Find the latest insights, trends, and topics on B2B and healthcare marketing.


A new era for Google Search

As we stand on the cusp of a new era shaped by artificial intelligence (AI), the integration of AI into organic Google Search has revolutionized the way we find and interact with information online. In this blog post, we explore the ongoing changes to organic Google Search through the lens of AI integration, explore the potential impact of generative AI, and discuss the opportunities that may come along the way.

Understanding Organic Google Search

Before we dive into AI’s integration within Google Search, let’s recap on what exactly organic Google Search entails. Organic search results are the non-paid listings that appear when a user enters a query into a search engine. These organic search results are determined by Google’s search algorithm, which evaluates a multitude of factors in order to rank web pages based on their relevance and authority to a user’s query.

The Evolution of AI in Google Search

Google Search has been progressively integrating AI into its search algorithms for years, continually fine-tuning their AI software’s ability to understand user intent and deliver more accurate results through gathered information and available online data. The introduction of RankBrain in 2015 marked a significant milestone, as this AI-driven algorithm component helped interpret and process complex user search queries, enhancing the overall search experience. So what does that mean for search today? A richer, more nuanced grasp of natural language, context, and more.

Current AI Search Integrations

  • Natural Language Understanding: Google’s integration of advanced natural language processing (NLP) algorithms will enable it to comprehend user queries in a more human-like manner, leading to more relevant search results.
  • Contextual Understanding: AI’s ability to understand context is improving rapidly. With this integration, Google will become adept at understanding the context of a search query based on the user’s search history, location, and previous interactions, resulting in personalized and contextually accurate search results.
  • Richer Snippets and Summaries: AI can analyze web page content and generate concise summaries that directly answer user queries. This means users may see richer search result snippets that provide instant answers, reducing the need to click through multiple links.
  • Visual and Voice Search Enhancements: AI-powered algorithms will greatly enhance visual and voice search capabilities. Visual searches will become more accurate in identifying objects within images, while voice search will better understand spoken queries and provide more conversational responses.
  • Predictive Searching: With AI’s predictive capabilities, Google can suggest search queries as users type, helping them formulate queries more effectively and potentially leading to quicker search results.
  • Fighting Misinformation: AI can assist in identifying and flagging potentially misleading or false information in search results, contributing to a more trustworthy search environment.

The Rise of Generative AI in Google Search

The next frontier in Google Search is the integration of generative AI. Launched in beta-testing in early 2023, Google’s Search Generative Experience (SGE) aims to significantly elevate the user experience by seamlessly integrating within Google Search’s already familiar interface. While this feature is still in beta-testing, the anticipation is palpable. What we’re seeing so far is that SGE goes beyond search engine “richer snippets” and “summaries” by answering user queries in a single, accurate response. But this is just the beginning …

The integration of generative AI into Google Search delivers distinct benefits to users. Traditional AI integrations enhance relevance, save time, provide personalized results, and increase the accuracy and trustworthiness of search results. In comparison, generative AI—being a more advanced form—aims to further elevate the user experience by delivering concise and direct answers, suggesting pertinent follow-up questions, and preserving the context of previous searches.

In Conclusion

The integration of AI into organic search isn’t just a technological advancement; it’s a step towards a more sophisticated and user-centric digital era with more opportunities for reaching prospective customers. From better understanding user intent to delivering personalized results, these changes will undoubtedly make the search experience more intuitive, efficient, and gratifying. As users, we can look forward to a future where our queries are met with results that are not only relevant but also deeply attuned to our needs. For marketers, it means that online content must be aligned with Google’s new capabilities.

As beta testers, Moveo is closely monitoring developments and will provide a comprehensive writeup on SGE once the beta achieves greater stability. In the meantime, don’t hesitate to contact us to learn how you can prepare your website for the impending evolution of the search landscape.


