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The Elements of Effective Connection

COVID-19 has dramatically altered many of the traditional means of communication and education in the medical community. As often happens in a major crisis, innovations have evolved at lightning speed. Healthcare audience outlooks and expectations have also taken permanent turns.

Have you adjusted your digital content strategy for this new world? How will your brand communicate, educate and support patients and HCPs?

A successful shift requires commitment, imagination and compassion. It begs for a broader definition of content calibrated for these times and respect for each individual’s experience. This guide will help you assess and elevate your current approach.

Content Do’s and Don’ts for a COVID World:

  1. Don’t stop at information: Today many brands view content as information, period. Imagine that “content” doesn’t stop there but extends to tools, skills, connections and experiences offered to audiences. Many patients and their HCPs interact for only a few minutes and now often virtually. This often leaves large gaps digital content can help fill.
  2. Do deliver utility: Great content strategists continually think about how they can best fill their audience’s immediate and long-term needs. Especially early in a crisis, immediate utility trumps everything Content with immediate utility must be the backbone of any COVID content plan. Prioritize content that helps answer urgent questions and supports action. Patients may need to understand when they should contact their HCP, their local treatment options, and how they can safely continue treatment. Offer disease and care tools, guides, and connections to resources they may need. 
  3. Don’t stand for sterile: In healthcare’s regulatory environment, content can become flat and feel cold. Explore ways to communicate warmth and humanity while remaining compliant. This can be accomplished through a visually inviting digital environment that features photos/videos of people and uses calming or neutral colors. Insist on striking a warm, affirming tone in copy wherever possible. Introduce further humanity through stories, quotes and by inviting feedback. Use “you” when addressing your audience, avoid overly clinical detail and use visuals paired with clear text to convey concepts.
  4. Do embrace empathy: Much human contact has been blunted if not killed by the COVID era’s social and emotional Patients, HCPs, and caregivers across the board are struggling. The Center for Disease Control has tracked markedly increased stress, fear and worry related to COVID itself, as well as its economic and social fallout. Many people with chronic disease or mental health conditions exhibit worsening symptoms. Science has proven that seriously ill patients need more than their medication to get well—they need human support.

As Fosha, Siegel and Solomon explain in: The Healing Power of Emotion: Affective Neuroscience, Development & Clinical Practice… “We are hardwired to connect with one another, and we connect through our emotions. Our brains, bodies, and minds are inseparable from the emotions that animate them…these emotions can become powerful catalysts for the transformations that lie at the heart of the healing process.”

Appropriately demonstrating empathy is one of the hallmarks of an advanced healthcare brand. Create content with an affirming, empathetic tone. Facilitate positive connections via social media, disease support groups or other forums among virtual “neighbors” in COVID. Bring patients positive, relatable voices.

Telemedicine is providing effective human connection for many patients. Examine how you can use content to optimize telemedicine interactions that benefit patients during and beyond the call.

  1. Don’t make assumptions: Without sufficient, fresh data, don’t assume you know where your audience is in their health or COVID journey. Experiences across individual communities and individual people will vary as health, social and economic ramifications strike unevenly. Some communities are experiencing an intense COVID impact for the first time, others for the second. 
  2. Do Customize or Personalize: Branded content designed to help patients understand their disease or designed to help HCPs learn about new treatments is often generic. Patient characteristics for customization to consider include: culture/ethnicity, values, health literacy, beliefs, influences, social support system, content preferences. For HCPs, consider how their specialty has been impacted COVID, their practice type and setting. Personalizing content for the individual is content’s holy grail and will be an essential component of personalized medicine. Choose to personalize as you build deeper audience insights and gather individual patient or HCP data. (You’ll also need permissions from audiences to be compliant.)
  3. Do Co-Create: Especially in a rapidly evolving environment, co-creation should be a pillar of your content strategy. Adopt a collaborative approach between the brand, experts and the intended audience. Solicit and apply your audience’s own feelings and opinions about what they need and want. Their feedback will help your content achieve bona fide utility and true empathy.
  4. Do Use Content Archetypes: This pandemic calls for content archetypes—types of content that play to ancient brain preferences, stir positive emotion and mesmerize. They help audiences better comprehend and retain information and instructions. Here’s a rundown on this neurologically-attuned content:

Narrative: Narrative appeals to our ancient, social brains and deeply stirs emotions. In turn, emotions imprint information in our brains. Stories from and about disease peers, caregivers, and/or friends can reveal COVID impact as a “shared but separated” experience, which brings people closer. Relevant narrative nurtures a sense of belonging-a core need for those in any state of isolation. Brands that tell stories build lasting bonds with audiences.

Sound and Motion/Video: For an array of reasons video continues to explode as a content type across audiences. It is easy to consume, engages multiple senses and boosts comprehension and retention of information when done well. Employ sound and motion to tell a story and you have a blockbuster piece of content.

Interactivity: Content that offers interactivity can create a trancelike immersion for audiences which can be both healthy and productive. Interactive websites, games and videos all apply. Immersion boosts comprehension and retention of information, so is particularly appropriate for audiences under strain.

  1. Don’t neglect to make your content discoverable: Your audiences must be able to easily discover your content to ensure it works for your brand. Ensure you have a sound digital search strategy and that your web properties are well-organized, easy to navigate and optimized for search. Create shareable content and provide the supporting digital functionality that enables shares.
  2. Do think about what’s next: Although we don’t know when the COVID crisis will completely resolve, life will eventually begin to stabilize. But many things will have shifted. Think about how you will prepare. How will you innovate? Keep an eye on virtual reality, or VR It allows users to experience a sense of presence in a computer-generated three-dimensional environment. VR is leveraged to educate HCPs and patients as a way to relax patients before the during procedures, and as a lever to accelerate patient progress in both talk therapy and physical therapy. Look at new ways data can help you personalize content, working with a partner expert in targeting and data applications. Finally, create your own, prioritized goals for your content and a roadmap to achieve them. Consider engaging a professional content strategy partner to map out the next 2 to 3 years, but expect to revise it as audiences’ needs change.

This article is also featured on Pharma Live.