Health Strategic Update: September 2020 Review

October 2, 2020, Jane Portman

Health Strategic Update: September 2020 Review

October 2, 2020, Jane Portman

Health Strategic Update: September 2020 Review

October 2, 2020, Jane Portman

Merkle Blog Image
Merkle Blog Image

Health Strategic Update: September 2020 Review

October 2, 2020, Jane Portman

Health Strategic Update: September 2020 Review

October 2, 2020, Jane Portman

Merkle Blog Image

Health Strategic Update: September 2020 Review

October 2, 2020, Jane Portman

Merkle Blog Image
Merkle Blog Image

Health Strategic Update: September 2020 Review

October 2, 2020, Jane Portman

Many client and agency teams are currently working day and night crafting their 2021 brand plans. In a more normal year (remember those?), the process for data-driven marketers would start with an EBR of FY20 brand and channel performance in order to determine what to do i.e., decide which initiatives should be continued, stopped or re-imagined.

This year, however, has been like no other, so historical year-over-year metrics provide little direction in planning and forecasting the next phase of our “new normal”. Every piece of data seems to have a big asterisk next to it requiring context and caveats. Foresight is in short supply when it comes to determining new challenges brands will face, so plans have to be more flexible and agile than ever. Brands that take a longer view and invest in customer relationships, build differentiated experiences, nurture brand loyalty by eliminating friction points and deliver real value will see greater overall success.

Scenario planning that identifies reasonable contingencies, a test and learn approach to channel investment and innovation, plus a continuous learning plan that reveals actionable customer insights has never been more important. An emphasis (i.e. bigger budget allocation and staffing support) should be put on advanced analytics, customer strategy and market research like never before. The more intimate each brand becomes with the changing landscape, the better prepared they’ll be as things shift and evolve.

Customers are engaging with brands (and each other) more than ever through digital channels and non-personal promotion. The role of pharmaceutical representatives and how they deliver valued services will probably never go back to the predominantly face-to-face dynamic that existed in 2019. A new, high level of telehealth usage and an expanded role for NPs and PAs in prescribing has elevated the importance of channels and audiences that were previously overlooked or deprioritized in annual plans. Reliable, continuous performance data reporting will be essential when it comes to choosing where to invest your brand’s budgets.

All of this change will force smart marketers to push beyond the boundaries of their tried and true playbooks and embrace new opportunities. With so many new customer touchpoints, 3rd party partnerships, addressable media tactics and personalization platforms available today, the toughest decisions may actually be what NOT to do.

Industry Insights and Trends

Listed below are observations about the healthcare business environment as reported by recent articles and studies.

Mail-order drugs facing significant delays
  • Mail-order prescription drug deliveries have encountered “significant delays” after U.S. Postal Service changes put in place by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, two senators said.
  • The delays stretched delivery times to 3 to 4 days, from 2 to 3 days, pharmacies and benefit managers reported, according to a Sept. 9 letter and report from Senators Robert Casey of Pennsylvania and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.
  • The lawmakers called on the board of governors to address the delay in drug delivery, and to reverse changes that degrade postal operations under DeJoy, who took up his post in June.
  • DeJoy was a major fundraiser for President Donald Trump and the Republican Party. He has been under criticism from Democrats for management changes that caused mail delays in recent months, just ahead of the November election, which will rely heavily on the use of mail-in ballots because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Marketers step up use of non-personal promotion during pandemic
  • Meetings between reps and HCPs have decreased 65%. While some reps are returning to the field, two thirds of HCPs indicate they hope reps will stay away until the pandemic eases.
  • While face-to-face promotion is still an option, the mix of communications must shift more heavily to NPP for the foreseeable future.
  • Pharma marketers must meet HCPs where they are. 70% are digital natives.
  • Veeva research shows email is the preferred communication channel for 66% of physicians. This opens the door for a shift in channel strategy. While rep conversations are powerful for complex clinical subjects, they may not be necessary for more straightforward topics like access and patient support.
Taking the Pulse® 2020 Physician Survey

This year’s two-part survey of 4,855 practicing U.S. physicians examines the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on how U.S. physicians find information to inform clinical practices and how they are providing care to their patients.