Gruetzemacher, Ross. “The Power of Natural Language Processing.” Harvard Business Review (AI And Machine Learning ), April 19, 2022,

Reid, Elizabeth. “Supercharging Search with generative AI.” Google (The Keyword), May 10, 2023,

Dean, Brian. “Google RankBrain: The Definitive Guide.” Backlinko,


Five tips for smooth creative projects

Being a great project manager for a creative agency requires a keen attention to detail, a deep understanding of the project’s flow and the client’s direction, as well as the ability to clearly communicate to both internal and external audiences. These skills help you achieve a completed project that’s on time, on budget, and meets the client’s strategic goals established at the outset of the engagement. The following are five key tips to keep in mind when managing a creative project to get the best out of your team and deliver the best for your client:

Kickoff Keys

At the start of your creative initiative, successful and efficient projects will benefit from a group meeting for alignment. Here are a few keys to remember to set up your agency team to deliver high quality work for your clients consistently:

  • Ensure you have a completed creative brief that has already been approved by the client. This document will guide the work the team will be doing from a messaging, format, and timeline perspective, while also confirming that both the client and agency are aligned with the deliverables.
  • Include the right people – at a minimum, your writer and designer, as well as any digital team members depending on the scope of the project. The right people asking questions at the beginning of the project will ensure that all the right steps are taken throughout the execution minimizing re-work when key team members must adjust copy or design later because they missed earlier inputs or client-provided preferences and direction. This is especially important for digital projects that can quickly rack up additional time spent on programming if, directionally, the teams are not aligned.
  • Establish a timeline that all parties are comfortable with and share that back with your client so that everyone’s on the same page and knows what’s coming and when. Transparency with clients on milestones, reviews, and completion date target help them to provide line of site to their stakeholders and trust the agency is executing at a pace that aligns with their corporate goals and other marketing initiatives.

Distilling Information

While it’s critical to give your creative team thorough background materials and relevant inputs, avoid the temptation to throw everything at them. As a project manager, you should review client-provided materials ahead of time to pull out the elements that are specifically relevant to efficiently and effectively execute their portion of the project. Occasionally, an internal presentation or research study can help explain a complex offering or lend detail or substance – but these materials should not be filled with contradictory or unnecessary information. Providing only the relevant materials for the execution not only saves time, it will help the creative team hone in on the most important messages to bring the client’s vision to life. Here are the top items the creative team will need:

  • Specs
  • Type of creative they’re building
  • Where it lives within the client’s overall marketing program
  • Templates to leverage
  • Other supportive marketing materials the client is executing in their plan
  • The ultimate destination – whether that’s a landing page, contact form or other mechanism


Establishing and sticking to milestones throughout the project to check in and review any works-in-progress before the client sees them helps to evaluate and make sure they’re strategically aligned, on brand, and meeting the expectations that you’ve come to understand as the day-to-day contact. When reviewing, keep these things in mind:

  • Mark up the piece of creative directly and provide concrete feedback so your team knows what you’re looking for and can finalize the piece with your input included.
  • Check to see how your project is progressing against the budget and to check the deliverable for adherence to the client-approved scope of work.
  • Before the client sees their deliverable, no matter where you are in the process, it should always be proofed to maintain the highest quality when delivering the assets.
  • As the project is progressing, be proactive and advocate on behalf of your client – if there is a deadline approaching, check in and ensure your team is on track. If they are not, you’ve given yourself the chance to address any questions directly, communicate with your client for clarification, or to provide a heads up that there is a delay before the date it’s due. This builds trust with your internal and external contacts that you are prioritizing their project and wanting to be a great partner to your client to deliver great work.

Presenting the work with context

Presenting your deliverables directly to your clients either on a call or in-person is the most effective way to ensure the team’s work, rationale, and perspective come through, while also allowing your team to hear on-the-spot feedback from the client and answer any questions they may have. Why is this important?

  • When clients can gather talking points from your conversation, it will help them socialize and build support for the work internally, which is especially important when it’s a high-profile, high-impact, complex, or otherwise important deliverable where email will not be the most effective way to communicate the creative team’s POV.
  • Provides the opportunity to employ active listening for your client’s feedback to be able to confirm direction, identify any additional support that might be suggested to make their program even more successful, and to build the relationship between the client and their dedicated creative team.
  • Always recap it back via email to ensure you’ve heard all the inputs accurately and what you’re going to do, by when as next steps.

If the creative is sent over via email, be sure to provide any relevant context – why your team chose certain imagery, the copy direction your team recommends, any impacts and connections with other work in progress or already completed, and any other details that will help your client provide you with the right feedback to finalize.


