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Now What? Adjusting Your Marketing Strategy to Address Dramatically New Market Conditions

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The COVID-19 pandemic has been an historic, life-changing event. Similar to other historic, life-changing events like the Spanish flu epidemic or the Great Depression, COVID-19 hit the US hard because we weren’t prepared for it. There are significant consequences for every industry, especially behavioral health care.

To say that US businesses have been hard hit by COVID-19 would be an incredible understatement. Businesses had to shift gears and change focus seemingly overnight. Companies across the country have had to rethink their use of technology and what channels of communication they should be implementing. For those in the behavioral health care field, the question becomes, “How can our marketing efforts help us to not only survive, but also thrive in the midst of such unprecedented challenges?”

Becoming stronger in an ongoing crisis is not easy. Any plan that behavioral health care providers adopt to move forward must incorporate the following action steps:

  • Learn how to effectively create and deploy a crisis communications plan to patients and staff to announce changes (and alleviate fears)
  • Generate a revised geographic targeting plan to account for changes in travel preferences and utilization of telehealth
  • Revise existing marketing strategies in order to reach out to your socially isolated alumni

The Pandemic is Creating More Patients (a Lot More Patients)

COVID-19 has created social trends that can’t be ignored. When people were forced to work from home there were bound to be consequences, such as the following:

  • Online gaming, online gambling, online orders for liquor, and traffic to adult websites are all at an all-time high.
  • Wellness searches for “drinking too much during COVID” and anxiety indicator searches are increasing.
  • Many remote workers are drinking with little or no incentive to stop because close supervision isn’t possible

Of course, tens of millions of people lost jobs during the pandemic. The toll unemployment has taken on Americans is almost impossible to measure. While some people have been able to work all along, others have not been so lucky. Millions have lost health insurance and are struggling with the consequences. It should surprise no one that localized searches for “job-seekers needing to sober up” are increasing.

The implications for these trends, both short term and long term, are clear. Mental health and addiction treatment providers have their hands full. Consequently, it’s wise to consider just how your treatment center or practice can move forward in such uncertain times.

Review and Update Services

With the pandemic, it’s proven difficult to establish what we commonly call a “new normal.” As infection rates rise and fall erratically, health care facilities have found themselves trying to cope with the situation day by day, with varying results. Consequently, it’s important to be realistic about what your facility can and can’t offer patients in the short term, particularly if your state is still dealing with quarantine restrictions.

With all the changes to patient appointment protocols throughout the health care industry, it’s easy to wind up with conflicting information in web content. For example, there may be a particular service or therapy that you have temporarily suspended. If the web page about this service or therapy does not mention that it’s unavailable at the moment, people aren’t going to be pleased when they contact you only to be told the bad news by a staff member.

This can reflect quite badly on your brand, because patients can get the idea that you didn’t care enough to revise your web content. For you it was merely an oversight, but for them it might seem like something of an insult. Consequently, periodic reviews of web content should be used as an opportunity to ensure that information viewed by patients is consistent throughout your website as well as to discuss the change, why it’s been made, and that it’s been done to keep doctors, staff, and patients safer.

Review and Update Staff Training

Patients need to understand that “open for appointments” is by no means the same thing as “back to normal.” Unfortunately, many staffers are barely able to deal with the “new normal” themselves. Even if they try to fall back on their training, that probably won’t help either. The problem is that existing training doesn’t cover the kind of drastic changes to the daily routine that have occurred to behavioral health care.

Many of these changes are relatively inconvenient to patients, so it’s important to minimize the anxiety they may feel. Careful training will enable staff to effectively inform callers of the changes that have taken place in terms of appointment and safety protocols. There should be no contradictions in messaging between web content and what staffers say to patients.

Sometimes, a bit of role-playing can make training easier. Scripting phone conversations, for example, can help demonstrate the correct way to communicate that office or intake changes are entirely in the patients’ best interest. Scripts help ensure the right things get said, rather than simply hoping staffers can think of the correct way to handle these discussions.

Establish Your Communication Channels

In patients’ minds, any lack of communication is unacceptable, particularly in the digital age where information is instantly available. A lockdown can’t mean your business just disappears from view until restrictions are lifted. Regardless of whether you’re working with tight operational restrictions or closed to routine appointments altogether, you must keep the lines of communication open with the public through your website, e-mails, and social media.