The growing use of telehealth to expand access

The Taking the Pulse survey reveals that the use of digital resources has increased among U.S. physicians as they look for alternative methods to care for patients, access information and improve their practice amid the global pandemic. COVID-19 mitigation measures have greatly increased the use of telemedicine by U.S. doctors to meet with patients, and remote patient-practitioner consultations are likely to be a permanent part of healthcare provision going forward.

Physician interaction with pharma representatives

While physicians continued to meet with pharma reps amid the COVID-19 pandemic, most interactions were remote via email and phone. As with telemedicine, remote communication between physicians and pharma reps is likely to play a larger role in pharma-physician engagement going forward. Pharma companies have questioned the value of the traditional sales-driven model of physician engagement in an increasingly digital environment. The findings indicate that reps continued to be relevant as a means of educating physicians on pharma products and services, though a more multi-modal approach, with remote communication supplementing in-person meetings, is taking shape.

Consumer Sentiment

Hunkering down into new routines

Six months out from the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in the US, many consumers feel the health crisis is stabilizing and are feeling more grounded in their personal lives are as well.

This is translating into greater concern for other pressing national issues, such as the nearing presidential election. A majority of US consumers say they are engaged in politics and pay attention to the political stances of the brands they purchase.


During COVID-19, CX leaders needed to position themselves at the forefront of the longer-term shifts in consumer behavior that result from this crisis
Four Actions
While the objectives behind CX remain the same, the operating environment has changed

Exhibit care for customers, employees and communities: 64% of customers choose to buy from socially responsible brands, a figure that has grown significantly in the past two years.

Meet consumers where they are: Digital-led experiences will continue to grow in popularity once COVID-19 is quelled, and companies that act quickly and innovate in their delivery model to help consumers will establish a strong advantage.

COVID-19 will end: Once customers are acclimated to new digital or remote models, some consumers will switch permanently or increase their usage, accelerating behavior shifts that were already underway before the crisis.

Find savings and cut costs: To improve experience and efficiency at the same time, companies will need to increase digital self-service and make smarter operational trade-offs. Companies will need to accelerate time to market for new customer experiences, rapidly prototype, and release innovations in their “minimum viable” state, rather than waiting to perfect them.

Latest Trends

The findings and observations below were reported in the Dentsu Aegis Navigator September 17th study, a recurring report on the state of COVID-19 consumer trends.

Consumers are beginning to feel stability in the new normal. Many feel the COVID-19 health crisis in their community is stabilizing and they are feeling their personal lives are more grounded as well. Over the past month there has been a significant shift in respondents identifying with “living the new normal and even moving into recovery” phase of their feelings about COVID-19. Brands should keep an eye on which behaviors are sticking during this period.

For communities of color, stability remains out of reach. For months it has been clear that Black and Hispanic communities are suffering disproportionately from the spread of the virus as well as and the economic and mental strains it’s brought. Our data, unfortunately, indicates that the suffering is not over. Brands should consider how to direct their efforts towards addressing the unique needs and challenges of Black and Hispanic consumers.

Safety and comfort continue to be individual choices.  It’s clear that there is no universal standard to which activities are deemed “safe” to resume. Each consumer is deciding what is “worth the risk” to claim some sense of normalcy. Brands will need to present consumers will clear information about in-person experiences and safety measures so consumers can decide for themselves.

Advertising approaches should reflect the new normal. With consumers now more comfortable “living with the pandemic” brands should continue to speak to how they are meeting current challenges. Consumers feel favorably to brands that have adeptly reoriented around pandemic needs and are putting safety first.

Marketers should be prepared for 2021. Most consumers are now of the opinion that life will not return to normal until next year, despite progress in vaccine development. Brands need to have a longer-term plan to address lower consumer confidence.

The findings and observations below have been adapted from a McKinsey report and an Everest Group study published earlier in the year.

