Nobody can predict how the coming year will pan out, as the Covid-19 pandemic continues to rage. But in healthcare, technology and business things change all the time. Mark and Susan Venables, the co-founders of Highland Marketing, argue that to succeed in an uncertain environment NHS IT companies need a flexible plan that will keep them in control of their own destiny.
It’s impossible to make detailed predictions for the year ahead as the pandemic pandemonium continues. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible for health tech suppliers to plan or draw up effective marketing and communications strategies.
Tough times and better ones
For a start, while it’s not possible to plan out the exact trajectory of the coronavirus pandemic and the government’s response to it, the broad outlines of 2021 are reasonably clear.
All four nations of the UK are set for a very difficult spring and it’s likely their health and care systems will need the summer to recover: by which time the NHS will be at the start of its normal ‘winter planning’.
However, two vaccines that protect against Covid-19 are now available and, if they can be rolled-out effectively, they will be offering at least some protection to the old, vulnerable and key workers by early summer, with a wider vaccination programme in sight.
That should enable the UK and its healthcare services to look ahead to a ‘more normal’ 2022.
And, with luck, the arrival of integrated care systems in March this year should mean that the ‘new normal’ includes new digital services that build on the roll-out of remote working, virtual consultations, and basic telehealth during the pandemic.
Planning for uncertainty
Secondly, there’s the old adage that failing to plan is planning to fail. Health tech companies need a strategy to stay on top of events and to be ready to respond to customer needs and opportunities as they arise.
Here at Highland Marketing, we have nearly twenty years’ experience of working in health tech marketing, PR and communications, and we’ve seen upswings and crises come and go. So, what should the marketing, PR and communications element of this strategy look like?
We’ve put together six pointers to see you through this period of uncertainty and make sure your messages are front of mind when health and care organisations are ready to receive them:
1. Don’t be afraid to keep up marketing, PR and communications activity. The healthcare sector needs good technology more than ever, so if you have a good story to tell about your products, services, and customer successes, tell it.
2. If you find that organisations are not receptive now, make sure you are ready for when they are. Review your messaging, make sure your website is up to date, commission professional collateral and case studies, and be visible on social media.
3. Demonstrate that you are a great company to work with. Increasingly, the NHS is looking to work with vendors that can prove they take an ethical approach and have a diverse workforce that understands its challenges and those of its users. A blog can be a great way to show what you have to offer.
4. Plan, but recognise that plans will need to change. The idea of drawing up a marketing plan for a whole year is increasingly giving way to the concept of a strategy that is subject to quarterly or even monthly review. That way, ideas that don’t turn out to be timely or that don’t work for any reason can be stopped or suspended and resources transferred to other channels.
5. Make sure your planning, review and sign-off processes are pandemic fit. People working in the NHS want to hear what others have done, so when you have a customer success story to press release or turn into a case study or video, you want to be able to get it out while the news is hot.
6. Don’t just keep on doing what you have always done. Think carefully before committing resources to activities that might have worked in the pre-Covid world but might not work in the ‘new normal’. Some areas that are open to challenge are conferences and media placement:
Conferences: We have seen health and tech publications move their conferences online, but before you invest significant resources in these events, it is worth asking if they are planning to innovate their platforms or formats to make the most of digital delivery. Also consider whether smaller but more timely, focused and targeted options might work better. A webinar with supporting content, for example.
Editorial and paid content: Similarly, many publications have seen their advertising revenue hit by the pandemic and we have seen them reduce their editorial output while increasing their paid content options in response. Press releases remain valuable, but sponsored content is worth considering. Opinion pieces, white papers, case studies, and audio or video packages give you more scope to cover a project, its products and services in detail. Plus, they allow you to retain copyright while showing support for the initial publisher, its subscribers and readers.
New content channels: At the same time, the pandemic has accelerated an existing trend for companies to bypass the media and to publish their own news, case studies and opinion pieces in the form of blogs. Nobody is pretending this is easy: you’ll need to be able to ‘think like a journalist’ and tell a compelling story.
You may need help to create packages of content that work effectively across live, web, and social platforms. And you’ll need to attract the kind of readership that publishers have spent years developing. But it does mean you’ll be in control of your message and how it is received.
Take control and be flexible
The Covid-19 pandemic is a once in a lifetime event (hopefully). But in healthcare, in technology and in business, things change all the time. The current situation may be particularly hard to predict, but health tech companies will always need to be able to respond to events without being driven by them.
When it comes to marketing, PR and communications that means you need: a strategy, but one that can be flexed when necessary; new thinking, that isn’t pinned to one-off events and media opportunities; and a willingness to use new channels that give you more control over your content and its presentation.
But more than anything it means a focus on the basics: how are you going to be ready to get the right message, to the right person, in the right format, at the right time?