Some projects may not have a hard deadline to meet such as a tradeshow, meeting, or media launch, but that doesn’t mean you should de-prioritize them in the agency workflow in favor of other more timely projects. They should still be slated into the team’s schedule to move forward without delays to ensure your client’s priorities are being met and they receive their requests in a timely manner. When they do have a hard deadline, consider these suggestions:

  • Build out your project workflow with all required dates to hit at the start of the project, and communicate them to your client.
  • When you send over assets, call out when feedback is requested to keep the timeline intact.
  • Provide feedback that is comprehensive so that all inputs from stakeholders are included in a single document for efficiency in completing the next round and sticking to the timeline your client expects.

Remember, most of us do our best work when we’re not pressed for time, so we want to make sure we’re respecting both our clients’ and our internal creative teams’ time to turn around a deliverable the client is thrilled to receive.

With these tips in mind, your creative project can flow through your agency smoothly and delight your clients consistently.


Marketing and AI: sorting the hype from the help

When it comes to artificial intelligence (AI) and marketing – fear of missing out runs rampant. And yet, never has a technology so less understood been catapulted to such a state of dizziness in such a short period (with the possible exception of the metaverse).

AI has actually been around for a good while. Believe it or not, work started on it in the 1950s, and it has been steadily improving ever since. Sometimes that “steadiness” is given a good push by innovation and investment. Neural networks in 2012. Large language models in 2018. Generative AI in 2022.

But what do the steady advances in AI mean for marketers? Should you fire your staff? Fire your agency? Fire yourself? Or are the technology’s capabilities failing to live up to the hype (for now)?

These questions can’t be answered simply, but they can be answered. That’s why we’ve created a series of communications on AI that attempt to do just that.

How do we know what we’re talking about? First, AI is not new to Movéo. Way back in 2017, in a blog post titled “Artificial Intelligence in Marketing,” we wrote: 

“Ad tech companies use AI to power programmatic exchanges and to automatically optimize ad campaigns. Search engine companies use it to power smart bidding of terms. Marketing automation software relies on it to send nurture emails and qualify leads. Many companies are using AI technology to improve the customer experience.”

But even before that post, we started looking for ways to incorporate this technology to help our clients. That’s why we partnered with AI specialists to develop cutting-edge data analysis and machine learning approaches to help solve marketing challenges. For example, many healthcare organizations benefit from using AI to fully understand the patient journey and create more effective strategies. We saw AI’s potential then, and we see it now. The power of AI is not something to be threatened by, but something to be leveraged — and the business use cases for AI go far beyond the ChatGPT headlines.

We invite you to browse our showcase of real-world examples of how we’re using the power of AI to help our clients. And we promise to leave the hype to others.


Thought leadership: the good, the bad, and the ugly

Done right, thought leadership is the single most differentiating content marketing asset an organization can produce. And while thought leadership does serve brand equity goals (e.g., building credibility, trust and loyalty), its results are far more tangible: A study by Demand Gen Report and Demandbase found 84% of buyers surveyed agreed that a winning vendor’s content had a significant impact on their buying decision. Some 62% pointed to the provision of higher-quality content as one of their top five reasons for choosing the winning vendor.

The problem is “done right” and “higher-quality” are phrases that often do not apply to much of what is passed for as thought leadership these days. As Lisa Gately, a principal analysis at Forrester recently put it, most thought leadership isn’t thoughtful or leading. 63% of tech buyers in a recent Forrester survey, for example, say vendor content focuses more on style than substance, and two-thirds say the content is biased toward the vendor. Their disappointments are ones we’ve probably all experienced after encountering thought leadership at one point or another. 

Why is that? The easiest answer is organizations give-in to the temptation to create thought leadership for self-serving purposes (i.e., overtly promotional material that fits hand-in-glove with what they are selling), but it’s more than that. As writer and content strategist Katie Parrott aptly noted, the biggest mistake brands make is thinking that thought leadership is a type of content, rather than an approach to content. 

Gatley defines true thought leadership as “an intentional exercise of knowledge, skills, and expertise to increase awareness, elevate perception, and drive preference related to key issues that an audience cares about.” Accepting this definition makes thought leadership the hardest type of content to produce because it needs to be deeply rooted in unique perspective or expertise — while still authentically tying your brand. That’s a tall order for many marketing departments which now resemble content mills churning out how-to posts, ebooks and webinars at a faster and faster clip.