Source: – Adapting Customer Experience in the Time of Coronavirus: April 2, 2020 | Everest Group: Customer Experience During COVID-19 - March 31, 2020

The top investment priority of enterprises is customer experience - even during an economic downturn

The best ways to improve experience and efficiency at the same time are to increase digital self-service and to make smarter operational trade-offs, grounded in what matters most to customers.

Health top priorities

Innovative Creative

Listed here are recent examples of innovative creative released during the COVID-19 crisis.

NYC’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority launches artistic pro-mask campaign

The MTA launched “The State of Respect”, which cleverly uses the New York state map outline to depict face masks. This coincides with a new regulation requiring all public transit riders to wear a mask or pay a $50 fine.

State of Respect
Gilead Science: Vintage tattoo campaign for the risks of hepatitis C

A campaign to alert people about the risks of hepatitis C, especially for those who attended tattoo studios a long time ago when there was more risk from non-sanitizing materials. To present this in a creative and impactful way, differentiating from the category, we asked for an experienced tattoo artist from a renowned studio here in São Paulo to illustrate a dragon (very common in the 80s and 90s), but with the aspects of the elderly, which refers to the aging of the tattoo. The dragon directly alerts the public to seek the diagnosis.

Health hep c
Snapchat: Team up, Mask up

To encourage Chicago residents to wear masks when in public, Ogilvy Chicago and the City of Chicago launched a first-of-its-kind Snapchat augmented reality lens that deploys a new technology that only allows users to unlock the lens when they put on a mask. The social media platform is popular amongst Millennials and Gen Zers, a demographic that has seen a recent rise in COVID-19 cases in Chicago, and therefore the City believes is key to combatting the spread of the virus in the City.

Snapchat campaign

What We See Working (and Why)

Organizations will need a new model for personalization

Businesses need to quickly update their understanding of individuals’ wants and needs, and quickly retire information that is no longer valid. The enterprises that give people the ability to steer their own digital experiences will be the first to understand what their new wants and needs are.

Traditional black box personalization is overly reliant on historic data. Businesses will need more agile engagement strategies.

Most digital platforms and digital experiences were designed to supplement in-person experiences but demand is rising for shared digital experiences and digital communities.

Example of an innovator: Hey Bracelets

Health wearables: HEY Bracelet and Bond Touch, both wearable bracelets, are attempting to virtualize human touch. Usually sold in pairs, the bracelets can lightly squeeze the wearer or light up and vibrate when activated by their counterpart.

Hey Bracelet
8 Hashtag Marketing Strategies Every Marketer Should Know
Lena Young on writes the following on the value and approach to hashtags and provides useful guidance in this article (more at

“It’s a question as old as time. What came first, the campaign or the #hashtag? If you know a thing or two about influencer marketing, then you know a hashtag can make or break a campaign. But, there is actually an art to selecting the right hashtag that will both positively promote your campaign and generate your desired results.

The art of hashtag curation is such a thing that it even has its own fancy industry term, Hashtag Marketing. And, like all marketing strategies, there are multiple concepts one could take. Discover the different ways you can effectively run a hashtag marketing campaign.

Should I Do Hashtag Marketing?

Of course, you should. The question really shouldn’t be if but why. Hashtag marketing is one of the most effective marketing strategies. It’s a cost-effective way to create user-generated content, which is often beautiful and reusable. Also, it’s a great way to get your audience engaged and active in your brand’s marketing. There is nothing better than a strong community, and that, ladies and gentlemen, is through a #hashtag.”

People are using Voice-activated Assistance more than ever

According to ABI Research, the pandemic is expected to push global voice control device shipments to grow by roughly 30% in 2020 compared to last year.

Amazon reported that worldwide Amazon Alexa skill usage increased by 65% between April and June. In the US alone, 52% of voice assistant users say they use voice tech several times a day or nearly every day, compared to 46% before the outbreak, according to a report

In conclusion, healthcare brands need to actively address marketing efforts given the new environment to both overcome today’s challenges while also capitalizing on new opportunities. “Navigating the new normal” will require revised marketing guidelines for the end of 2020 and beyond.

Marketing Guidelines

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