The Era of "No Normal"
Since COVID-19 shuffled all the deck chairs in our lives, we’ve all been wondering one of two things: when will things go back to normal? Or, what will the new normal look like?
Yet neither are on the immediate horizon. We are in the “No Normal,” and we should expect to stay in this No Normal period for some time. Five months, five years — we just don’t know.
But we do know what the No Normal means for us right now.
The No Normal began with challenges and will continue to require tough business decisions.
- In the No Normal, we watch hospitals struggle financially while payors reap the rewards of billions of dollars in deferred or avoided care.
- In the No Normal, hospitals scramble to fill their ORs, and the “missing domino” of patients avoiding doctors’ appointments and diagnostics will make those schedules even lighter 45 to 60 days later.
- In the No Normal, once-thriving physician practices operate at reduced capacity and look for partners to stave off bankruptcy.
But the No Normal also means change — which if we harness it right, could be for the better.
- In the No Normal, the healthcare system is no longer designed around physicians, refocusing wholly on patients and their protection.
- In the No Normal, telehealth is normalized, creating new access points and advancing our system in consumer experience and digital sophistication.
- And most importantly, in the No Normal, we talk openly about racial disparities in healthcare access and treatment approaches. We will no longer tolerate the inequities of the past.
The No Normal is showing up in many other ways — big and small, good and bad. Wearing masks and avoiding handshakes. Delayed vacations and one-way grocery aisles. Planting backyard gardens and riding bicycles again. Displays of love and human kindness that stand in stark relief to the cruelty we’ve witnessed in Minneapolis and elsewhere.
This No Normal means that healthcare marketing must adapt to the current circumstances and prepare to stay in this uncomfortable mode for an unknown period of time. We cannot show up the way we did in February and early March and expect it to be effective. Yet we also can’t assume the current state is the new normal — it’s not.
The No Normal requires healthcare marketers to focus on many new things — like sharing detailed cleanliness measures and specifically targeting patients who paused care to bring them back. It also requires focus on things that should have been priorities all along, like communicating empathy and kindness in real human ways and taking bold, vocal stands against injustices around us. Ultimately, it requires us to reorder our investment priorities in people and innovation alike.
In the No Normal, the winners will figure out how to be busy again and win the hearts and minds of every patient. The losers will be half empty, cash-starved, and looking for an acquirer to save them.
The healthcare brands that lean into this discomfort and uncertainty to meet consumers where they are will thrive. Those that don’t will be facing a difficult future.
The leaders will take the reins by considering several key fronts:
- First, health systems must take a hard look at what they want to stand for — and revisit messaging and brand voice accordingly.
- Second, health systems must consider their payor relations strategy and how contract renewals will be different now, including new terms around telehealth.
- Third, health systems must consider their M&A strategy — are they buyers or sellers? The market will undoubtedly continue to consolidate during the No Normal and beyond.
We believe healthcare brands can thrive in the No Normal. That is our agency’s purpose, and the work has never been more important.