Healthcare Leadership During an Economic Downturn

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By Croom Lawrence, Vice President, M1 Health at Merkle and Kent Groves, PhD, Vice President, Global Health Strategy, Health at Merkle

The COVID-19 challenge is fluid; how long this “new normal” will last is anyone’s guess. What we expect is that all healthcare stakeholders to a greater or lesser extent will change behaviors permanently. The COVID-19 pandemic will accelerate trends including telemedicine, improvements in personalization and customization, consent, privacy, alternative channel engagement and communication, and the redefining of many roles and “traditions” in the industry.

Strong leadership with the universal recognition that there is a new way forward, will be the key driver to success, or failure, among all organizations. The window for evaluation is now, with go-forward strategies being defined against a post-pandemic global economy.

Lean on the Business Drivers of People-Based Marketing

In Q1, the first wave of updated messaging to customers was hastily executed. Now, we encourage all healthcare stakeholders to turn their focus to the essentials that are driving today’s business, and those which will follow the crisis. The death of the cookie is still looming, and the business drivers of customer centricity are still front and center. With this in mind, all marketers will need an efficient approach to deliver more personalized messages in preferred channels, at a faster refresh rate to meet newly defined expectations.

Some new trends will require more focus. This crisis can provide a platform to refresh tone, style, and voice of communications and make greater strides toward the next level of permission and preference-based programs. Mitigating economic headwinds means strategically-minded brands will now widen the gap and those who embrace the new world order will set the standard against which their challengers will struggle to compete.

Shift to Virtual Communications

Social distancing is putting a heavier burden on digital and virtual communications. New behaviors established during the current crisis will likely establish new expectations for how healthcare providers, patients, caregivers, and customers engage with the full range of brands from health providers and insurers to clinics and prescription meds.

Traditional scheduling has imploded with live appointments becoming video appointments, and prescriptions being delivered with a broader shopping basket of over-the-counter and lifestyle products. This fundamental shift for virtual and consent-based communications between stakeholders is becoming the new norm – as will the need for timely, real-time, and on-demand content.

Rebalancing Roles

Day-to-day routines within physicians’ practices have changed, and working from home is now the norm. Roles and responsibilities may be redefined as physicians, nurse practitioners (NP), and physician assistants (PA) re-prioritize and rebalance work and family life with their “new” roles. For example, peak online browsing and email open behavior may be shifting based on new workloads.

Proactive health-minded buying has been tied directly to the COVID-19 outbreak indicating there is or will be a surge in products that support overall health. This may lead to a shift in overall health consciousness, but it might also be a distraction. For many brands, patient compliance and persistence, combined with the ability to find and afford desired medications, will be paramount.

Make sure you are providing accessible, real-time administrative resources; for example, helping individuals fill out health insurance applications or supporting clinical resources in completing prior authorization or copay applications. Develop actionable, patient education, and coaching resources directly for patients or NPs and PAs.

Geographies will be affected differently or may recover at different rates. There are no wait-and-see scenarios, so setting up dedicated teams across functions to help prioritize targeted non-personal promotion workstreams is critical. Each company should outline specific omnichannel scenarios by major geographies. Quantify the scenarios into prescribing declines or stages of recovery, and know where to place investments by geography.

It’s important to not abandon a persistent brand presence, even though the initial instinct during a slow-down might be to reduce marketing investment, balance brand presence, demand-gen, and performance marketing. Brand-level investments in customer experience optimization and loyalty helped winners thrive and establish commanding leads during the last downturn.

First-party data and consent-driven content are ways to reframe marketing conversations from “cost savings and efficiencies” to “strategic investments” that can keep driving customer relationships, regardless of economic ups and downs.

With COVID-19 changing so many people’s lives, consider creating a new workstream that focuses on re-examining attributions that target key audiences. Companies should be looking at how to leverage those attributions to align on the new normal and begin identifying opportunities to expand those key audiences. It’s no surprise that each aspect of the business needs to be rethought, but taking these steps can ensure that leadership is enacting the best forward-looking strategies.


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