The way forward? First, recognize that thought leadership is rare — don’t expect 30% or more of your organization’s content output to be classified as such. It’s just not realistic. Next, look for new inputs. Parrott suggests five sources of thought leadership content; counter-narrative opinions, personal narrative, network connections, industry analysis and data storytelling. While some of these elements may depend on the stature and makeup of your business, they are worth exploring.

Lastly, don’t rely on higher management or various subject matter experts from your organization to create thought leadership. Most simply don’t have the time, or in some cases, the writing skills. This is where a strategic content partner can come in handy. The right partner can work with you to find your specific points of potential thought leadership. They can challenge your subject matter experts and help clarify their thinking while maintaining an outside perspective and high writing standard. They can conduct in-depth research on your behalf (e.g., what kind of stances are your competitors taking? How are they delivering their thought leadership content?), or help use SEO tools to identify relevant topics that your audience really cares about. 

By that same token, you can’t just throw an agency brief over the chasm and expect compelling content that perfectly represents your perspective and brand to be thrown back over. It takes hard work by everyone involved, inside and outside your organization, to develop the kind of thought leadership that will put you on the map.  

However, if you can get your content marketing engine firing using one or more of tips mentioned here, you will see results. And those results can be more than just “likes” or higher search rankings. Again from the study initially referenced in this post, when buyers were asked to select their top reasons for choosing the winning vendor over other vendors they considered, 59% said that the winning vendor demonstrated a stronger knowledge of the solution area and business landscape.

So show your audience who you are, what you believe, and how you want to make your industry better. You will be immediately rewarded with their engagement, but ultimately with their business.


Business strategy should drive marcom planning

The best case scenario for effective marketing and communications is a thoughtful and thorough strategic business plan with key strategic insights and direction to guide marcom plan development. A collaborative approach between strategy and marketing/communications leaders and teams is critical to achieve the best growth and profitability results.

Why does business strategy matter? A number of reasons:

  • Provides foundation: business purpose, vision, and culture communicated in a powerful way provides the reason for a company’s existence
  • Articulates most important business priorities, including desired growth trajectory, target products and geographies, financial goals and targets
  • Provides an honest and transparent assessment of how and where a company must compete for success
  • Enables targeted, informed marketing and communications planning – shorter path to content and media planning — and results!
  • Shortens decision making time — there’s a shared understanding of what’s important to the organization and what it will take to get to its vision and growth goals
  • Enables marketing and communications to build messaging and value propositions around a company’s differentiators early in the planning process
  • Provides clear direction on the Key Performance Indicators that a company values and how the company will gauge success within the marcom space

What does a solid business strategy entail? The following should be considered:

  • Perspective on company’s historical and recent successes and future challenges relative to new and existing products, markets, and customer base
  • Industry changes and customer trends that will drive a company’s future strategies and go to market approach
  • Market size and trends, overall, and by business line — are markets growing, static, or shrinking; at what pace and where
  • Assessment of a company’s competitors, including strength/weakness of competitors; is it a crowded market, who are the current and emerging competitors, what strategic positions do they hold currently and where are they heading
  • Company’s stand-out differentiators — what is the value brought to customers — what is enduring and what must be improved
  • Strategy for company to take market share from competitors; capitalize on a growing market to increase its business, or harvest business from a declining market
  • Expectations and role of marketing and communications in the growth strategy — what is expected from the company and its business strategy and are those expectations realistic

Marketing and communication serve critical roles — creating relationships with customers, differentiating from competitors, helping organizations get discovered and empowering people to make a choice to name a few. Because business strategy and marketing and communications are so intertwined, their intersection should be fostered in several ways:

  • Positive working relationships between a company’s strategy, business development, sales, marketing, and communications leadership and teams; appreciation for the value and roles of each function, regardless of reporting relationships
  • Open and transparent data, analytics, and information sharing, regardless of data ownership, for the good of the company
  • Shared understanding of roles and responsibilities and analytics priorities across the strategy, business development, and marketing/communications functions — how success will be measured and reported
  • Marketing and communications objectives closely aligned with business strategies and goals – designed to positively impact growth
  • Resource needs articulated in the marcom plan with greater chance of being provided with good alignment between business strategy and marcom

As a practical matter, a marketing and communications plan can be developed in the absence of a business strategy — but the end product will be far superior if a business strategy is provided, verbalized, and used to drive the marcom plan.


