• Alan Shoebridge

Successfully 'marketing' the COVID-19 vaccine: 4 unique challenges we'll need to overcome


As marketers and communicators, most of us are sadly quite familiar with receiving incomplete – or even downright sketchy – details about the products we’re asked to promote. Yet, when it comes to promoting adoption of the COVID-19 vaccine, things are getting taken to a whole new level of challenging. Here are four unique obstacles that we face with trying to promote vaccine acceptance in 2021 and likely beyond.

  1. We lack the traditionally required product details

  2. We can’t afford to wait until everything is clear to act

  3. Most people already want our product, but we can’t give it to them!

  4. Even after vaccination, our customers need to keep making lifestyle sacrifices


1. We lack the traditionally required product details


Under normal circumstances, we can usually piece together enough details about when, where and how the product we are being asked to market will be available to customers. For example, when we’re opening a new location we have a good idea of when construction will end and the staff will be in place to welcome and serve customers. Details about when the vaccine will become available to all members of the community are still vague to non-existent in most states.


Furthermore, the vaccine is at least two – and soon to be three – different products. Are you getting Pfizer, Moderna, J&J or TBD? There are differences between the vaccine options and being able to explain them to people in a way that's directly tied to their specification vaccination appointment would be helpful.


2. We can’t afford to wait until everything is clear to act


When business partners come to you with incomplete details, most times you can push back and refuse to build a marketing or communications plan until that information is provided. That’s not really appropriate when the product can literally save lives. We need to do the best we can now and accept that we will be building our plans – and changing them – with far fewer details that we’re used to having.


3. Most people already want our product, but we can’t give it to them!


Healthcare is largely an avoidance product that most people never want to consume unless they absolutely have no other choice. Even in the most resistant parts of the country, somewhere between 50% to 70% of people want the vaccine NOW. Imagine having that type of response to opening a new clinic or introducing a new doctor to your community. Yet, right now we can’t give our product to all the people who want it!


4. Even after vaccination, our customers need to keep making lifestyle sacrifices


At some point, the vaccine will be available to everyone who wants it, yet we are still going to ask them to make sacrifices. Masks and social distancing are still going to be required to keep everyone safe as we sort out the impact of COVID-19 variants, how long the vaccine provides protection and other associated issues. Business restrictions might also remain in place for some time. This situation might last all of 2021 and into the next year as well.


Furthermore, getting people to remember to come back for a second shot, even for those who are highly motivated, does present an additional complication. This is also exacerbated by the fact that many people experience side effects from the second vaccine dose that might require a day off from work. That’s what happened to me. It won’t be a deal-breaker for the vast majority of people who get the first shot, but if even 10% of people drop off and don’t follow-through we could have a real issue in efficacy.


All of this taken together could create a disincentive for some people to act so we’ll need to keep communicating about why as many people getting vaccinated as possible is vital.

So ... what should we do?


We have to embrace the ambiguity and not let perfect be the enemy of good. This is a not a time to be rigid in your thinking. You need to do the best you can with what you know today and be ready to make a 180-degree pivot tomorrow if that’s what is required.


For better or worse, we'll need to get very comfortable working in ambiguity for at least the next six to nine months.


This is also a great time to build our networks and share what works with other colleagues. The community of healthcare marketers and communicators can leverage their shared expertise to help drive adoption of the vaccine as quickly as possible. Let's challenge ourselves to do it.

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