Learning from the Past to Face an Unprecedented Present: Part 3

By: Dan Miers

The current COVID-19 crisis reinforces a key lesson taught in the Great Recession of 2007-2009: no organization, category, or community is immune to disruption. If, fundamentally, an organization strives “to be a responsible business, to change the lives of people for the better, and to make a positive impact on society and the environment,” then “it is time to embody that vision for the greater good.”

In the first two installments of this blog series, we looked at:

  1. The imperative for sustained communications to raise awareness of your brand
  2. The crisis’ health effects, which will extend beyond the battle with the virus itself

Now we turn our attention to brand strategy. As was learned in the Recession, brands that survive dramatic disruption may emerge with fewer and/or new competitors, a more (or less) loyal base of customers, or even an entirely new purpose. The changes that have already, and will continue to, accompany COVID-19’s society-spanning disruption set the stage for the third area where healthcare organizations and strategists can apply smart improvisation—the potential for business transformation and brand revolution. The potential for radical transformation for businesses and brands will continue to reveal itself well beyond the coming months, and healthcare organizations should prepare to respond accordingly.

While your health system’s central expertise may not change during this challenge, the brand and its value proposition to its communities may benefit from a second look. McKinsey advises that disruptive challenges provide glimpses of opportunity into radical reinvention, valuable benefits beyond the traditional core of the business or identity, and crucial first steps in a transformative direction. Disruptions such as these incentivize and compel innovation at a rate your organization may not otherwise—leverage these in-the-moment innovations to elevate your brand.

Historically, healthcare innovation has mostly taken the form of scientific discoveries and technological advancements. The COVID-19 crisis has spotlighted the importance of care-model and care-process innovation. Health system ingenuity, creativity, and adaptability are organizational traits that have either been latent or possibly underleveraged. Now that their potential has been revealed, ask yourself two questions; Does our organization’s current brand stance reflect this organizational dimension? And if not, what new doors to brand and business revolution do they open? Even though it may not feel like there’s airspace for it presently, strategic marketing leadership demands purposefully observing and cataloging the new reservoirs of opportunity presenting themselves.

Consider the story of Amazon. In the midst of the Great Recession, Amazon sales grew by 28% in 2009. The company continued to innovate with new products during the slumping economy, most notably with new Kindle products, which helped to grow market share. In a first, on Christmas Day 2009, Amazon customers bought more e-books than printed books. As a result, in the minds of consumers, Amazon transformed from an online shopping catalog to an innovative technology company. By introducing a lower cost alternative to cash-strapped consumers in the midst of societal disruption, Amazon not only met a “here-and-now” need, but also uncapped its imaginative nature and opened new channels of brand distinction and business growth (e.g., video, web services).

Looking around right now, what new avenues for leadership have emerged? Where have your investments in people, systems, and infrastructure exposed new potential value? Where have your weaknesses or limitations created opportunities for competitors?

Zeroing in on that last point, for a few weeks now, and for some unknown period of time to come, stay-at-home orders and clinic closures may have cut people off from visits with their doctors. At some point, that pent-up demand will be set loose. With no new capacity, the inevitable impact could be astronomic wait times for physician appointments. 90, 120, even 180-day waits could easily become the norm. Patients will only wait and remain brand loyal for so long. Frustrated, they will look for alternatives. This single scenario presents both an important warning of loss risk and strategic opportunities for gain. Get ahead of the wave and scenario plan multiple possibilities inspired by these questions.

Beyond its health and medical consequences, COVID-19 stands as a unique test and a new call for improvisation. The next great health system disruption may be technologic, political, healthcare policy-related, or economic. While responding to COVID-19’s unique demands, we are also honing our skills at improvisation around a strategy. And honing those improvisation skills means learning lessons from a broad range of disruptions to build greater personal and organizational resilience.

Read part 1 and part 2 of this blog series.