A marcom plan that is driven by the current business growth strategy will be more closely aligned to business priorities, which positions the organization for more successful growth.


Ways to seize opportunity in a down market

Finding a new normal for marketing means planning for future growth, even in a radically changing environment. Managing marketing investments during a recession — and particularly this pandemic-induced one — warrants a different approach. Here are several ways to maximize returns:

  1. Don’t Go Into Hibernation

While it may feel like you are preserving resources by cutting the marketing budget, you will end up giving up more in lost revenue and opportunity. As discussed, every very dollar wisely invested stands to make a stronger return after the downturn — especially if your competitors have fallen silent. Additionally, according to Nielsen, on average brands realize 47% of their marketing budgets after one year. That means a reduction in spend over even a few months can have a big negative impact downstream. What’s more, messaging from brands that stop advertising now may be less effective when they ramp up their efforts again, potentially reducing patient volumes, in the case of healthcare, over the long-term. After all, what message does a hospital or healthcare system send when it is suddenly invisible to the people it has built bonds with through marketing over the years?

  1. Defend Your Share of Voice

Share of Voice (SOV) is the percentage of category advertising expenditure spend by a brand. SOV is strongly correlated with market share — if SOV falls below a brand’s share of market then market share is likely to fall over the year following. Businesses that defend their SOV in a downturn can do so more inexpensively than in normal times, therefore such a strategy can be looked upon as a low-cost growth opportunity.

According to data from the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA), brands that took advantage of low SOV costs in the last recession to boost their SOV achieved impressive business gains. The following chart examines three equal-sized groups of cases with different advertising investment strategies measured by Excess Share of Voice (ESOV) — the difference between a brand’s SOV and a brand’s share of market. Group one, whose ESOV was zero or less were at advertising maintenance levels or lower. Group two had modest growth levels in ESOV in the range of 0-8%. Group three saw the downturn as a time to strike, and they benefited mightily with 4.5 times the annual market share growth. The conclusion is clear — while healthcare providers can be carried for a period on the momentum of previous brand-building investments, they cannot afford to coast in a downturn. Brands that are out of sight will, sooner or later, be out of mind for a large percentage of consumers.

  1. Expect Multiple Eventualities

New research by McKinsey on healthcare provider performance in recessions found that the gap between industry leaders and laggards widened in the last downturn and continued throughout the recovery period and beyond. Like the Bain & Company research referenced in the last post in this series, it found these leaders did several things differently, including creating strengthening their balance sheets, cutting costs ahead of the recession and focusing on growth — even if it meant incurring costs (e.g., driving volume to win share from competitors). McKinsey also suggested that healthcare providers get ahead of the game by building “resilience” into the organization. A key element of this is aligning on a set of well-defined recession scenarios.

Movéo suggests taking an agile planning approach around three different scenarios in this downturn, all tied to the pandemic — 1) a general continuation of the situation we have today — i.e., virus containment more or less dependent of geography, 2) COVID-19 spiking again in your locality, 3) an effective vaccine or anti-viral therapy, likely beginning in Q2, 2021. Each of these scenarios would require a different level of marketing spend, different messaging and use of different tactics.

Virus Surge

In a surge scenario, disease control fundamentals should again be emphasized, but also reassuring messages that reinforce an emotional connection with the brand and demonstrate empathy (“We’re going to get through this together”) are vital. Spend will be lower because elective procedures will likely again be curtailed. Also, communicating actions beyond campaigns — charitable relief, frontline assistance, reinforcing public health messages are tonally appropriate under this scenario.

Virus Mitigation

In a mitigation scenario, along with key service line messages, re-statement of the brand purpose is important. Regardless of patient volumes in the downturn, healthcare providers shouldn’t panic and alter their brand’s fundamental proposition or positioning. Even cash-challenged institutions would be wise to commit a portion of their marketing resources to reinforcing the core brand positioning. Reminding consumers of how the brand matters can add to the cushion provided by previous investments in building brand and patient satisfaction. Again, marketing spend should be normalized. Most businesses today already spend far less than 50% of their budget on brand-building so there is certainly no sense in cutting brand building further unless survival depends on it.

