The Sledgehammer

Good Marketing in Tough Times: A Coronavirus Compilation

March 25, 2020

At any given time, there are 200+ actual sledgehammers present in the Heartbeat office. To celebrate their first year on the team, each HB’er receives their very own sledge—a nod to our daily pursuit of tearing down tiresome healthcare marketing. To determine what is built in its place, we often turn to outside industries, cultural forces, and personal experiences. We eagerly share them with one another, and now we’re sharing them with you. Clear the way—here comes The Sledgehammer.

Amidst this coronavirus pandemic, the vast majority of marketers are working from home. Whether we’re manning our kitchen table workstations or tele-conferencing amongst children and pets, we are ready to make things happen for our brands.

But the question begs to be asked… Is now the right time to roll out marketing?

To set the stakes, Professor Nathan Novemsky from the Yale School of Management recently counseled, “This is a time when emotions are running high, so both positive steps and missteps are likely to be remembered more than company actions at other times and have a disproportionate effect on people’s attitudes toward those companies.”

So how do we do our jobs during these heady times? One place to start is finding inspiration and guidance from other brands around us:

Re-assess the original marketing plan in light of COVID-19.

A bit of a no-brainer, but be sure to take a closer look at the marketing tactics that are already in place and ensure that anything you’re putting into market now aligns with our new reality. Many brands have automated CRM and media programs that are continuing to run, but it’s crucial to assess and adjust the planned content as needed.

  • Spirit Airlines learned this the hard way when they sent an email that was part of an established CRM plan with the subject line “Never A Better Time To Fly” amid increasing concerns about air travel and the day after the government announced a 30-day travel ban from Europe. Their message clearly flew in the face of the recommendations around COVID-19.
  • In contrast, Cadbury pulled an Easter ad that shows a grandfather hiding eggs for his grandchildren and then having them come over to his home, given that it goes against the current advisories.
  • In the life sciences space, Boehringer Ingelheim sent out an email via its “Your COPD Experts” platform about COVID-19 and the continued availability of their products to help assuage patient worries.

Refocus efforts on offerings that are timely.

Carefully consider if there’s an opportunity to increase focus on a particular part aspect of the brand’s approach that will be most helpful to HCPs and/or patients in the current environment. For example:

  • Media companies like Disney have amped up their streaming offerings and even expedited prized offerings, such as Frozen 2.
  • AstraZeneca sent out an email to healthcare providers in its CRM database, highlighting remote offerings it has always had in place (eg, access support, samples) along with measures it is taking to address the need for social distancing (eg, connecting HCPs to reps virtually, finding alternatives for in-office drug administration).

Contribute to the community.

Brands should look for opportunities to help its customers deal with the new set of challenges they are facing.

  • Chipotle is offering free delivery on orders over $10 to support sheltering-in-place, as well as hosting virtual “lunch parties” on Zoom featuring interviews with celebrity guests to keep the public entertained while they stay inside.
  • Ford repurposed their media dollars to launch new ads offering payment assistance to car buyers and owners, helping to alleviate financial pressures caused by the current crisis.
  • Eli Lilly is offering free coronavirus testing at its headquarters in Indianapolis to healthcare professionals.

Be a part of the solution.

Many companies are looking for ways to contribute to the solution.

  • Apple is donating millions of masks to healthcare workers.
  • Louis Vuitton and Anheuser-Busch have retrofitted manufacturing facilities to help address the shortage in hand sanitizer.
  • Pharma is in a unique position to support global efforts. There is precedent for this in the pharma industry. When there was a shortage on penicillin back in World War II, Pfizer scientists figured out how to mass produce it. This enabled nearly every Allied troop on the beaches of Normandy to carry a dose of penicillin made by Pfizer. Similarly, Pfizer announced this week that it is working on a COVID-19 vaccine with a German biotech company. Teva and Mylan have also committed to donating millions of doses of hydroxychloroquine sulfate, which may be effective in treating COVID-19.

Prepare for when the crisis is over.

The current situation gives us an opportunity to take a collective breath and be more purposeful about what we create to put in market when we return to (a new) normal. This involves asking questions like:

  • Are there lasting economic effects that will influence patients’ ability to pay for their healthcare?
  • Will the dynamic between your target patients and HCPs change post-COVID-19?
  • Will your audience have been exposed to new ways of operating that might stick (eg telemedicine, virtual congresses)?
  • What kind of value can pharma companies provide to make them indispensable partners should another crisis arise?

So how do we conduct marketing in the time of the coronavirus? Much like Florentino did for Fermina in Nobel Prize-winning author Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera, it’s about staying steadfast and devoted and being there when the time is right.