How to Pivot Your Healthcare Marketing Plan During COVID-19

Consumer trends toward remote work, increased web consumption and dependence on e-commerce are accelerating in response to COVID-19 — here’s how healthcare marketing can meet existing demand and plan for the new normal.

We knew Amazon, Walmart and other retail brands were coming after our customers. We suspected the upcoming presidential election might affect the future of the ACA and accelerate the shift from volume to value. We've likely experienced the impact of industry consolidation in changing the healthcare landscape. 

We couldn't have predicted the speed, scope and severity of a pandemic.

It’s impossible to pinpoint how and when a crisis will happen, but as usual marketers are rising to the occasion and rallying their colleagues and communities to foster public health and flatten the curve. 

So, should your healthcare marketing plan pivot during the COVID-19 era and other times like these?  

While content remains king, the way that marketers plan, create and deploy that content is changing at a rapid pace. Consumers and workers are spending more time online as they seek health and safety information.

Below, we've detailed four ways that we’re helping healthcare organizations adjust their content marketing strategies to educate and engage consumers and healthcare providers in the current climate.

The Pivot: Brand Building

Brand positioning during this time is crucial. Now is the time to double down on sharing stories of caregivers and other team members investing time away from their own families—often putting themselves in harm’s way—to treat patients and protect the community.

To humanize your brand as a leading voice in the community, feature your physicians offering advice to their colleagues throughout the organization as well as consumers. If it feels authentic to your brand, you can even consider finding creative ways to show how your caregivers are finding joy in the crisis.

When promoted on social media and tagged appropriately (e.g. #stayhomeminnesota), these narratives help flatten the curve, lift spirits and create an emotional connection with your brand that will last long after the pandemic has passed.

The Pivot: New Patient Acquisition

From a patient acquisition perspective, more significant adjustments might be appropriate based on your organization's capacity and protocols.

As Medicare's coverage expansion improves access to a broader range of services without having to travel and CMS urges hospitals to delay non-essential elective procedures, we’re helping clients create content and campaigns promoting telehealth and virtual care options.

The same campaign methodology used to find, engage and convert service line prospects translates perfectly to a telehealth campaign. 

The Pivot: Meeting Existing Demand

While the coronavirus is impacting daily lives nationwide and commanding the lion's share of media attention, it's important to remember there are consumers who still need non-COVID information and treatment.

To meet this existing demand and fill the funnel for future encounters, consider shifting digital marketing dollars from conversion-focused ads to top-of-the-funnel campaigns that create awareness and preference for your services. Since many of your potential patients can't get in front of doctors, now is a great time to redirect search traffic and promote tools like health risk assessments that help community members understand their needs and plan for the future. 

For example, a bariatric campaign encouraging prospects to attend a seminar can pivot to drive those same prospects to download a patient guide. This "softer close" allows you to collect their information and build a pipeline of candidates who are engaged with your organization and can be nurtured to other goal conversions when the time is right.

The Pivot: Marketing Channels

For the foreseeable future, consider shifting focus away from seminars, screenings and other face-to-face events and think about how to engage a more active online consumer. Your owned media channels—especially your website, enewsletter and social media pages—are critical hubs for content and meaningful connection with an increasingly virtual audience.  

Email — This digital-first concept applies both to self-isolating consumers as well as physicians and other healthcare providers who are now less amenable to in-person visits. Email is a preferred method of communication for clinicians, making the channel mission critical for marketers charged with recruiting, referral development and other business-to-business initiatives. Arm your physician liaisons with whitepapers and other content resources to send electronically in efforts to spark and advance conversations.

Social Media - With social platforms like Facebook and Twitter becoming a primary source of news—especially on the local level, focus more on heartwarming stories of frontline caregivers throughout the crisis. To engage peers and healthcare providers, create and share thought leadership content on LinkedIn that demonstrates your team's expertise, promotes their efforts to keep patients safe and celebrates their accomplishments. 

Print — Along with considering these digital pivots, don’t discount the value of print to deliver content to the millions of Americans now working from home who ostensibly have more time on their hands and are seeking a respite from self-isolation, homeschooling and other stressors. The mailing and printing industry are considered essential government services during times of emergency, so your community publication can continue to reach consumers when they need to hear from you most.

To meet this need, we’re helping healthcare clients plan and create COVID-19 marketing infographics, inserts and other assets featuring handwashing tips, advice for staying active at home and other resources that address the new reality of a remote work and school environment.

Also, now is the time to integrate your publication with digital channels that enrich the reader experience and create a path for engaging with your organization in a meaningful way.

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5 Types of Content You Need in a Crisis Like COVID-19

With the COVID-19 news cycle being refreshed by the hour, healthcare marketers are rising to the challenge to communicate quickly and accurately with employees, patients and community members — to ensure all bases are covered as news breaks and consumers move from education to action, here are the five types of content your communication plan needs during this unprecedented crisis.