Virus Containment

An effective vaccine(s), better testing and tracing, new therapeutics, or any combination of these things, may mean the shape of recession is relatively short but sharp, rather than deep and long. Pandemic-based downturns tend to be v-shaped, and during the last 100 years most have lasted around a year, according to the Harvard Business Review. This means that if all restrictions are lifted, there is likely to be an enormous collective release of pent-up demand for healthcare. A return to a blend of brand and service line marketing at normal spend (or even increased spend as competitors re-emerge) will be in order. The appropriate tone of advertising in this “new normal” may be different though. New human truths are emerging in our society, based on evolving behaviors and sentiment. Healthcare changes (e.g., increased use of telemedicine) may be institutionalized by the first disease-driven recession of the modern era. Providers will need to carefully re-evaluate their messaging through a new lens to determine if it still meaningful to their consumers in light of these. This may result in resetting promises to constituents.

  1. Keep Your Eye On The Prize

In a downturn, using marketing analytics is critical to ensuring you’re deploying every dollar effectively. According to Nielsen’s long-term effect model benchmarks, having the right data, methodology, insights and activation can lead to, on average, a 7x return on the cost of the analytics program itself. Brands have an opportunity to use data to re-evaluate their traditional media channels, identify media consumption changes within target markets and adjust accordingly. And adjustment is key — healthcare consumer decisions are dynamically changing on the basis of availability and health conditions in the current environment. Healthcare providers must consider the long-term impacts of their marketing efforts, but also need data quickly to make short-term moves and evaluate — on a daily basis — as the environment continues to change.

This concludes our series of posts on the topic of healthcare marketing investment during a recession. While they have expansively ranged from an in-depth analysis of consumer and business behavior to high-level best practices identification, they can ultimately be summed up quite simply: in good times, marketing is an opportunity; in tough times, it is a necessity.


Business behavior in a downturn: winners and losers

When there is a drop in demand for health care services due to consumer behavior in an economic downturn, the response by many health care organizations is predictable — retrenchment. Certainly for some organizations with revenues that have fallen to levels that threaten the survival of the business, there may be no choice but to severely cut back. But, if resources are available, the arguments in favor of not doing so — at least across the board — are strong.

Headed into the global financial crisis a decade ago, a group of almost 3,900 companies worldwide were run through a sustained value creation analysis by Bain & Company. This group had posted double-digit earnings growth on average, from 2003 to 2007. When the downturn came, performance of these companies diverged sharply. The “winners” grew at a 17% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) during the recession, compared with 0% among the losers. The winners also locked in gains to grow an average 13% CAGR in the years following the downturn, while losers barely grew at all (1%). The takeaway here is that the entire playing field can be uprooted, depending on actions taken by companies during and after a recession.

Winning companies accelerated profitability during and after the recession, while losers stalled

Loser Behavior
Losing companies tended to follow the “recession playbook,” slashing and burning their way to the other side with the hope that extreme cost-cutting would be enough to ensure survival. These companies scaled back on marketing, cut R&D, laid off valuable talent and ruled out acquisitions.

Winner Behavior
Companies that ranked among the eventual winners focused intensively on cost transformation, but they also looked beyond cost. Bain reveals key moves by companies that outperformed peers in four areas:

Less fat, more muscle
All companies must manage costs in a recession. Yet some do this by ratcheting down spending on lower-value processes and reducing the volume and complexity of work. For them, cost management as a way to refuel the growth engine for the next stage in the business cycle.

Balance the check book
The winners worked the balance sheet as strategically as they did the P&L. They tightly managed cash, capital and capex, all to create “fuel” to invest through the cycle. Many companies also explored new ownership models in typically capital-intensive industries.

For the winners, the last recession presented a window to use acquisitions to reshape the portfolio of businesses or divest noncore assets that didn’t fit strategically in the company’s future.

Play offense
The strongest companies went on offense early, while many of their peers focused on survival. Winners used a few common tactics to boost growth, including maintaining marketing (while competitors cut back) and focusing on improving the customer experience, making it more simple and personalized.

Health care should take special note of play offense, for when economic anxiety goes up, many providers view it as a signal to play defense. In fact, a large body of research studies across industries suggests that this strategy does more harm than good.

To summarize the results of these studies here:

  • Significantly reducing advertising spending in a recession has negative long-term impact on brands in terms of revenues, market share, growth and return on investment.
  • Companies that maintained marketing investment recovered more quickly.
  • Businesses that continue to maintain share-of-voice and share-of-market during a downturn have shown a longer-term improvement in profitability that outweighed the short-term savings.
  • Essentially, the most productive and cost-effective marketing opportunity is when there is less competition.

