quarter, really reassessing what we’re doing -- looking back on what we’ve done and what’s worked. And also really looking six months out at what we are going to do and being able to be responsive to what the market is saying and what the organization needs us to do.”

More on Strategic Marketing

To hear the full podcast or read the transcript, please click here. The full SHSMD series of COVID-19 Conversations is available here and includes marketing topics such as:

If you have stories to share about your organization’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, please share here.

For more information to help your hospital or health system’s COVID-19 response, visit SHSMD’s collection of resources for marketing, communications, business development and planning. The AHA and SHSMD collaborated to create Resources for COVID-19 Communications.

To connect virtually with your peers, learn more about how hospitals and health systems are planning their recovery strategies and enhance your professional development, attend the new three-day virtual conference, Navigating a New Reality: Health Care Leaders Confront the Future and/or SHSMD Connections Bytes, a series of online workshops, seminars and social networking opportunities starting in October.