Every screen, inbox and social feed is filled with content and communication about the coronavirus crisis, with much of the information coming from hospitals and healthcare systems. We’re partnering with clients to create content on the symptoms of the disease, how it’s spread, the organization’s updated policies and other critical topics weighing on the minds of consumers.

To ensure your content has the greatest impact on employee and patient safety during a crisis, public health and your healthcare brand’s reputation as a trusted resource, here are five types to include in your crisis communication plan.

Discoverable Content

Searches for specific topics like COVID-19 spike during a crisis. In fact, Google reports that interest in coronavirus grew more than 260% globally from the first week of February to early March. Delivering timely, relevant and accurate content to anxious consumers is critical—and the first step is understanding which questions they are asking. For example, one of the main queries is “How is COVID-19 different from flu?” and by incorporating these keywords where they make sense in headlines, meta descriptions and body copy, your brand will show up when consumers are searching for information.

Based on our research, here are some of the more common coronavirus-related searches that are relevant for healthcare providers:

Geographic Searches—Users are interested in, and often worried about, local results right now. When you are building search terms, add your specific geography to this list so your content shows up for people who are searching for the topic.

News/Updates Searches—The media is creating a demand for updates about COVID-19, and that is reflected in frequent search results based on these keywords:

  • Coronavirus update
  • Coronavirus news
  • Coronavirus latest news

"Spread"-Focused Searches—Even more important than symptoms right now is information about how the coronavirus spreads. There is a demand to know how to prevent and avoid the spread of the virus. These keywords are driving the majority of related traffic and should be incorporated into your digital content:

  • What causes coronavirus?
  • How does coronavirus spread?
  • What to avoid to stop coronavirus

Educational Content

This is the baseline content type for crisis content and communication, and journalistic tenets like the inverted pyramid are best when conveying information on what COVID-19 is, why it is a threat, who is most susceptible, how it’s spread and where to get updates.

The most effective format for conveying COVID-focused information is a dedicated landing page with links to resources.

Here are a few examples:

Along with the basics on COVID-19, the page can also feature tips for hand-washing, definitions of terms like “social distancing” and ideas for successfully transitioning to a remote work and school environment.

Also, make sure you’re promoting the page and driving traffic through your email newsletter, social media pages, custom publication and other channels.

Authoritative Content

As a pillar of the community, your brand’s voice is among the most trusted—and this is especially true during a crisis. The timing, accuracy and authenticity of your messaging will reinforce your brand’s position as a respected source of healthcare information.

Effective crisis communication starts at home, and healthcare organizations are featuring fellow associates to address their team's frequently asked questions. This video series from CHRISTUS Health covers topics ranging from "Who should be wearing masks?" to "Should pregnant women be working?" and other relevant issues.

To educate the community on critical topics and clarify misinformation, feature your subject matter experts as illustrated by this COVID-19 and Children video from St. Louis Children's Hospital.

With both internal and external audiences, it's important to communicate early and often to help build trust and ease anxiety—despite not having all the answers. “Even if you’re still trying to understand the extent of the problem, be honest and open to maintain credibility,” writes Paul A. Argenti in Communicating Through the Coronavirus Crisis (HBR).

Reassuring Content

The topics you address and tone of your content can be as impactful as the information itself. By considering the whole person and their needs—physical, emotional, spiritual—and communicating clearly and with compassion, you can further position your brand as the community’s trusted resource for health care.

Use plain language to talk about the coronavirus, with links to reliable sources like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO).

Also, it’s important to maintain a professional look and feel to all communications. Even when you’re moving fast, it’s important to adhere to brand standards. There are some free resources online with icons that you can use as you create content to maintain a professional tone that will be reassuring to your audience. And be sure to take the time to proofread your content and review before posting.

Actionable Content

Lastly, the question on everyone’s mind when searching for information regarding the coronavirus is, “What should I do?” Make sure your content answers this question with current guidelines based on the CDC, WHO and other reputable sources.

This page from Novant Health is an excellent example of actionable content with a coronavirus self-assessment, directions for accessing virtual care, a map of local screening centers and other resources.

Learn More: Watch the COVID-19 Webinar

Get more insights and examples to guide your COVID-19 communications plan.


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Our team will tailor a content strategy to guide your community during the crisis.

Data Science for Content Marketing with Christopher Penn

As an official media partner of ContentTech Summit 2020, we spoke with keynote speaker Christopher Penn about the importance of data science and what healthcare marketers can learn from Facebook and other data-driven organizations.

Christopher Penn

Christopher Penn, co-founder and chief data scientist of Trust Insights, has helped global brands such as McDonald’s, Toyota and others leverage the power of data to level up their marketing efforts.

