Adjusting to a new normal: How healthcare marketing is impacted by COVID-19

The current pandemic has taken a toll on nearly everyone across the globe. The healthcare community at large has seen a particularly significant impact as it continues to grapple with large increases in patient volume and high-acuity care. In response, organizations have quickly adapted to accommodate these changing needs – including how they communicate with audiences and market their services.


To understand the true impact on today’s healthcare marketers, Greystone, a digital consulting company for hospitals and health systems, conducted a survey of 139 provider-based marketers in early April 2020 to learn more about their experience during the onset of the pandemic. The following are a few key findings from the survey.


The majority of healthcare marketers’ jobs drastically changed. Over 75% of survey respondents said their day-to-day work was diverted to coronavirus-related activities during the first month of the outbreak. In fact, more than half of healthcare organizations had stopped or significantly reduced marketing any services unrelated to the current pandemic.


Instead, hospital marketers focused their efforts on internal and external communications, adjusting marketing plans, COVID-19 documentation and social media management.


At the same time, more than a third of hospitals paused both digital advertising and marketing research. Other marketing activities that have come to a halt include patient testimonials, mobile-based digital advertising and pay-per-click (PPC) marketing.


While this data reflects a snapshot at the onset of the pandemic, healthcare marketers do not expect “normal” day-to-day marketing activities to return until many weeks after the crisis ends.


Social media is overwhelmingly effective in reaching consumers. When it comes to content marketing, social media has been the most leveraged channel for hospital marketers during the pandemic—and the most effective.


More than 95% of survey respondents said social media is the most-used marketing vehicle for coronavirus-related patient communications, followed by email marketing, written content and blog posts.


With real-time messaging capabilities, social media gives healthcare marketers the ability to communicate with audience members and disseminate timely information at a faster speed, making it a critical tool in the marketing toolbox—today and in the future. Continuing to enhance social media strategies will be vital for organizations to stay connected with patients and consumers as time moves on.


Healthcare marketers are embracing new challenges. Across industries, employees have adapted to a work-from-home lifestyle in recent months. In healthcare, 9 out of 10 marketing teams have implemented a remote work model, creating both new challenges and opportunities for growth.


Respondents cited work from home as the biggest challenge – including undertaking new responsibilities and initiatives without being able to physically sit in the same room as team members. While healthcare marketing teams are leveraging new technologies to communicate and collaborate—using a combination of email, video, conference calls, texts and other digital tools—limitations exist. Flexibility will be more important than ever as healthcare marketers turn to new technologies and approaches to work together to effectively engage consumer audiences where they are.


The future of healthcare marketing


These findings indicate a seismic shift in the industry as hospital marketers pause traditional marketing efforts—at least temporarily. From communicating valuable patient access information and safety messages to understanding new priorities in clinical service lines, the role of healthcare marketing has been largely impacted by the pandemic. While we don’t yet know how this crisis will continue to evolve the industry, understanding how marketing has changed, and learning from what worked during this period, will be key in driving long-term success.