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Healthcare Leadership During an Economic Downturn: Actions to Take Now

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 (healthcare providers (HCPs), patients, customers, etc.) to a greater or lesser extent will change behaviors permanently as observed in previous crises. The COVID-19 pandemic will accelerate trends including: remote/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, combined with the universal recognition (and conviction) 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 newly defined, post-pandemic global economy.

Lean on the Business Drivers of People-Based Marketing

In the late days of Q1, the first wave of updated messaging to customers was hastily executed. Now, we would encourage all healthcare stakeholders to turn their focus to the essentials that are driving today’s business, while keeping an eye on the “business drivers for life” following 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 a more efficient approach to deliver more personalized messages in preferred channels, at a faster refresh rate to meet rapidly changing personal needs and newly defined expectations.

Some new trends will require more focus – not less. This crisis can provide a platform to not only refresh tone/style/voice of communications, but also to make greater strides toward the next level of permission and preference-based programs. Moving faster than competitors is more important than ever. Mitigating new economic headwinds means strategically minded brands will now widen the gap vis-à-vis their competition, and we have said it before, those who embrace the new world order will set the standard against which their challengers will struggle to compete.

Social distancing is putting a heavier burden on digital and virtual communications

Just like the 9/11 crisis, which became the defacto catalyst for digital retail shopping, new behaviors established during the current COVID-19 crisis will likely establish new expectations for how HCPs, 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 as live appointments have reverted to live video appointments, detailing is migrating to video engagements, and prescriptions are all being delivered with a broader shopping basket of OTC and related health/lifestyle products. This fundamental shift for virtual and consent-based communications between patients and doctors, reps and physicians, and patients and pharmacies will increase, accelerate, and become the new norm – as will the need for timely, real-time, and on-demand content.   

Action: Take a surgical scalpel and invest in more ways to do people-based marketing to ensure your organization leapfrogs the competition with better, more addressable, and permission-based experiences. 

Action: Update “ways of working” playbooks to become more agile. Produce more content fragments in more diverse channels to satisfy more diverse needs.    

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 (NPs), and physician assistants (PAs) re-prioritize and rebalance work and family life with their “new” jobs. For example, peak online browsing and email open behavior may be shifting based on new work loads. According to a recent Nielsen report, six key behaviors have been identified to tie directly to the COVID-19 outbreak. The first one is proactive health-minded buying – 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. And for many brands, patient compliance and persistence, combined with the ability to find and afford desired medications, will be paramount. 

Action: Shift from “say” to “do.” Beyond words, build tangible value in customer relationships by ensuring HCP and patient access to key products. Set up feedback loops and gather more real-time data to ensure gaps in patient adherence are quickly filled.

Action: Provide 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.

Action: Use this crisis as an opportunity to work in a more agile fashion. Learn how to set up cross-functional teams that respond more nimbly to address hot spots in declining or growing parts of the business, clinic, or department.

Geographies will be affected differently or may recover at different rates

There are no wait-and-see scenarios. Set up dedicated teams across functions to help prioritize targeted non-personal promotion (NPP) workstreams by brand and indication or patient support messaging and live resources.

Action: Outline specific omni-channel scenarios by major geographies. Quantify the scenarios into prescribing declines or stages of recovery, and know where to place investments by geography.

Action: Don’t 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.

We also acknowledge the two leading people-based marketing currencies – first-party data and consent-driven content – as 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.

Things To Do Right Now

Establish an enterprise-wide learning agenda. Whether you have a broad or narrow portfolio of brands, leverage cross-channel campaigns across your target audience to capture foundational learnings. Develop new, incremental tests that can be best designed and executed in the most productive setting. Be more deliberate with an enterprise-wide learning agenda, and keep distributing those learnings to help drive your marketing/communication activities even faster.

Use the currencies of people-based marketing to accelerate momentum and establish persistent market dominance. Lessons learned in the last recession show smart organizations emerge stronger than before. Make decisive marketing investments in key customer relationships, and financial discipline will help your organization flourish through and after the slowdown.  First-party data and content are now the dominant currencies defining brand success over next 24-36 months, especially with the impending death of the cookie. 

Update Insights. With COVID-19 creating so much change in people’s lives, consider creating a new workstream that focuses on the following:

  • Re-examining attributes that pressure-test target audiences to ensure they’re still relevant.
  • Consider whether there are additional attributes that should be leveraged to align with customers’ “new normal.”
  • Identify opportunities to expand audiences based on new daily routines and behaviors.
  • Determine if audiences should be focused more tightly to optimize reach.
  • Rethink channels that have lost appeal (direct mail, TV, etc.).

To accomplish this, gather the integrated team together (virtually) to conduct a workshop that challenges current and future approaches to targeting and audience building. Overall, we believe HCPs’ prescribing behaviors, patients’ purchase habits, and customers’ registration decisions will continue to evolve, and data will help us identify new trends and make more informed decisions. This workshop is just the first step in what needs to be an ongoing effort to keeping your fingers on the pulse of change and remain customer centric.

How Merkle Can Help

1. Workshop with your brand teams

  • Share NPP best practices and help run ideation sessions.
  • Establish playbooks for different levels of action and response.

2. Prioritize initiatives

  • Lead discussions on prioritizing NPP tactics.
  • Collect new tactics to pilot, modify, or cut to maximize impact. 

3. Plan for the future

  • Begin collecting growth opportunities in alignment with quick wins.
  • Develop strategy and insights work to prepare for shifts on customer behavior.