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How Higher Ed & Telehealth Sectors Can Adapt Marketing Strategies in the “New Normal”

August 18, 2020

Authored by: Carlee Benson, Alexander Glennon, Diana Klonaris, and Alix Ruder

It’s been six months since the coronavirus pandemic has taken the world by storm, forcing many of us to quickly accept a new, digital, stay-at-home lifestyle. This lifestyle shift has already been underway, but coronavirus has accelerated it--leading to a growing acceptance of technologies to help us stay connected to the outside world.

Even industries that previously were skeptical of digital shifts being sustainable are quickly adapting to help survive and stay connected. The Healthcare and Higher Education sectors are two industries in particular that have been slower to shift to digital practices in the past, but were forced to make the switch quickly when the pandemic began.

The increased demand of digital health and virtual teaching environments have shown no sign of slowing down, even as the country has begun to reopen. The acceleration of this technology indicates a longer-term change in the Healthcare and Higher Education sectors, and marketing within them can expect to adapt to a more digital world that requires more accountable spending while this trend becomes our new normal.

The Flexibility of Going Virtual

With colleges soon to resume classes, we are learning more about the future of Higher Education. Some universities have decided to go fully remote, while some are giving their students an option of a hybrid online and in-person class option. The merger of online and traditional learning experiences from campuses allow for more enhanced resources to their students. The expansion of these digital services means more remote network access must be made widely available.

This spike in demand has led to the advancement for more robust 5G technologies in the U.S. According to eMarketer, the sudden uptick in current network access to support remote work will drive the acceleration of 5G to ensure the bandwidth and capacity challenges of existing infrastructure can be addressed. Once widely available and accessible, 5G will serve as the foundational support for emerging technologies in the Internet of Things and automation, among other applications.

There are a lot of benefits included in Healthcare and Higher Education sectors moving to a digital space. In the Healthcare sector, there’s the newfound flexibility and convenience for patients of appointments from home, increased access to care, and better options concerning patient portals and daily monitoring. For Higher Education, students (and teachers, in many cases) will benefit from greater scheduling flexibility, 24/7 access to information via learning portals, and opportunities for advanced classes or digital learnings.

While there are clearly perks of going virtual, what does that actually mean for marketers, and how they should be thinking about media? Consumer media consumption patterns, online behavior, and messaging that resonates is all changing. With that said, media strategies need to be flexible and tailored to fit the new way of life.

Higher Education and Healthcare advertisers should be thinking about a few things in particular.  

Brand Positioning -

Brand voice and messaging is as delicate as ever. Try to highlight how your business is making a positive impact during the pandemic. For example, if your school programs or students are actively making a difference in their community, then address COVID-19 in your messaging directly.  

Media Channels  -

Paid Search and Social are key digital players at the moment. Cross-channel strategies are of higher importance to mitigate the drop in overall Google searches and changing behaviors with other channels like YouTube, Display, etc. Social in particular is showing evidence of higher consumer usage, and advertisers should focus on having their paid social messaging to be more empathetic to audiences during this crisis. 

Developing New Strategies that Align with Trends -

Think about developing ad or landing page copy that reflects the mission-driven values of your business/institution. It is important to identify content topics that are timely now but will also still be relevant post COVID-19. To help with this, brands can focus on the increases in search demand and volume to use as a guideline.  

How Does This Affect Marketing?

Higher Education and Healthcare brands should not be quick to pull the plug on media as marketing will be an essential part of recovery. In fact, according to a COVID-19 Marketing and Ad Spend report done by Influencer Marketing Hub, 78% of consumers think brands should help them in their daily lives and 75% say that brands should inform people of what they’re doing. The question is, at what investment? 

Understandably, brands are pulling back on overall advertising spend during these times. The changes in advertising spend differ significantly by media type.

The biggest decrease is within display advertising, with a 47% reduction in budget spend. Paid social media has also seen a 45% drop. Paid search has continued more normally, however, with a comparatively smaller 24% drop in budget. While there are decreases in spend, it is important to keep in mind that digital CPMs are down resulting in return on ad spend trending much higher than usual. This means ad dollars, even ad reduced budget, can go quite a long way.

In the healthcare space, telemedicine and virtual appointments have gone from a “nice to have” to an essential offering in diagnosis and triage. As healthcare providers devote more time and resources to developing virtual capabilities, consumers are the beneficiary of the related time and cost savings, while healthcare providers reduce the risk of patients with infectious disease from spreading to other patients and faculty staff.

As an increasing segment of patients leverage telemedicine and virtual appointments, in-person appointment wait time decreases, therefore reducing some of the inefficiencies that were ubiquitous before the pandemic started.

As a marketer, it is imperative to highlight virtual capabilities in ad creative while focusing on highly measurable digital tactics. For the healthcare services that require in-person appointment scheduling, there is an opportunity to acknowledge the company’s response to COVID-19 and the measures they are taking to ensure safe interactions.

In higher education, the adaptation to a virtual-centric offering poses unique challenges to the institution and marketers alike. Post-pandemic, it is likely that the days of the 100+ in-person lecture are gone while smaller class sizes could offer a more hands-on learning experience for students. The proliferation of virtual classes grants students more flexibility with their schedules and is especially valuable for international students and individuals balancing a job with their education.

This presents an opportunity to revisit the types of prospective candidates a school may want to target.    


These are unprecedented times for everyone, and now more than ever it is important for marketers to disregard conventional logic and to avoid the traps of “what worked in the past” in order to stay diligent to the ever-evolving consumer landscape.

We are at an inflection point. It is imperative marketers take a consumer-first mindset across all facets of brand strategy. Marketing will be an essential element in the process of recovery, especially concerning securing trust with consumers--and brands must embrace the uncertainty and ambiguity of the times as a call to innovate.