The health sector has gotten more creative with marketing as COVID-19 has progressed — and there are lessons to learn

Simon Davies

Bastion Brands founder and chief executive officer Simon Davies. Source: supplied.

The pandemic has brought many things into sharp focus very quickly, and one of the top priorities for the public has become health.

In re-evaluating health as a priority, the public has become attuned to the marketing tactics of the health industry, forcing marketing and branding practitioners to change their approach to ensure campaigns remain effective.

While these shifts are apparent in the health sector, they also mark a trend that we’re likely to see ripple into other industries as customers become more sophisticated audiences.

Here are five of the trends we see consolidating in 2021.

Education is effective

Education remains the most effective tactic in healthcare marketing.

If your target audience is learning as you’re communicating, they are more likely to form a positive view of your brand.

The key here is to provide straightforward content that doesn’t push the brand hard, but rather, associates it with helpful, informative content.

In pharmaceutical marketing, we deal with some exceptionally intelligent people and the cut-through with doctors has been fantastic, with high engagement from patients too. 

The one area where education content marketing has changed is in the delivery method.

Presentations and lectures have become less engaging compared to peer-to-peer learning and methods such as gamification.

One big winner is episodic videos. Just as people watched more TV series during lockdown, we took a ‘Netflix’ approach, producing a series of eight episodes about one or two minutes long each.

This developed substantial engagement and created continuing interest, whereas a 10-minute video would not have held people’s attention in the same way.

Tell your own story

Before 2020, healthcare marketers would often leverage data to create a narrative around product effectiveness and patient journeys.

However, due to COVID-19, there has been a lack of such data available. 

Instead of using third party data, brands have started to harvest their own to build rich insights and shape a story.

While effective storytelling has always been a key marketing tool, it is now an important differentiator.

Having your own research in any area of business enables you to become the best at shaping the narrative and providing unique perspectives.

Make your marketing multi-channel

Thanks to distancing measures, 2020 saw a decline in face-to-face marketing, including events, making digital channels a must-have.

There are no real secrets here: identify your target audience and your channel plan, then trace your customer’s journey to engage them. 

The difference, post-COVID-19, is that people have found multiple ways to access information, from trusted news sources to opinions, social platforms, videos, podcasts and more.

In 2021, the brands that will succeed are the ones that can integrate their channels and effectively communicate with their audience at each touchpoint. 

Consider investing in influencer marketing. Not so much Instagram-style paid content, but key social opinion leaders on platforms such as Twitter and LinkedIn to help increase the reach of your message.

Deliver your message in context

Multi-channel sales and marketing campaigns require more contextual efforts to ensure your message hits the target.

For example, we found that quite a few doctors are more engaged with material if they can dial in at a time that suits them, when they are ready to absorb information, rather than have reps turn up unannounced on any given day. 

People take in information differently on different channels, so whether you’re marketing virtually or in person, you need to build rapport with the audience according to what’s suitable for the channel. For example, whether it’s one-to-few or one-to-many, a generalised campaign or a more personalised one.

Remember the emotion

Differentiating your brand is about finding the sweet spot between being informative and stimulating an emotional response.

For the healthcare field, we rely on science and data to support the emotional triggers.

We ask: ‘What are their fears? What are their frustrations? What are their desires?’

Use your understanding of these emotions to influence them and create effective communication.

At the beginning of COVID-19, there was an over-saturation of marketing responses to the pandemic, and therefore a lack of cut-through.

Effective engagement is no longer achieved with a big budget or relentless campaigning. Not only are budgets tighter, but the world has changed and so must our marketing tactics.

Being more astute about who you’re engaging and where you’re reaching them will go a long way to earning their trust, amplifying brand recognition and ensuring results.


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