As organizations have reacted and pivoted in the past few weeks to account for the new coronavirus pandemic, some have struggled to identify how best to move forward with certain aspects of their marketing. For example, how should hospitals and health systems change their digital marketing strategy to account for the current crisis? Is it still appropriate to conduct digital marketing and, if so, what strategies and tactics are most appropriate currently?
First and foremost, it is important to state that each organization must do what it feels is right and assess the unique challenges it faces. Across the U.S., we have not seen one consistent, universal response from healthcare organizations. For those who have paused campaigns, this decision has come down to several potential factors such as restricted budget; lack of resources to respond to queries and appointment requests; Google’s restrictions around “sensitive event” messaging; government regulations; and lack of resources to provide the specific type of care in question. Much of the first reaction for these organizations was for hospital leadership to call for pausing all patient acquisition campaigns until the situation could be assessed further.
For those who have continued marketing throughout, there are similarly a different set of factors at play such as the need to raise awareness of primary care and urgent care resources for the community; the need to promote telehealth services available; providing response to those in need of care, and those who are using the time at home to research care they’ve been putting off; and thinking ahead to those elective surgeries and treatments that are being researched now but do not need to be performed until sometime in the future.
Finally, some organizations that initially paused all marketing have begun to come back online strategically and thoughtfully.
Now that we’re a couple of weeks into the crisis, we will share what we’ve been recommending and seeing across the U.S. for those who have continued marketing strategically throughout and those whose campaigns are coming back online.
There are several factors to consider.
Brand Message in a Time of Crisis
In a time of crisis, your community needs you more than ever. It is a time to ensure they not only look to you as the healthcare expert in your area, but as someone that can help bring the community together. Studies conducted during these past few weeks have shown time and time again that local healthcare experts are the most trusted source of information among healthcare consumers. In this respect, we have seen some hospitals and systems develop a brand campaign around those types of messages, showing how healthcare organizations and community members come together to help each other out in a time of need. This crisis has brought not only families together, but also communities. You as a healthcare leader can continue to promote this message.
COVID-19 Keywords and Ads
Should Google open up this restriction, we recommend hospitals and systems only add in keywords/ads around COVID-19 if they have a specific screening or test that they are offering, and if they are willing to invest a significant amount of budget. The search volume for keywords around this topic is incredibly high.
Another opportunity exists for institutions that want to position themselves as a trusted resource or to highlight ways the community may support their healthcare providers in this time of need. We strongly recommend only utilizing COVID-19 language in ad copy as needed – people are scared, and tone is more important than ever. How institutions handle this crisis will have a lasting impact on their brand reputation for years to come.
Given the increased urgency to minimize unnecessary traffic to urgent care and primary care practices, telehealth is an excellent opportunity to leverage. Those that offer virtual urgent care and/or overall telehealth services should consider adding a screening to their webpage before someone can schedule an appointment and stress the ability to be seen without having to leave the house.
Continue to Monitor Calls for QA
If you are currently monitoring your calls that come in through campaigns, this is an excellent opportunity for some quality assurance related to how the staff are handling questions as they relate to COVID-19. For example, are operators handling advisement for screening effectively and consistently? This is especially important for urgent care campaigns because those are seeing increased volumes across the board currently.
Closely Review Ad Copy & Language
It is important to proactively review all active campaigns to review copy and creative for references to in-person events, seminars, or anything else that may be impacted by COVID-19 closures. Confirm if those in-person options are still available and, if not, confirm that there are virtual alternatives that can inform new ads. This is not only important for SEM specifically, but also other digital marketing tactics that may be in play, such as Facebook or Display advertising. For example, if your urgent care is no longer accepting walk-ins, ensure your ad copy is updated to reflect this change to drive people to call or schedule a telehealth option.
If you are running Location Extensions for active campaigns, ensure that your Google My Business listings are updated to reflect changes in hours, etc. This is important to do regardless if you are using them as extensions or not. This may impact any ad schedules you are potentially using on campaigns, too.
Now is a good time to consider running geofencing for urgent cares, whole hospitals, family practices, etc. Geofencing does not have the same restrictions placed upon it that SEM does with regard to COVID-19. This is an excellent opportunity to consider promoting your telehealth services or to push out educational messages.
COVID-19 Alert on Websites – Primary Care, Urgent Care, Pediatrics and ER
For these service lines, we reached out to our clients at the onset of this crisis to integrate a popup alert with relevant information about Coronavirus and COVID-19 such as symptoms to look out for and best courses of action to take based on CDC recommendations.
Again, every organization is doing what’s right for them, but perhaps the most important factor to keep in mind: if you still have capacity or your timeline is out months for procedures, it will be important to keep marketing. While the new normal may look different in some ways, hospitals and systems are going to need new patients, and right now is the time to engage virtually and begin building relationships with healthcare consumers.
About the Authors
Jen brings nearly a decade of healthcare marketing experience to Eruptr. Prior to joining, Jen served as marketing manager for Holy Redeemer Health System in suburban Philadelphia where she managed all branding efforts—both digital and non-digital—across their entire spectrum of care. One of her responsibilities included the development and maintenance of three distinct websites for the health system—a job that utilized her vast attention to detail and relationship-building skills to the fullest.
For more than 20 years, Jeff has worked with hospitals and health systems on their marketing, communications and strategy. With digital engagement a critical component of patient acquisition, Jeff enjoys collaborating with clients to ensure they are utilizing best practices and achieving desired results. Prior to joining Eruptr, Jeff was an integral part of the team at SilverTech, working with clients on a wide variety of digital engagements, from digital marketing campaigns to large-scale website design and development projects. He also served as VP of Research Analysis and Management at Market Street Research, where he witnessed firsthand the meteoric rise of digital engagement in the healthcare industry.
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