Downward trending red arrow to simulate an economic recession

I’ll be honest — economics is not my favorite subject. As a self-proclaimed “creative,” numbers and stock markets make me a little … sleepy. But it’s hard to consume any news these days without hearing about a “recession.” And, creative or not, recessions and economic activity impact everyone, especially in the healthcare space.

Many economists say a recession is coming. It’s not clear when exactly, but with the right strategic moves, you can prepare. This article includes some tactics to help your marketing team be proactive, adapt your healthcare marketing strategy and even thrive during times of financial downturn.

What’s a recession, anyway?

First, let’s back up and define “recession.” In the U.S., the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) keeps track of U.S. business cycles. They define a recession as “The period between a peak of economic activity and its subsequent trough, or lowest point.” *Pause for rest* In other words, a recession is a period where people and companies have less money.

A recession can last for months or years. The most recent recession was the COVID-19 Recession. It lasted two months (the shortest in U.S. history, surprisingly). The Great Recession lasted 18 months, from December 2007 to June 2009.

Economists say that recessions are normal. It’s hard to avoid them. Often, during a recession:

  • The U.S. sells less to other countries.
  • People lose jobs, so unemployment goes up.
  • People buy less, so sales go down.
  • Customers and businesses lose money.

Is healthcare recession-proof?

Recessions normally mean a loss of business, money and jobs. In the past, healthcare has been mostly immune to the effects of the economy. People need healthcare. During the COVID-19 Recession though, that changed. Healthcare jobs decreased. So did patients seeking elective surgeries and primary care. COVID-19 was a different kind of recession, but it might signify that the healthcare industry isn’t completely protected from the economy.

It’s important to be ready for changes in the economy and agile enough to prioritize and strategize a little differently.

Marketing during a recession — how to achieve success

During a recession or poor economic times, the marketing landscape changes. With some preparation, your healthcare marketing strategy can be successful. Here are some helpful tactics:

Increase (or maintain) your marketing budget.

It may be tempting to cut your marketing budget, especially during a recession. When hospitals and health systems make cutbacks, they typically start with marketing. But according to Harvard Business Review, companies that rebounded most quickly after previous recessions didn’t reduce their marketing budgets. Instead, they increased them.

The reason? Basic economics. Let’s break it down: In times of economic downturn, there’s often less marketing competition. The healthcare marketing supply is low because many healthcare systems reduce their marketing budgets. However, the demand for healthcare often stays the same. So, with low supply, and high demand, your marketing tactics make a bigger impact for less.

Increase or maintain your current marketing budget to make your marketing dollars go further.

Target your marketing spending.

Increasing your marketing budget doesn’t mean you shouldn’t work efficiently. Have a strong healthcare marketing plan in place with specific return on investment (ROI) goals. If you focus on messages and services that bring in profit without cutting your budget, your ROIs will be higher.

It’s a great time to do a gap analysis, if you don’t already do them regularly. A gap analysis helps you see where your current healthcare marketing tactics are doing well or lacking and where there are opportunities to have a more substantial impact.

During a recession or economic downturn, you may have new marketing opportunities. Maybe you can run a commercial because media rates are more flexible. Or maybe you can put more into internal marketing with existing patients, resulting in more referrals.

The marketing landscape often shifts, so adjusting your plan without cutting back is a smart investment that’s likely to pay off in the long run.

Use empathy-first messaging.

Knowing your audience well is key to any successful marketing plan. Work to understand how they act, what’s hard for them and what they value most. During a recession, your consumers may:

  • Have higher stress levels and anxiety, especially about paying for healthcare.
  • Cancel appointments more frequently.
  • Not get preventive care, making health issues worse overall.
  • Lose a job or employer-paid health insurance.

Respond with messaging that’s relatable and accessible — show that you recognize that times are tough. It’s not about your organization; rather, it’s about the people. Speak to your audience’s concerns in terms they use.

A content strategist can help you find the best and most searched phrases (also called SEO, search engine optimization) during a specific timeframe. Knowing what people are looking for can help you target your content, so it meets their needs.

Especially in a recession, most people are stressed. So, make sure people can easily find the information they need. Write content that’s accessible and follows plain language standards (even for the high literacy population). Be concise, straightforward and helpful. Using empathy as your guidepost goes a long way.

For example, AdventHealth’s blog focuses on using an empathetic writing voice and provides relevant, timely topics to their audience.

Advertise services strategically.

The most successful healthcare marketing campaigns are strategic about when they advertise or promote certain services. Make sure what you promote is based on need. With COVID-19, for example, patients needed more telehealth and mental health services. If you can be in tune with the services that will benefit people the most at a specific time, you’ll likely have higher ROIs.

In December 2021, when Ohio was dealing with an overwhelming number of COVID-19 patients, the Cleveland Clinic issued a powerful 1-word full-page ad urging people to get vaccinated.

Don’t forget to mention the risks of not getting services like preventive care, too. Sometimes people avoid these services during a recession because of the cost or lack of insurance.

Address financial concerns.

Many people lose their jobs during a recession. They also lose health insurance. Cost is a big pain point for your audience. You can respond by making information about insurance, Medicare and Medicaid, and other financial resources easy to find. Promote the affordability of your services. Consider offering deals or packaging services together to save costs. Money is on most people’s minds, so it’s helpful to address it head-on in your healthcare marketing.

Even if the U.S. doesn’t go through a formal recession in the next year, the economy is still always shifting. The happenings on Wall Street may not be your thing, but they do affect healthcare. Knowing how to help your healthcare marketing strategy weather the economy’s ebbs and flows is important.

Reach out for help with your messaging

If you’re ever stuck or need assistance crafting an empathy-focused message, WriterGirl is here to help. Our content strategists and writers work with you to make the most of your marketing budget and plan. Reach out today to see how we can support your healthcare marketing strategy.