coronavirus microscope
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The pharma brands staying relevant during the COVID-19 outbreak aren’t necessarily the ones constantly appearing in the news, according to a Coronavirus Relevance report from W2O Group.

The report noted that healthcare brands already had a tough time breaking through the noise even before the pandemic. The news was constantly dominated by the election, the opioid crisis, drug pricing, vaping and healthcare reform, among other issues. But the coronavirus has superseded all of these issues.

“The time before coronavirus was so front and center, one of the things that our clients were trying to do is break through a pretty noisy landscape,” said Chuck Hemann, co-author of the report and digital intelligence and activation practice leader at W2O. “The counsel we like to give to clients is you have to be consistent storytellers, not just storytellers when a relevant conversation is happening. It needs to be all the time. That’s especially true for the coronavirus because you’ve got some of the same political dynamics occurring.”

W2O determines brand relevance through a few factors, Hemann said. These include searches for a company, key stakeholder engagement with brand content, unprompted stakeholder conversations about the brand and whether stakeholders are advocating for the brand.

By these metrics, pharma brands Roche, Novartis and Johnson & Johnson landed in the top three most relevant healthcare brands during the COVID-19 outbreak.

“Just because [a company] might be pushing out a lot of content or the news media might be writing about a vaccine they’re developing or the media is talking about a test they might be developing, that doesn’t necessarily equate directly to being relevant,” Hemann said.

On the consumer and tech side, companies that made the top three are Facebook, Microsoft and Apple.

These consumer and tech companies and the top 10 pharmas have several communication tactics in common during the coronavirus pandemic. These companies have recognized that action is better than words in their comms, they’re engaging in conversation with their stakeholders and they’re expanding spokespeople beyond just the CEO, Hemann explained.

The key stakeholders monitored for healthcare companies in this report include audiences like employees, patients, healthcare providers, advocacy groups, financial analysts and policy makers.

The report measured brand relevance between January 1 and March 14, as the coronavirus pandemic ramped up around the world. Hemann said W2O will continue putting out periodic updates to this report while the pandemic continues.

“The companies that are remaining relevant to stakeholders even during this crazy time are ones who have the organizational muscle memory to be constantly communicating with both internal and external stakeholders and thinking about how their content, their message or their action is going to resonate with a broad group of stakeholders,” Hemann said.

Another tip for healthcare companies is not to forget about their core audiences. Patients with chronic conditions still need the same communication from companies that serve them, perhaps even more so during this crisis.

With people spending more time at home, digital behavior has risen and patients may be searching for information about their condition alongside consuming coronavirus news.

“The companies that are represented in this study still were making every effort to service the patient they needed to service,” Hemann said. “If a company manufactures a diabetes drug and provides information about that condition to those patients, let’s not lose sight of that. It is perfectly understandable that people are preoccupied about COVID-19, whether from a health standpoint or an economic standpoint, but people’s conditions are people’s conditions whether it’s a month ago or right now. Guidance we’ve been providing to clients is this isn’t a situation where if you don’t have anything to say about COVID-19, you go dark.”