The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has proved to be a big challenge for many marketers, who have traditionally relied heavily on face-to-face events, conferences, trade shows to network and engage with their customers.
As a sudden global shock that has impacted so many aspects of daily life, the pandemic may have changed consumer behaviour for good – meaning marketers will now have to quickly ditch old practices and adapt to a new normal. Never has the pivot to digital marketing appeared more urgent, to reach a society now staying indoors more often than not.
An opportunity to reinvent
For many firms including those in the healthcare sector, the cancellation of nearly all physical events presented a huge disruption to their marketing plans and campaigns. Mr Hak Yek Tan, Founder & CEO of QUASR (a technology firm focusing on patient safety and quality improvement solutions), recalled that they struggled initially to fill the void in marketing activities. But they quickly adapted and stepped up their digital marketing efforts. “The pandemic gave us just the push needed to accelerate our transformation into a more digital and agile company,” he noted.
Ms Amy Stevens-Jones, Marketing Manager, Asia Pacific at healthcare IT company InterSystems, echoed the sentiment that the crisis was also an opportunity in itself: “(The crisis) also provided opportunity for new ways of thinking, new ways of engaging with our customers, and prospects”, she said. That challenge was on her and her team to act quickly to find new and creative ways to engage with their audience in a compelling way.
Evolving consumer behaviour
The big question for marketing professionals then becomes: What sort of marketing strategy and content would resonate and capture an audience now getting more used to living and breathing digital?
The general consensus points to the need for a regular stream of digital content that is authentic and relevant for the target group. This could be in the form of useful resources that provide value to the readers or viewers. In addition, companies could invest more in their digital platforms, seeing how those would be the main consumer touchpoints for brands today.
Mr Tan provided some examples of QUASR’s (QUASR being a digital solution for incident management) digital marketing work undertaken during the pandemic, such as the launch of a QUASR blog on the company website, which covers interviews with healthcare leaders and articles discussing patient safety topics. They had also revamped their website with a modern and fresh look, and enhanced their social media channels. In addition, they participated as a sponsor in Hospital Management Asia (HMA)’s first-ever virtual conference held in December 2020. When HMA first spoke to Mr Tan about his firm’s participation in the physical event (originally planned to be held in Bali), he was unsure about whether an event where participants donned masks would be successful, in terms of enabling face-to-face networking and interaction. When HMA shifted the physical event online, Mr Tan gladly accepted the opportunity to participate, as part of the company’s efforts to boost their presence in the online sphere.
Another engagement method is through designing a more personalised digital communication programme – or hyper-personalisation – to get the right message to the right people at the right time. However, the large amount of digital initiatives and virtual events now being launched on the daily, may also overwhelm and cause digital fatigue amongst the public. Ms Stevens-Jones cautioned that it is “crucial for marketers to deliver a quality experience that is informative, educational and enjoyable”, for a company’s events and programmes to stand out amongst the crowd.
Keeping the human touch
With travel and large-scale events set to be off the cards for 2021 as well, the face-to-face connection between firms and customers will continue to be largely replaced by virtual means. There is a concern that such digital channels may seem too ‘cold’ and lack the warmth of human interactions that companies and customers have thrived on in the past.
To add the human touch to a company’s online initiatives, Ms Stevens-Jones suggested including captivating and interactive visual content, and working to understand the customers’ needs. She listed InterSystems’ Virtual Summit, held for the first time in 2020, as an example. A traditionally physical event, the inaugural virtual edition allowed more people to participate and offered a much more digitally-focused and immersive experience. “If we can meet the needs of customers and prospects at each stage and offer them premium online experiences, we can narrow the gap between digital and traditional physical programs, and provide value to these audiences,” she explained.
The way ahead
While digital marketing has been growing steadily in importance as a key marketing focus these few years, the pandemic has added more urgency for companies to swiftly pivot and invest in their digital marketing efforts. One thing is clear: firms can no longer hope to solely rely on their traditional marketing toolkit. While the pandemic continues to rage on in many parts of the world, the marketing landscape has already changed – and the future is digital.
In 2021, HMA marks its 20th year in business. For 18 years running, the annual HMA event brought healthcare leaders in the region together at various locations in ASEAN. With the pandemic closing up borders in 2020, the 19th edition of HMA was brought online for the first time. However, the objective of the event remained – for the healthcare management community to share best practices and gain insights from each other. This goal extends beyond the event, as the online HMA newsletter continues to identify and showcase the latest trends and ideas in the industry throughout the year, acting as a perpetual learning platform for all hospital and healthcare professionals.
Check out the upcoming HMA events at https://hospitalmanagementasia.com/events/, and subscribe to the HMA online newsletter in the form below.