Over the past 4 weeks, I have been writing a blog series to utilise my experience in crisis management, marketing and communications. My goal is to keep clinics moving forward, despite many having to stand still, while treatments are suspended.
The assisted reproduction industry is constantly evolving. Science improves the chances of successful treatment. But it has never faced a challenge like COVID19. Previous blogs have assessed where we stand with treatment suspended. We have discussed how marketing plays a significant role at this time. We have looked at the financial implications. Last week, we looked at ways to use PR to communicate.
Today I want to talk about protecting your brand during this crisis. While this situation is new to everyone, a crisis is not and nor is recession. In my 30 years in media and marketing, I have worked through a number of recessions. The last 16 years has been spent in assisted reproduction.
So, let’s start with the basics, what is your brand?
Your brand is a person’s perception of your clinic. When you set out your mission statement, you focussed on what made your clinic unique. It is time to familiarise yourself with that mission statement!
Perception – do you see the silhouette of two people or a white vase on a black background? It is up to you to communicate clearly how you want your brand to be perceived.
As an IVF clinic, you pride yourself on patient care, compassion and supporting patients. That is no doubt a key element of your mission statement. But, have you forgotten that in your patient communications?
Get the right message across
It’s a fine line to acknowledge the current crisis, appreciate the stress patients are under and not appear insensitive. Some big brands have got this very wrong. Don’t send emails with the subject as COVID19 unless your message is specifically about changes to your operational policies.
The recipient could just have lost a family member or friend. The patient could have symptoms and be scared. To ignore the situation all together appears ignorant, we all know it’s not business as usual. So, you need to reinforce what your brand stands for without making it all about you!
Update your website
Have a banner on your home page that takes patients to your dedicated COVID19 page. This is easily updated as the situation changes. Update your current operational policy, if you are still treating obs/gynae patients then advise patients of your safety policy on clinic visits.
Denmark has reopened fertility clinics today with strict guidance on how many patients can be in the waiting room. It has adjusted treatment schedules to ensure less patients are in the clinic at one time.
We will all come out of lockdown at different stages, so it is important you keep patients in the loop of what is happening at your clinic. Reassure them that they still have a point of contact, reinforce your brand identity of being compassionate.
Update Google My Business
There are features in place for COVID19 operational changes. If your clinic is closed but you are taking email enquiries, let patients know. Can they still reach your finance department? Are you running a dedicated helpline for your patients? Make sure when a patient looks you up, they don’t see you are permanently closed! Or that you are open, when the actual clinic is closed and they get no reply when they try to call.
Update your social media platforms
If your operational procedures have changed, pin this to the top so patients can quickly find that information. Adapt your welcome message for direct messages. Let patients know if there will be a delay in replying to them with remote working. Manage patient expectations.
Be extra helpful
Now is time to go above and beyond. Patient’s will remember your kindness when the crisis is over. The usual workload is lighter as there are no treatments. So just spend a little more time on patient enquiries. I am finding that patients want to chat about their day, everyone is feeling the pain of isolation and want to build a relationship with you. There is a tendency to do as little as possible and hope the crisis blows over quickly. It’s going to be around for a while yet, but the steps you take now will ensure you stay trading, stay focussed on patient care and emerge stronger in the patient’s mind.
We spoke last week about PR; this is a good time to generate some good news. Charities are reporting significant losses as people stop donating. Is there a charity local to your clinic that needs a helping hand? Are any of your staff looking after the elderly and vulnerable? This is good content to share on your social media and for local press. Kind acts will be remembered and it demonstrates your staff are human.
Honesty is the best policy
Be transparent with patients, keep them updated throughout this crisis. The Fertility Hub is currently conducting a patient survey to get their views on how COVID19 is affecting them in their fertility journey. So far, the replies have all reported that they DON’T feel supported by their fertility provider. This is not the message we want to put across as an industry. We can do more and that is why your marketing is so important at this time.
Communicate with all members of your team
Every member of your team needs to care about marketing now. Their job security relies on having patients when this crisis is over. A strong brand has valued employees, if you look after your staff, your reputation will follow.
Ask all staff to check in with their patients on rotation, you don’t want to contact them too often but you also don’t want to go silent. Also ask each member of staff to check in with your providers. Suppliers are also taking a big financial hit as you aren’t ordering from them. A simple call or email is good for your relationship with them and again reiterates the strength of your brand.
Clear communications policy
Management should set out a policy on communications for all staff and patients during the crisis. It shows you are in control of your clinic, even if you are not in control of the global situation. Monitor the activity of IVF units in other countries. There are so many free webinars to attend at the moment. Make use of this time for staff training.
We are all watching Denmark with interest and hope that by reopening clinics this will pave the way for other countries to follow suit. In the meantime, keep communicating and keep your brand strong.
Over the coming weeks I will look at online marketing, seminars, newsletters, video and podcasts. I will also be hosting a webinar for IVF clinics that covers all aspects of marketing an IVF clinic in May. Details to be announced soon!
If you would like to discuss any of the topics covered in this series, please drop me a line.
Veronica Montgomery, Clinic and Patient Liaison Consultant
The Fertility Hub
Previous blogs in this series
Part one – COVID19 Crisis Management for IVF Clinics
Part two – Marketing and Communications During COVID19
Part three – Financial Implications of COVID19
Part four – The use of PR during the COVID19 pandemic