In this guest post, find out why Christopher believes data science is an essential skill and the implications of data-driven content marketing for healthcare organizations.



The Value of Data Science

Simply put, data science is the extraction of meaning. Using the scientific method, data science helps marketers prove or disprove a hypothesis—and if you’re not using the scientific method, then you’re not doing data science.

To derive meaningful insights from information, data science combines four disciplines—business acumen, domain expertise, technical skills, and mathematical and statistical skills—into one. At the very least, marketers need a solid foundation in technical and statistical skills while partnering with experts in the other domains to ensure better results, lower costs and fewer mistakes.

A fundamental understanding of data science is critical for marketers because it allows them to repeat and scale their successful initiatives. This, however, can be a challenge as marketers typically don’t have a strong quantitative background. We’re often winging it as marketers and while we might get lucky and have a campaign take off, we don’t know why it worked and therefore we can’t repeat or scale the successful initiative—much less make it better. There are many brilliant healthcare marketers out there whose work could be accelerated if they were able to leverage data science, machine learning and artificial intelligence.

On the other hand, there are healthcare organizations doing excellent work through data science, including The Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. Their researchers help prevent the spread of infectious diseases like coronavirus by looking at code, doing the math and using the latest technology to inform policy decisions and unlock the value of domain experts.

The Intersection of Data Science and Content Marketing

One of the easiest ways to explain how data science applies to marketing is in the area of publishing. For example, a content strategy typically includes blog posts and white papers that offer information to the end customer in a way that delivers value.

We recently created a white paper titled Social Media 2020 that involved analyzing search and social data to determine whether marketers need a presence on Tik Tok. We crunched the numbers to figure out how many people search for “How to join Tik Tok” as well as “How to quit Tik Tok account” and found that the platform is not growing as fast as it has been. In fact, more people want to quit than are signing up. The implication for marketers: Go ahead and set up an account but don’t invest a lot of time. The data doesn't support diving headfirst into it.

When you think about all the time and resources that go into publishing, the scenario above is a good example of what data-driven marketing looks like. Data science helps you to make decisions and create value for your community using data and research, instead of laboring over onerous peer-reviewed papers to inform your marketing plans.

Healthcare Data Sources

Along with your own research, there are myriad public data resources available to marketers. Almost every country has a government organization that shares a tremendous amount of data. We often use to draw insights when developing content.

Another one of my favorites is the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, which offers a robust data set of hospital quality outcomes. Marketers can see how organizations rank for specific conditions and build their own benchmarks.

The Medicare data set is useful; however, some hospitals do not report certain metrics so about 20–25% of the data is missing. I recommend blending Medicare data with U.S. census data for a more complete picture of hospital ratings and population health.

As a marketer, these and other resources help you understand where to focus your content. You could, for example, translate outcomes data into a travel guide that helps consumers know where to go for specific conditions.

The Ethics of Data Science

Big tech companies such as Google, Amazon and Facebook are leading the way in using data for marketing, but they can also be the most unethical and dangerous. Facebook is a perfect example of what happens when data science is decoupled from ethics. Look at how the Facebook News Feed functions. The goal is to keep users engaged and ultimately to create compulsive behavior. By collecting a tremendous amount of data, Facebook learned that making people angry and afraid all the time is the best way to keep people engaged.

As you apply data science, both you and the institution must have the highest ethical standards as to how you use data and be proactively looking for bias and adverse outcomes. When you see skews in data sets, these can have substantial outcomes down the line.

In health care, our primary imperative is the Hippocratic Oath: First, do no harm. If your marketing is discriminating or causing a bias, you are not following that principle.

Data Science Resources for Content Marketing

There are relatively few marketing data science resources as the disciplines grew up separately. My personal blog at Trust Insights is one  resource that tries to bring both of these functions together.

There are also organizations like Women in Analytics and other blogs, conferences and Twitter lists where marketers can access data science information.

A few of my favorite resources include:

Along with these resources, one of the most important things you can do is to start following individuals who share a lot of information on data science and can function as information mentors.

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True North Custom an Official Media Partner for Cleveland Clinic Health Summit

From voice search to partnering with physicians, here are a few topics on the minds of healthcare content marketing professionals.

Content Marketing World 2019 logo

We're proud to share some the most salient insights for healthcare marketing pros from this year’s conference:

Let’s Build Your Content Strategy Together

Find out how we’re helping healthcare organizations like yours find, engage and convert patients and prospects.

A Conversation with Content Strategists Part 3: Marketing Technology and Channel Integration

In this interview series with healthcare content strategy leads, we discuss the goals, channels and other elements of an effective healthcare content strategy, focusing on marketing technology and channel integration strategies.