As the Bain study showed, a recession opens the playing field for smart marketers. Health care providers should use the current downturn to reach and attract the patients who are still seeking services, to protect their existing patient base and to build a larger market share overall. While some consumer segments may be spending less, it is always possible to gain new patients. The daily economic doldrums notwithstanding, health care services are mainly based on personal need, and that need is often essential. In fact, the pandemic/recession itself can create demand — research by the American Academy of Family Physicians during the last recession found increases in both patients with major stress symptoms and patients with new health problems that developed due to the skipping of preventive health measures.

Because there will always be people who require health care, there will always be people attuned to health care marketing. In fact, very attuned — at this writing, overall media consumption is going up, increasing a brand’s opportunity to create meaningful, loyal and long-lasting relationships with patients. With most people engaging in some form of stay-at-home living at this writing, total use of television in the U.S. is up (18% in mid-March of 2020 compared with early March, for example). Social content volume is up and daily app usage has increased significantly when COVID-19 spread across the country compared with the first two-and-a-half months of the year.

Even with these changes in media consumption, according to Information Resources, digital media costs have been down ~40% (as of June, 2020); and TV media costs in the spot market have decreased too. While media costs can be mercurial, suffice to say health care marketers that maintain marketing investment have the opportunity to realize both short-term and long-term media price advantage, improving the relative efficiency of their advertising programs. Short-term price reductions are driven by increased supply and lower advertiser demand. Long-term benefit can be realized by the reset of baseline prices in markets where media sellers increasingly value predictable revenue. Additionally, healthcare marketers can leverage and seize opportunities created by the positive consumer mindshare of “healthcare workers as heroes”.

In the last post of this series we will identify ways specific ways for health care providers to seize the opportunity during an economic downturn.


Consumer priorities in a downturn

In a Harvard Business Review article, authors John Quench and Katherine Jocz posited that consumers prioritize consumption by sorting products and services into four basic categories:

  • Essentials are necessary for survival or perceived as central to well-being.
  • Treats are indulgences whose immediate purchase is considered justifiable.
  • Postponables are needed or desired items whose purchase can be reasonably put off.
  • Expendables are perceived as (due to a recession) unnecessary or unjustifiable.

Where does health care fit within this priorities paradigm? Treats can be excluded as a class since it does not have a true health care analog. On first blush, one might also conclude that health care belongs in essentials, right up there with food, shelter and clothing. While this is true to certain extent, the reality is much more nuanced.

Throughout a downturn, almost all consumers will reevaluate the totality of their consumption priorities. As these priorities change, they may eliminate purchases in certain categories and perhaps even move things that were once deemed essentials into expendables. So while healthcare consumers will seek treatment for more serious diseases or injuries (essentials), due to finances they will attempt to skip treatments for more minor, non-life-threatening conditions (expendables). A similar trend is present when examining data on hospital admissions and elective surgeries (postponables).

Modifying the Harvard Business Review consumer behavior paradigm then for health care, we still see the same four segments we do for the overall economy (i.e., slam-on-the-brakes, pained-but-patient, comfortably well-off, and live-for-today), but a reduced number of consumer priorities (eliminating treats). We can also introduce the use of color to indicate the level of revenue at risk — green showing a stable market for essential care, yellow a mixed market, where some people may push off some care or eliminate it entirely, and red showing a declining market where consumers intend to deeply curtail their health care spending due too their economic condition. Additionally, there may be “pockets” of virus fearful people (i.e., those that alter their purchase behavior to avoid exposure) that appear in any number of segments — financially challenges not withstanding.

Overall, (see chart) we can expect a decline in demand for health care services in an economic downturn based on a consumer response that navigates a slippery slope between willingness to spend against how services are prioritized. History supports this thesis. Research from 2013 indicated that during sever recessions, people will delay elective-surgical procedures. In turn, these actions create substantial financial headwinds for hospitals and health systems. From 2009 to 2011, the average 300-bed hospital lost about $3.7 million dollars due to decline in commercially-insured patients who were unemployed or underemployed.

Our next post in this series will look at how healthcare providers have typically responded to lower consumer demand in past downturns.