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B2B Implications: Engaging Health Care Providers Remotely

The rapid spread of COVID-19 has taken over the globe in recent weeks, drastically impacting the day to day life of citizens around the world. In an effort to flatten the curve, many countries and numerous parts of the United States have issued stay at home orders to minimize the spread of the disease with social distancing. To support these efforts, many businesses have changed their work policies to allow employees to work from home where possible and in some cases, temporarily halt non-essential activities that must take place face to face.

Within the pharmaceutical industry, these stay at home orders have had an undeniable impact on normal business operations. This is especially the case for sales representatives that spend most of their time building relationships and educating physicians on key products in person. The timeline for when the quarantine’s stay at home orders will be lifted varies location to location and is still being determined within some states. Although times are uncertain,  there are several impactful digital marketing tactics pharmaceutical companies can leverage to continue to build awareness and consideration for their products amongst target health care providers. 

Recommended B2B Strategies

Empathetic Messaging: Consumers and businesses alike are facing an unprecedented challenge in the face of COVID-19. It’s important to remember that at the end of the day, we are all people. Everyone is currently being impacted by COVID-19 in some way, be it fear of exposure to the disease, concern over vulnerable loved ones who may need extra care, worries about job security, increased child care needs or accumulating bills.

The list of worries goes on and on, but the point is that doctors are also people. Doctors have their own lives and families that are being impacted but they are also on the forefront of the battle and working long hours with no end in sight. Showing appreciation and understanding for healthcare workers on the front lines of COVID-19 exemplifies the gratitude we all feel and provides an opportunity to connect with healthcare professionals on a human level.

In an interview with AdExchanger this week, Forrester’s principal analyst Jim Nail spoke to this stating, “The first thing brands have to do is not think about today, but about how they want their brand to be perceived when the world starts to return to normal. The last thing you want to do now is appear tone deaf or opportunistic or otherwise taking advantage of the situation in any way.” It is important now more than ever to empathize with humanity and your consumers. 

Lean into Contextual Targeting: In addition to data-driven HCP targeting, now is the time to prioritize delivery on contextually relevant publishers and keyword targeting. To reach HCPs, consider securing PMPs for relevant medical journals and publications. Keyword lists of relevant terms may also be leveraged to retarget HCPs actively searching for professional information or resources directly related to the promoted product. For example, searches for ‘corporate webinars’ have increased substantially over the last two weeks. This trend is expected to continue, creating more opportunity to reach HCPs in a professional mindset at home.

In general, digital activity has seen a large increase in response to COVID-19, particularly across news publishers providing updates on the disease and prevention. However, advertisers across industries such as CPG, travel and retail are hesitant to have their brand run alongside this content. This presents an opportunity for pharmaceutical and healthcare organizations to support news publishers who are reliant and advertising to run their publications. Integral Ad Science (IAS) recently published a March 2020 study which found health and pharmaceutical verticals to be the most favorable category to appear adjacent to Coronavirus content, at 55%, followed by government (47%), Non-Profit (35%), and Tech/Telco (29%).

Promote sponsored content: As mentioned, many of us, healthcare professionals included, will be spending significantly more time at home over the next few weeks. This provides an opportunity for Pharma companies to share content and engage with HCPs across channels where they spend their downtime. According to a March 2020 Nielsen study, stay at home orders can lead to a nearly 60% increase in the amount of digital content people consume daily. Social channels such as Facebook and LinkedIn present a strong opportunity to amplify sponsored content, capturing HCPs attention with engaging imagery and messaging.  

To provide actionable information and generate meaningful engagement, Pharma companies should promote content relative to their target provider. Existing materials such as product landing pages, white papers, or other supporting documentation can be leveraged to quickly mobilize on this strategy. To further engage users who are seeking to advance professionally while at home, consider providing free access to previously gated content or  education resources for a limited time.

Leverage Telemedicine: Nationwide, Healthcare providers and the CDC are urging consumers to utilize telemedicine apps for both COVID-19 screening, as well as non-urgent health concerns. Last week, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services expanded coverage for telehealth visits, and the HHS Office of Inspector General allowed healthcare providers to reduce or waive deductibles for telehealth patients. Pharmaceutical companies should be conscious of the abilities and limitations for HCPS to prescribe medications over the phone. While policies vary by provider and medication, most doctors are able to issue prescriptions over the phone for a variety of symptoms. 

