For more than a year, Covid-19 disrupted every industry across North America and across the world. For healthcare systems, the pandemic has tested resources like never before. Doctors, nurses, technicians, and other essential medical workers have exceeded the challenge put to them during this stressful time.
Now that the Biden administration has announced vaccination eligibility for every adult, we are now slowly entering a recovery period in which people are beginning to test the waters to gauge how comfortable they feel reconstructing elements of their pre-pandemic life. For healthcare systems, this period is a time to recalibrate and look forward.
The pandemic is expected to make lasting changes to how people work, play, enjoy their leisure time, and access healthcare. Healthcare providers need to consider how these shifts will affect them and create strategies to talk to the new concerns of their customers in the ways they are expected to digest messages. That requires a reinvestment in marketing. Instead of waiting until there are clear signs the pandemic is over, healthcare systems need to act now to ensure they control the messaging and new delivery platforms, and aren’t just responding to competitors.
Think about the last world crisis: The Great Recession of more than a decade ago. According to the Harvard Business Review, only 9 percent of companies that survived that 27-month slowdown posted better revenue numbers than they did prior to the economic downturn. In fact, 80 percent of businesses failed to regain their previous growth rates three years after the recession was over.
That’s because most companies did not have the foresight to develop new value propositions or create new business models to align with the changes happening around them. Instead, business leaders were stuck grappling with short-term problems that ultimately didn’t matter in an inevitable “new” normal that they were not prepared to address.
Harvard researchers showed that the companies that did emerge from the recession, not just whole but prosperous, were those that reinvested, more than their rivals, on marketing and R&D. The best case scenario is Target. During the recession, the company increased its marketing and sales costs by 20 percent and its capital expenditures by 50 percent, both over precession levels. It created new business opportunities, like partnering with Amazon to sell products online, and teaming up with well-known designers; it also expanded into new merchandise segments and grew its internet business. As a result, sales and profits grew 40 percent and 50 percent respectively during the recession and its profit margin spiked 10 percent in the three years following.
Understanding New Consumer Behavior
One reason why reinvesting in marketing is so essential today is because companies, particularly healthcare systems, need to reconnect with consumers whose behavior is changing. Ecommerce, home entertainment and remote learning are now becoming baked into daily life. Also, with each passing year, markets across the U.S. are becoming increasingly multicultural. Another change –virtual healthcare visits are expected to remain permanent long after the pandemic is no longer a threat according to Brookings. About 5 percent of consumers, or about 16.5 million Americans, said they used telehealth for the first time during the pandemic and 88 percent said they would use it again, PwC reports. The convenience of telehealth fits perfectly into the consumer-centric message that providers are beginning to embrace.
For consumers, convenience and loyalty are now as important, or more, than cost. The stress of being in large crowds at grocery stores, department stores, and healthcare waiting rooms, is expected to remain, but COVID-19 has also proven that virtual interactions are saving consumers valuable personal time. This new truth coincides with the reality that concern for physical health will remain higher than the era before the pandemic.
This is coupled by the emerging loyalty consumers are feeling toward their healthcare provider. For obvious reasons, healthcare workers have emerged as heroes of this epidemic. This has translated to efforts at individual sites to honor them personally. The loyalty toward healthcare brands is pronounced. Even brands that did not invest during the pandemic still have an opportunity to capture some of the glow that will assuredly remain once the pandemic subsides. Brands that don’t recognize this will fall behind the competition.
Rebranding Relevancy in a Post-Pandemic World
Healthcare providers are at the junction of a new normal. Consumers are more interested in their services than ever before. Public health information is now regularly seen in the local and national news and social media. A boomerang effect of delayed elective surgeries will be amplified in the coming months as vaccinations continue.
Here are just a few marketing messages that healthcare providers can embrace if they renewed their marketing efforts:
- It is safe to return to hospitals and schedule elective procedures. Providers can promote efficient advancements and safety protocols implemented during the pandemic for reassurance. This includes virtual check-ins, screenings, masking, rearranged waiting areas, enhanced cleaning, and SMS text notifications to show that people should not delay urgent or necessary follow-up care.
- We are the authorities in accurate public health information. With some communities fearful of vaccines or unaware of basic facts about the pandemic, healthcare providers can serve as 24/7 newsrooms via branded wellness sites, email and social media campaigns to engage consumers on facts they should know. Providers can also produce high-value webinars that leverage the expertise of medical professionals, especially with the likely confusion that’s bound to arise with continued variants and reduced effectiveness of existing vaccines.
- We are home to heroes. Now is the time for healthcare providers for continued recognition of individual and team efforts that played critical roles during the pandemic. These stories of great sacrifice, commitment, and empathy can reinforce a message of commitment to consumers and leverage the goodwill consumers are looking to share with healthcare brands.
As we near this post-pandemic period, providers can remind consumers of their relevancy for so much more than vaccinations. They can serve as information providers, providing advice and engagement on multiple health topics. This approach not only sustains loyalty, but it confirms the provider’s authority in the field and will help to drive volume. Social and digital engagement and grassroots outreach are platforms that will have greater relevancy and can be amplified by paid programmatic channels.
Improving communication gateways and refining relevant messages are both things that marketers can be the stewards of. Waiting until it’s too late is not an option as innovation and opportunity is traditionally the consequence of crisis. Branding and marketing will be key to helping health systems communicators leverage the goodwill from the pandemic and turn it into ongoing brand loyalty. The time to reinvest is now.
David Maricich is president and COO of Maricich Health, located in Irvine, California. Visit maricich.com.
The culturally diverse team at Maricich Health collaborates with health systems, payers and other healthcare marketers to find core human truths that will resonate cohesively across diverse audiences. Learn more about our Cultural Infusion approach and how we can help you reach diverse populations within your market area.