Remaining Relevant Amid a Global Health Crisis – Part 2

A window into how healthcare organizations continue to connect key stakeholders at a time of distraction, confusion

For a copy of the W2O COVID-19 Relevance Analysis, click here.

According to Johns Hopkins University & Medicine, as of April 2, confirmed cases of COVID-19 have reached more than 1 million worldwide and over 50,000 people have died. As these numbers continue to climb, an increasing number of state and local governments in the United States and around the world have issued stay-at-home orders, restricting the movements of people and preventing them from participating in common, day-to-day activities. Restaurants, bars, non-essential businesses and theaters are closed, social distancing has become a part of our everyday lexicon, grocery store shelves are nearly empty, the stock market is plummeting, and sports have been cancelled at every level.

While the world struggles with how to deal with this global pandemic, organizations find themselves in a tenuous position. Employees are now working from home, which presents challenges to productivity, effectiveness and confidence as they try to juggle their personal lives and professional responsibilities. Customers expect brands to do more in this environment as the government struggles to provide the services and support necessary to maintain some semblance of normalcy.

At the intersection of the growing number of COVID-19 cases and organizations grappling with how to keep employees engaged and customers supported, healthcare marketers and communicators are struggling to protect the reputation of companies they work for. They are grappling with such questions as: What is the policy for a virtual workforce? How will we staff critical functions to better support patients, customers, suppliers, etc.? How will we support organizations involved in producing drugs to treat COVID-19? What will we do for employees with vulnerable family members? What should we be saying to the marketplace that is meaningful? In effect, how can my organization remain relevant during this crisis?

Being relevant had already become challenging as digital channels exploded exponentially over the last 10+ years, the number of audiences they were serving grew at the same rate of speed, there was greater demand to do more with less investment, and competition from all sectors of the market grew. Today, the primary job of protecting reputation has never been more important – or more challenging. How do you stay relevant, though, as investor sentiment drops, your customers are not nearly as engaged as they were two months ago, and your employees are dealing with more than they have ever dealt with before?

That is where the W2O Relevance Framework comes into play. Two weeks ago, we refocused the Relevance Framework to understand how companies are maintaining relevance with key stakeholders amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Our analysis provided organizations with an early roadmap to assess the situation with an eye toward growing tighter connections with the people who shape their businesses every day. Among the key findings of our analysis were the following:

  • Relevance is About Sensitivity, Empathy and Action. The most relevant companies demonstrated these characteristics in both their communications and decision-making.
  • Relevance Strengthened Organizational Confidence. Employees working in a virtual environment tend to question the value of what they do, given the loss of community and networking. Being relevant with stakeholders improved overall confidence in the organization.
  • Collaboration Emerged as a Key Relevance Driver. Companies that exhibit internal collaboration, work with regulators and policy makers, and partner with philanthropic organizations were viewed more favorably.
  • Timing and Information Make All the Difference. What companies said and shared publicly was backed up by strong action.
  • Stakeholders Must “Discover” Policy, Approach to Trust. Selling an organizational narrative will be dismissed as rhetoric or worse.
  • Employee “Value” Must be Reinforced in a Virtual Workplace. Keeping employees informed, interested and connected is critical to reinforcing their value and confidence.

We now have two more weeks of data for our Relevance Framework that shows us how companies’ responses to COVID-19 have evolved. Among the core themes that have emerged are the following:

  • Companies Broadening Their Response to the Pandemic are Maintaining Relevance. One of our early findings was that companies that were maintaining relevance with key stakeholders were doing so by focusing very narrowly on customers and employees. Fast forward two weeks and companies are still focused on those two audiences but have since expanded the circle to include patients and healthcare practitioners, as well.
  • Marketers and Communicators Who Have Helped Their Organizations Keep the Business Context in Mind Have Maintained/Increased Relevancy. COVID-19 has fundamentally disrupted supply chains around the world. The companies that are maintaining relevancy have pivoted their operations to respond and have done a successful job communicating that message to a variety of stakeholders.
  • Partnerships Have Remained a Key Driver of Relevance. This trend has continued and even grown in importance. Whether Facebook’s partnership with 30,000 small businesses in 30 countries, Apple’s partnership with the CDC to update Siri and create a website to help patients diagnose COVID-19 symptoms, or Medtronic’s collaboration with Tesla, we are seeing multiple examples of strong partnerships driving relevance.
  • Focusing on Being a Global Citizen Strongly Impacts Relevance. Two weeks ago, we took note of the many companies making contributions to a variety of different organizations. Now, many of these companies are continuing to donate, and even more additional companies are doing so. These contributions are happening all over the world. Additionally, there is a sense of openness and information sharing with all interested parties that was previously unseen. In order to maintain relevance, companies need to think about their role more broadly than where they are geographically based.

Over the coming weeks, we will be refreshing and sharing our data and insights.

We certainly are living in an unprecedented time where the world seems to be standing still. Moving forward as individuals and organizations is going to take determination, perseverance, information and connection.

Staying relevant amid such a turbulent time is critical, especially once things do return to normalcy.

In the meantime, stay safe and healthy.

Contributions to this content were made by Gary Grates, Chuck Hemann, Stephen Yoon, Marianne Gollub, Daniel Steffen, Kate Hawker, Olga Larina and Laura Mucha of W2O.

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Alan Chumley
Alan Chumley

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