Digital Marketing Marketing Strategy

Too Soon To Use COVID-19 in Marketing?

Is it too soon to incorporate COVID-19 into a marketing campaign? The answer for almost every company is an emphatic YES! Don’t put your company’s reputation at risk by trying to capitalize on the current pandemic.

Tracking and incorporating current events into marketing programs is smart. For example, if your target audience was worried about recently passed legislation (ahem…information blocking anyone?) or a proposed change to a reimbursement guideline, explaining how your solution can help is an excellent way to gain attention.

Taking advantage of fear caused by a poorly understood disease, however, is callous and shameful.

This past week I received an email from a small company (who will remain nameless) who makes a check-in app for physician offices. The subject line of their promotional email was essentially – “Our App Helps Prevent the Spread of COVID-19”. Within the body of the email, the company stated that by allowing patients to check in online and texting them when the doctor was ready, they could prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the waiting room.

There are so many things wrong with this promotional program.

First, the subject line is not believable. How can an App prevent the spread of COVID-19? Does it cause your phone to emit a special frequency that will drive the virus away? Does it warn you if you are within 3 ft of someone else? For me, the subject line is trying too hard to be topical.

Second, although it is accurate to say that preventing crowds can help reduce the likelihood of transmission of a communicable disease like COVID-19, I highly doubt this is a top priority for this company’s target audience right now.

Does anyone really believe that there are physicians and Health IT leaders thinking: “Hey, there is an outbreak with no cure or vaccination that is ravaging our community. We might not have enough beds, staff, ventilators or supplies to care for the people who might show up in our ED. But wait, maybe we should allow them to check-in from home so our waiting rooms aren’t overcrowded.”

For me, the downside risk of this marketing campaign is far greater than the most optimistic positive outcome. Even if they landed 10 new prospects from the campaign, I believe that the number of people who would see the company in a negative light would be far greater.

Would you really want to be known as the company that tried to sell a check-in system at the height of the COVID-19 crisis?

To be fair, if you are a company that provides protective equipment for healthcare workers, ventilators, antiviral cleaning products, telehealth, contact tracing technology or anything that can DIRECTLY benefit those suffering or fighting this pandemic, a light-touch marketing campaign right now might be net-positive. If you acknowledge the difficult circumstances, show empathy for their difficult situation and offer something that can truly help, that could be an effective marketing program.

A better tactic is what several patient communication (texting, email, automated phone call) and telehealth companies are doing: making their platforms freely available to healthcare providers or suspending limitations on their platform to all existing customers. Highlighting these types of positive actions in a press-release is smart and frankly a welcome piece of good news right now.

Talking about the ways you are helping the community is smart marketing. Using COVID-19 to generate clicks is just callous.

I’ve got to believe that whoever created the email program for that check-in company had good intentions, but this campaign needs to be thought through more carefully. Incorporating current events into a marketing campaign isn’t wrong, but you HAVE TO put yourself in the mind of your target audience. In the middle of a crisis, what solutions are they going to need? How burned out are they likely to be? How are they going to react to the message you are sending?

Bottom line: be very careful about conducting a marketing campaign to healthcare providers right now. Think carefully through how it will be perceived and ask yourself whether your business would be truly hurt if you put your campaign in isolation for 14 days (or more) until we are past the crest of the COVID-19 crisis.

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Photo by Fusion Medical Animation on Unsplash

About the author

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Colin Hung

Colin Hung is an award-winning Marketing Executive with more than 15yrs of healthcare and HealthIT experience. He co-founded one of the most popular healthcare chats on Twitter, #hcldr and he has been recognized as one of the “Top 50 Healthcare IT Influencers”. Colin’s work has been published in the Journal of the American College of Radiology, American Society for Healthcare Risk Managers, and Infection Control Today. He writes regularly for Healthcare Scene and here at HITMC.com. Colin is a member of #pinksock #TheWalkingGallery and is proudly HITMC. His Twitter handle is: @Colin_Hung.

7 Comments

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  • Colin, words of wisdom for us all. Thank you for sharing. Let’s keep focused on finding ways our technology, services and knowledge can help our communities, our country and our world. We’re all in this together.

  • Hi, Colin –

    Great posts and believe me, we have been discussing messaging in great depth at the (virtual) office. Here’s my question – our medical device is actually a very real solution for patients with chronic illness who need medication management and who can’t/shouldn’t leave home. Aside from med dispensing, spencer has a telehealth feature, a patient engagement feature and can tie into specific biometric devices like a BP cuff, scale or glucometer.

    Realistically, you can’t call up and order one delivered but we are reaching out to our pharmacy partners to see if they have patients that would be appropriate to start on a spencer program. If COVID-19 impacts for months, not weeks, now is the time to start discussions with providers and sponsors.

    What are your thoughts?

    Janet

    • Hello Janet. Thanks for your comment. It’s an interesting sounding product that you are working with, in fact it sounds like it has many great features for people who have to stay at home due to chronic illness. I would definitely not recommend using COVID-19 as the lead in any marketing program. HOWEVER, I think you could use current events by approaching things “from the side”. You could go with a message that highlights how the device helps people AT HOME. We are all being asked to work/stay at home, so using THAT as your lead, will get attention without seeming exploitative.

      “Our medication device helps prevent the spread of COVID-19” = BAD
      “Our device helps people get the medications they need while at home” = GOOD (and topical)

      Helpful?

  • This is true, Colin. I will say, the HC orgs sharing free resources is something I’m willing to promote. We need those resources right now. Several have reached out to me to ask if I can let my community know the resources are available free of charge.

  • Totally agree Colin.

    I also think some vendors don’t appreciate that unless their solution is significantly differentiated (i.e., we HAVE n95 masks available TODAY), small incremental differentiation (our n95 masks are more comfortable, multi-color, etc.) is not going to get a customer to race to a new vendor. Right now, speed to “implemented / live” is the most important thing. The delay in introducing a new vendor and/or solution may not warrant the small gains.

    Yet they are flooding the inboxes of buyers thinking these folks are shopping based on comparisons. Even if your app is free, the time & effort it may take to implement may be a barrier to paying a current vendor to turn on something 70% as effective.

    • Well put Eric! At this time healthcare organizations aren’t looking for a new vendor. Who has time to negotiate a new contract while their staff are overworked? The need solutions TODAY. So agree, unless your solution is highly differentiated or fulfills an immediately need within a few days, it’s not going to register (at best) or it’s going to leave a bad impression (at worst). I think it’s time B2B Healthcare Marketers used a little risk/reward thinking.

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