While much of the nation is under strict instructions to stay home, pharmaceutical companies should prioritize digital messaging for products that may be prescribed electronically. This reduces HCP burden on in-person visits and provides the consumer ease of access for medication that might be considered non-essential. 

B2C Implications: Supporting, Educating and Diagnosing Patients Remotely

In addition to COVID-19 impacting business operations for pharmaceutical reps and healthcare providers, patients’ lives have also been turned upside down. With uncertainty around the timeline for the stay-at-home orders and if/when patients will be able to receive their next transfusion or procedure, all parties involved are needing additional support, education and remote diagnostics. There are several digital tactics pharmaceutical companies can leverage to continue to build awareness and consideration for their products amongst patients and caregivers during this time while there is a thirst for more information. 

Recommended B2C Strategies

Creating and Fostering Support Groups: During the COVID-19 outbreak, patients and their caregivers, now more than ever, need access to community support groups to gain an understanding of how others who suffer from the same diseases are coping and adjusting their everyday life. According to Chuck Hemann, activation practice leader at W20, “It is perfectly understandable that people are preoccupied about COVID-19, whether from a health standpoint or an economic standpoint, but people’s conditions are people’s conditions whether it’s a month ago or right now.” 

Support groups allow for patients and their caregivers to connect with others experiencing the same pain points in getting treatments or medications, appointment cancellations, and higher risks of catching COVID-19. Patients often look to social media channels to find these support groups giving pharmaceutical companies and healthcare providers an opportunity to help create a community where patients can find the support needed during this time of uncertainty. 

Unbranded messaging should be used by pharmaceutical companies to drive awareness of different support groups. Disease related hashtags can be used in the copy for organic or paid posts to allow patients to find posts that are relevant to their disease and interact with other community members also searching for related hashtags.  While not commonly practiced by many consumer advertisers, it is possible (and recommended here) to put paid dollars behind unbranded promoted posts. This tactic allows for pharma brands to both meet community needs without the perception of taking advantage of the pandemic.

Educational Webinars: During COVID-19, vulnerable populations who are more at risk of contracting the disease will not visit a hospital or doctor’s office unless completely necessary.   While not ideal, the pandemic will likely cause some patients to make more decisions on their health without direct consultation of their doctor. In these circumstances, the need for educational materials and proactive education is more vital than it was just a month ago.  Healthcare providers and pharmaceutical companies have a role to play in giving their patients and caregivers options to continue this education and disease awareness through webinars. This serves a dual purpose: to both inform and engage patients during this critical time, while also driving awareness of treatment options and driving users to engage with the brand. 

Utilizing Channels With Increased Inventory: With the majority of states in the U.S. under stay at home orders, there has been an increase in available inventory and a decrease in CPMs across all channels. Mobile in-app available inventory has increased by 6% with mobile web inventory increasing by 12%. Under-utilized channels such as Connected TV and Audio are also seeing spikes of as high as 30% in reach, meaning there are significantly more opportunities to reach patients and caregivers as they work and shelter at home.   This is a significant increase in potential communication opportunities to a group that is challenging to reach at scale.

Pharmaceutical companies should consider testing and utilizing connected TV and audio strategies to build upon their brand awareness with existing and potential patients, especially with the availability of data segments to target audiences based on specific ailments. 

Virtual Appointments: As healthcare providers and patients are continually advised to cancel or reschedule non-emergency appointments, it’s vital that patients still have access to a line of communication with their healthcare provider through virtual appointments. These virtual appointments should allow healthcare providers to diagnose and prescribe medications or treatments where applicable, answer questions regarding diagnosis and in some cases, teach patients or caregivers how to self-infuse. Virtual appointments can also be used to educate patients on additional precautionary steps to take during the COVID-19 outbreak. 

Messaging for advertising the availability of virtual appointments should focus on the benefits for both patients and caregivers to connect with their healthcare provider from the safety of their own home.