The COVID-19 health crisis has disrupted every industry across North America and across the world for over two years. For healthcare systems, the pandemic tested resources like never before. Doctors, nurses, technicians and other essential medical workers exceeded the challenge put to them during this stressful time.
At the height of the pandemic, healthcare marketing was essentially put on hold by many health systems and providers across the industry. The focus had to be elsewhere as these organizations figured out how to calibrate. What we’re learning as we move forward into a new era of the pandemic is that the opportunity costs have been high for those who chose not to engage with healthcare consumers with a variety of messages during this period.
The pandemic made lasting changes in 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. That requires a reinvestment in marketing. It’s clear now that things may never return to how they were before the pandemic. Rather than waiting any longer or only dipping the toes back into the marketing well, health systems should be thinking bigger about how the experiences over the past two years have created a new mindset of healthcare consumers that can be leveraged.
Looking Back to Look Forward
Even though inflation is now the present reality, think about the last time we had a societal disruption: the Great Recession of more than a decade ago. According to the “Harvard Business Review,” only 9% of companies that survived that 27-month financial challenge posted better revenue numbers than they did before the economic downturn. In fact, 80% of businesses failed to regain their previous growth rates three years after the recession was over.
That’s because most companies didn’t 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 weren’t 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% and its capital expenditures by 50% both over prerecession 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 by 40% and 50%, respectively, during the recession, and its profit margin spiked by 10% in the three years following.
Understanding New Consumer Behavior
One reason why reinvesting in marketing is so essential today is that companies, particularly healthcare systems, need to reconnect with consumers whose behavior is changing. E-commerce, home entertainment and remote working are now becoming baked into daily life. Also, with each passing year, markets across the U.S. are becoming increasingly multicultural. Another change is that virtual healthcare visits are expected to remain permanent even in a post-pandemic economy, according to Brookings. About 5% of consumers, or about 16.5 million Americans, said they used telehealth for the first time during the pandemic, and 88% 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 as, or more important than, cost. The stress of being in large crowds at grocery stores, department stores and healthcare waiting rooms is expected to remain for many, 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 and mental 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 didn’t invest during earlier phases of the pandemic still have an opportunity to capture some of the glow that’ll assuredly remain once the pandemic subsides. Brands that don’t recognize this will fall behind the competition.
Rebranding Relevancy in a ‘Marathon Pandemic’ Mindset
Healthcare providers are at the junction of an ever-shifting new normal according to a recent Resonate report and the 2022 Edelman Trust Barometer. As the pandemic continues into its third year, there’s a divergence between mistrust of COVID-19 vaccines and boosters compared with trust in healthcare as a whole, which has never been higher.
Public health information is now regularly seen in the local and national news and social media but often distrusted. Misinformation is also an issue, which requires healthcare brands to correct the message. The opportunity for health systems and provider groups to combine regular public health communications with branding and service line messaging to amplify awareness, perceptions and growth is clear.
Lean Into the Trust
As the pandemic continues, and uncertainty about the economy and the world creeps into the collective psyche, health systems have a continued branding opportunity to remind consumers that they’re there for them, always have been and always will be to support life’s milestones.
There’s an additional opportunity for health systems to show they’re authentically inclusive and welcoming for all members of the community as more consumers across all segments of the payer mix have an increasingly multicultural mindset or feel inclusivity is important for the brands they associate with.
Health systems 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 also confirms the provider’s authority in the field and will help to drive volume. Social and digital engagement and grassroots outreach are platforms that’ll have greater relevancy and can be amplified by paid programmatic channels.
Consistency is key, especially for healthcare brands. Consumers yearn to see ongoing support, service and branding messages from trusted local healthcare resources, rain or shine.
David Maricich is president and COO of Maricich Health, located in Irvine, California. Visit maricich.com.
The team at Maricich Health collaborates with health systems, payers and other healthcare marketers to find core human truths that will resonate cohesively across diverse consumer and business audiences. Learn more about how we can help supercharge your branding and integrated marketing initiatives to drive growth and attain your objectives.