The game changer for health brands in COVID times and beyond

The game changer for health brands in COVID times and beyond

Health & Lifestyle

Dr Swadeep Srivastava

Dr Swadeep Srivastava

208 week ago — 9 min read

Unlike other consumer brands, products, and services falling under the healthcare sector are fettered due to restrictions imposed by the government and regulatory authorities. These products and services cannot directly woo or influence decision-making through traditional routes. Hence, there is a need to pry open channels for innovative integrated market communication.

Now as we move towards the ‘unlocking’ phase of COVID 19 related restrictions & as we cross 100 Days of COVID in India, we see a lot of desperation amongst the consumer healthcare & medical brands which fit into any COVID related solution, mainly the ‘immunity building’ category, they are leaving no stone unturned to position & promoted as a panacea to beat COVID 7 it’s related side-effects.

The growing role of well researched validated/ fact-based scientific content: 

It is well known that potential consumers and customers consume content differently. This will depend on factors like demographic profile, literacy levels, geographic location, and personal interest. In a country like India, the challenge is more as all these factors can vary widely. Hence, there may not be a one-size-fits-all formula. What works in one area may not in another geographical location.

The challenge is to develop cross-channel marketing campaigns. When potential consumers and customers are reached in the ways they prefer, they are much more likely to engage.

In India, there is a need to integrate more tools of communication depending on the market, demand, and affordability.

When it comes to India, the basic template of integrated communication campaigns is the same. But due to the diversity in demographic makeup, widely different literacy levels, geographic location, and personal interest, the challenge is multi-fold.

In India, there is a need to integrate more tools of communication depending on the market, demand, and affordability. Some of the successful plans include:

Public relations/Media advocacy:

 Unlike in developed nations, the media in India plays a vital and more prominent role in communicating messages, especially in rural areas. Here the challenge is two-fold: While FMCG brands can go in for direct marketing, hospitals and prescription brands have limitations due to regulations in place.

To overcome these restrictions, public relations and media advocacy have been successful strategies. To an extent, it could be termed as surrogate marketing. A hospital does a rare surgery; it is a story for the media. For the hospital, there is scope to integrate marketing messages into the account subtly.

The same holds good with prescription brands. Here, companies cannot directly promote the brand. But again, when a brand is successful in treating a disease or an ailment, the story is on the condition, and the subtle message is on the chemical composition of the cure available. While the typical consumer may catch the news to a limited extent, physicians do get the message. This should then be integrated with public relations efforts.

Growing case of public-private partnership: 

In India, the government plays a vital role in the healthcare segment. Of late, the government has become more open-minded in collaborating with the private sector hospitals and pharmaceutical companies in combating diseases – common or otherwise. A case in point is when an outbreak of disease happens.

In such instances, advocacy has a vital role to play.

All this may cater to a population that it is literate or semiliterate. But in India, the challenge is how to deploy communication tools in the rural areas where the literacy graph is barely above the ground level graph.

In such scenarios, integrated marketing strategies have successfully used ground activation tools like organizing events and outreach through street plays, weaving in messages through folklore skits, dance-dramas, and flash mobs. To some extent, religious institutions have been used to spread healthcare messages effectively. Can brands sneak into god’s domain is worth exploring.  

Restrictions of COVID are making way for brands to spend more on digital marketing: 

But in the times of COVID when there a significant limitation of initiating on-ground activities and almost impossible to begin any events based promotion, it puts a lot of restrictions to the scope of promotion activities for the brands!

Brand visibility in these areas can be further boosted through online/social media banners, posters, Facebook & Instagram Posts, etc. (in the local language) supplemented with hoardings & banners across the district & talukas in a language and visual depiction that can immediately click among the digital audiences, majority of which fall in 15 to 45 years of the consumer group.

Short videos in the local language & dialect would play a pivotal role in popularising brand concepts & messages amongst the rural audience.

But when it comes to urban areas, the game changes. Here the population mix could be both literate and illiterate. Of late, the demographic profile in urban pockets has changed due to largescale migration from rural areas. Here the strategy must be a compelling mix of both ground activation and digital.

The most significant and emerging factor in integrated marketing is social media. The rules of the game have not yet been drawn. The challenges are plenty, and the field is wide open. Strategies like using the potential of digital marketing, promotion using social media, SMO/ SEO for their portals/ online platforms to increase visibility, and hits have been tried out successfully.

The key here is developing tailor-made content, writing specifically for the web, curating content, and promoting the same in relevant segments.

But here again, the strategy used for print or TV cannot be used for the digital segment where messages can spread faster than a virus! The key here is developing tailor-made content, writing specifically for the web, curating content, and promoting the same in relevant segments.

The bottom line is that developing communications and marketing strategies around a healthcare brand could vary according to the category which could broadly be:

  1. Consumer healthcare brands/ FMCG/ FMHG brands
  2. Prescription brands owned by pharma companies
  3. OTC brands owned by both FMHG and pharma companies
  4. Healthcare delivery brands (like Hospitals, Clinics, etc.)
  5. Allied healthcare brands from medical devices, diagnostics,

A challenge is that many times a user (decision maker) is not a payer, and a payer is not the decision-maker. This increases the role of influencers, mainly doctors, nutritionists, and other healthcare professionals.

Content packaging combined with customisation as per the target audience plays a key role in a campaign’s success: 

Then there is the challenge of getting hold of one content format across target audiences (customers) comprising layman to a professional to highly qualified doctors and other healthcare professionals. This one content will have to be packaged differently and innovatively.

One of the biggest challenges is in selecting channels to reach the target customers. This could be highly complicated, and the only way out is to try a multi-channel approach. This, of course, would balloon budget spends.

All the above challenges lead to two main factors -- increased cost of customer acquisition/customer influencing/sensitization and retention. The solution lies in using the "integrated marketing campaign" innovatively and effectively.

In the tough times of COVID, the digital medium comes at the forefront. It becomes a panacea for the brand marketers to help sail their authentic messages across the target audience and keep their brand growth intact. Integrated digital marketing communications will see a new era of emergence for the healthcare brands in the times of COVID & beyond!

Also Read: 
Time for healthcare leaders to reorient healthcare in India post Covid-19

Image source:


To explore business opportunities, link with me by clicking on the 'Connect' button on my eBiz Card.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views, official policy or position of GlobalLinker.


Posted by

Dr Swadeep Srivastava

Marketing & Communications Solutions for Healthcare Cos.