With COVID-19 upon us for over six months now, there have been many critical resources going to the very important task of crisis communications, including keeping the tone and timing of messaging in line with current public sentiment. The biggest challenge for healthcare marketers has been how to balance the here and now with the business-forward marketing that will be crucial for the last quarter of the year and into 2021.
Once a vaccine is approved by the FDA and the crisis has subsided, there will likely be a general refocus on healthcare systems and pent-up demand from delayed elective surgeries. However, the world will be forever changed. It will be a time of mixed emotions, with many relieved and joyful to be able to live daily life again while dealing with the aftermath of rapid change related to personal and financial loss. This will present a challenge and opportunity for healthcare marketers who are able to balance planning for long-term branding and integrated marketing campaigns in an agile way while attending to the seemingly endless urgent tasks related to the pandemic.
Health systems invest heavily in establishing and building their brands, but often brand equity becomes a secondary concern after major organizational shifts like a merger, an acquisition or other unforeseen events – such as a pandemic. Overshadowed by issues of finances, culture and human resources, branding and marketing can take a back seat, when in reality the best time to reframe the perception of a healthcare brand is during a time of change. This could be following a major generational event like COVID-19 or immediately before the ink dries on the consolidation agreement. From reframing to reimagining the brand message, marketers have the opportunity to create a new promise and what consumers can expect from the organization. Rather than uncertainty, this change can be leveraged to bolster the perception of enhanced consumer choice, leading to stronger loyalty among consumers.
It is no secret that leadership buy-in and engagement with internal and external stakeholders during times of change and challenge is critical. The real question is how does one foster and achieve this crucial step in the current environment. The most successful marketers have found that the process begins in normal times with speaking the language of the C-suite: crafting language around the investment strategy of the brand, identifying the opportunity cost of weak positioning that fails to differentiate, and quantifying the economic benefits that derive directly from additional growth. Now, marketers must also communicate to stakeholders the importance of timing and agility, along with helping all envision the opportunity at the other side of the COVID-19 tunnel.
Continued focus on brand positioning and integrated marketing plans during these challenging times can inspire a positive, health-centric movement for all stakeholders and the entire community post-COVID-19. For those who manage to overcome the obstacles, it may be one of the most important journeys healthcare marketers will experience in their lifetimes.
By Mark Maricich, CEO of Maricich Health
The seasoned team at Maricich Health partners with clients in the integrated healthcare ecosystem, including hospitals, health systems, payers, retail-focused providers, device/life science innovators and emerging healthcare companies. Learn more about how we can help you plan for your important upcoming branding and marketing initiatives.