We spoke with three marketing leaders about everything from keeping up with trends to selecting the right channels. Now, in this third and final article in our series, we ask the content strategists about the marketing technology and channel integration tools they're using to plan, create and deploy content.

We spoke with:

Q: How are you using marketing technology and channel integration?

Amy-Sarah: We use a couple of different paid SEO platforms, such as ForeSee—to help guide our organic search efforts and keep tabs on user feedback. We use a marketing automation platform for class and event registrations and email lists.

Kristen: Marketing technology is a critical part of making our content marketing program more efficient and effective. We’re utilizing a CRM to better understand our audiences and an email platform and marketing automation to deliver content when audiences need it most. We rely heavily on our analytics tools and have used digital user testing to gather the insights we need to make data-driven decisions.

Q: What are your favorite tools for planning, creating or measuring content?

Amy-Sarah: I love, love, love SiteImprove. It hits the sweet spot of being easy/intuitive to use while at the same time providing enough robust data and customization to allow for accurate reporting. We measure readability, accessibility, usability, SEO and content quality for different content segments, and we’re able to use numbers to show improvement—very clear, helpful metrics for demonstrating the outcomes of our efforts with our doctors.

[I also love] the Hemingway Editor, a free website that allows you to paste in text and see right away where and how you need to simplify the content to create more concise, effective writing. This can be really valuable for online editing, especially when you’re forced to edit yourself.

Kristen: I use SEMrush constantly for keyword research, content ideation and optimization. I start every morning by checking Google Trends to stay up to date on relevant topics that are trending. I also log into our Google Analytics account on a daily basis to monitor content performance; we use Tableau to help with data visualization and tell the story of what those numbers mean.

Q: What is your perspective on content marketing in what some are calling the “post-click” era?

Amy-Sarah: What’s interesting is that the actual strategy of developing good content that meets the needs or answers the questions of the consumer patient doesn’t change. Whether a user clicks through to our website or not doesn’t change that. What does need to change is how we understand our digital presence and how we measure success. Instead of thinking of our website like a hospital building, where we serve patients only within the walls of the structure, we have to expand our reach beyond the site, just like we’re doing with population health in extending our ideas of health care beyond the hospital footprint. So we meet our patients on YouTube, we meet them on disease-specific forums. We focus, not on click-through rates and online appointments, but on engagements and interactions. And, we find a way to make it as easy as possible to offer services where they are.

Kristen: We’re trying to take advantage of Google’s growing number of featured snippets, and right now have benefited from providing content that answers users’ questions and queries. Considering voice search as part of that post-click era, we’d consider it a success when and if a user found their answer from us, even if that didn’t end up with a click. While the metrics we track may change as SERPs evolve, the role of content marketing will remain important, because it’s all about presenting the most useful content in the most useful way for the end user.

Q: The head of the Content Marketing Institute believes that “print is making a comeback.” How does print factor into your content strategy?

Rebecca: Print is a key component of our strategy—but again, we believe the lines are blurred. Print is valuable if your consumer reads it. Video is valuable if your consumer watches it. Radio is valuable if your consumer is listening. But none of these work if you don’t have built-in audiences. Our strategy is to dig deep early in the process so we know who is reading, watching or listening. Whatever we produce must match the existing audience—and that’s what is tricky is our world right now. That is what we see constantly evolving.

What works for a woman in her 60s may not work for her daughter or son or granddaughter and grandson. We have to be relevant to all of those audiences.

One segment that has been very successful is a partnership with the Hartford Courant. We have an article that runs on Sunday highlighting a strategic service line. That article then lives in social channels and previews a Facebook LIVE conversation at noon two days later. The article highlights a patient story and the subsequent Q & A allows potential patients access to our experts in real time. This has been tremendously successful, with more than 80K views per segment, leading to hundreds of appointments.

Kristen: Sitting on the digital team, I can’t say that print is a focus for our content marketing program. However, we do not work in a silo, and working with our team members, we have awesome opportunities to utilize our content is a variety of local publications, patient handouts, and even get requests for printouts for schools and physician offices.

Amy-Sarah: This is where I think we have to stop dividing up strategies by platform, i.e., digital vs. print, or internal vs. external, online vs. in-person. We know that people cross platforms, cross personas and cross contexts all the time, and trying to pin people into behaviors won’t always work. The patient experience encompasses all the various touchpoints we impact.

We know that plenty of times our patients need information on paper and in their hands. Our current approach requires partnership between our digital and print teams, as well as alignment with the team creating patient education. We all share a commitment to plain language, and we work to coordinate efforts. We want to give patients the choice to find what they need where and how they want to. Our print documents provide online options, but we don’t measure success only on the URL visit.

If you missed the previous article in the series:

Part 1: Keeping Up With Trends 

Part 2: Primary Goals, Audiences and Channels

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