With the pandemic, it’s proven difficult to establish what we commonly call a “new normal.”

There’s a lot going on in the news that can keep people from thinking about your specific center or facility. Consequently, you need to make it clear when you’re operational because there’s a good chance the public won’t know that until you explicitly inform them.

It’s important to reach out through e-mail and social media to tell the world you’re accepting appointments. People may simply assume you’ve suspended all appointments until they hear from you. If you’re understaffed and can’t return phone calls quickly, be sure your message acknowledges that fact. Ask people for their patience and caution them that it may take longer than usual to return their calls.

Strengthen Digital Marketing

Now’s the time to take full advantage of digital marketing, one of the only things that was never disrupted by the pandemic. It’s important to concentrate on basic digital marketing tools like SEO and PPC and crank them up so you can market confidently through the crisis. With so many people working remotely, you have a captive audience right now as well as unique opportunities on fullscreen desktop devices. This is an excellent opportunity to provide effective educational messaging and content that addresses the public’s concerns.

To better accommodate the public, use Google My Business and social media to:

  • Update hours of operation on Google My Business, your website, and social media
  • Announce your telehealth offerings and explain how they work
  • Publish all new safety protocols that are in place across these channels
  • Link to COVID-19 protocol pages that you’ve uploaded to your website

Many patients want to know how the pandemic affects their mental health. Therefore, it may be a good idea to gear at least some new content (and corresponding keywords) toward things like tips for maintaining mental health and a positive outlook during quarantine.

On behavioral health websites, it’ll be necessary to regear keyword targeting. Pandemic-related content on your website needs to be optimized, just like any other content. Patient priorities and search patterns have changed during the pandemic—be sure your keyword strategy takes this into account.

Build (and Rebuild) Your Social Circles

Those suffering from mental health and addiction issues were already experiencing degrees of isolation. When the pandemic and social distancing came along, it only made matters worse. Consequently, it’s imperative that you reach out to socially isolated former patients.

When you maintain consistent communication with alumni, they’ll feel a better connection to your facility. Being an educational resource for patients is to your advantage at any time. When you can be a calming and informative influence, it’s highly beneficial for both patients and facilities.

Action Steps for Your Digital Marketing in the Age of COVID-19

The pandemic has forced shifts in viewing behavior. To adjust to the “new normal,” here are some things that I’d advise behavioral health care facilities to keep in mind:

Display Ads Work

PCs and laptops are being viewed more often by people because they are temporarily working remotely. As a result, display ads will work and convert better, at least in the short term.

Fresh Content is Vital

Organic SEO requires more timely content. This is ideal because you’ll want to upload COVID-specific material and update active versus inactive services.

Revise Your Geographic Targeting Plan

This is to account for fewer people traveling to your location at the residential level, more local inquiries for care, and increased use of telehealth.

Paid Ads Will Become Hyperlocalized

Hyperlocalization occurs because there’s less desire or ability to travel for care.

As businesses in every possible sector of the economy have discovered, navigating the “new normal” isn’t easy. However, with the right digital marketing strategy in place, the waters become much easier for behavioral health operators to move through.

Dan Gemp
Dan Gemp
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Dan Gemp is the president and CEO of Dreamscape Marketing, a full-service digital marketing agency serving the health care industry based in Columbia, Maryland. A graduate of Villanova University’s School of Business, Gemp applies financial modeling to Dreamscape’s business intelligence campaigns to advise clients on a cost-per-action marketing model. He is a nationally recognized speaker on ethical health care marketing and maintains a year-round speaking schedule. Gemp’s unique perspective at the intersection of business, digital marketing, and health care has made him a thought leader and go-to contributor to many health care podcasts, webinars, and publications including Bloomberg and The New York Times.

Dan Gemp

Dan Gemp is the president and CEO of Dreamscape Marketing, a full-service digital marketing agency serving the health care industry based in Columbia, Maryland. A graduate of Villanova University’s School of Business, Gemp applies financial modeling to Dreamscape’s business intelligence campaigns to advise clients on a cost-per-action marketing model. He is a nationally recognized speaker on ethical health care marketing and maintains a year-round speaking schedule. Gemp’s unique perspective at the intersection of business, digital marketing, and health care has made him a thought leader and go-to contributor to many health care podcasts, webinars, and publications including Bloomberg and The New York Times.

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