Written by: Casey Floyd
Digital advertising by U.S. healthcare firms will approach $2 billion in 2016, a 15.4 percent increase over last year, according to a presentation developed by Patricia Orsini, market analyst at eMarketer. This trend shows no signs of slowing; mobile and social advertising spends are expected to show double-digit percentage increases for at least the rest of the decade. Today’s healthcare organizations must supercharge their online presence or risk being left behind.
The reason for this exponential growth in digital healthcare advertising is clear. As tablets, web-enabled cell phones and laptop computers become ubiquitous among physicians, hospital administrators, payers and patients, organizations must project themselves where they can be seen, evaluated and positioned as industry leaders and experts.
The tactics that will be effective in accomplishing these goals, however, are as unique as the firms using them. Corporate values, competitors, the nature of the industry and geography in which they compete, their go-to-market strategies and a host of other variables bear on how healthcare industry participants can best employ the power of online marketing.
Ironically, though healthcare is among leaders when it comes to embracing technological advances for treating patients, it is often slow to adopt tech to communicate, manage and grow their markets.
Your competition likely fails to leverage the available digital resources to attract prospects, engage, inform and convert them to patients, shape their opinions and turn them into evangelists. If so, the door is open for you to claim additional market share. The key is to partner with an agency that thoroughly understands the digital advertising and content space, and one that possesses both the insight to identify and the resources to implement strategies, messages and dissemination methods that will attract and resonate with the people who need the services you provide.
Clinics, healthcare partnerships, pharmacies, etc. generally take a shotgun approach to marketing. It’s a vestige of traditional marketing when an ad in the city telephone directory and the Sunday newspaper were considered a comprehensive marketing plan. When you ask a healthcare group who its primary target market is, the response typically is, “all people nearby,” or “whoever we can get!”
Digital marketing ushers in a new paradigm and calls for a radically different execution. While the concept of market segmentation is not new, the digital tools available to healthcare professionals make it possible to tailor specific messages for specific potential clients – based on their demographics, lifestyles, online behavior, interests and beliefs.
We put away the shotgun and take a sniper approach to deliver relevant messages to specific people by building profiles around these patients and then delivering value-added services that are important to them.
A strong digital marketing platform and a knowledgeable partner also positions pharmaceutical manufacturers, medical device producers, therapists, hospitals and other B2B healthcare businesses to react to changing market trends. For instance, Medical Marketing & Media’s latest Healthcare Marketers Trend Report notes that barely half of the healthcare industry participants surveyed ranked patients and insurers among their top three target markets. While physicians and other providers rightfully remain the top target of healthcare firms’ marketing messages, companies that neglect payers and consumers, again, ignore the shifting paradigm.
Today’s treatment options are governed just as much by the procedures’ costs that will be covered by insurance as they are by their efficacy and need. A portion of healthcare firms’ digital marketing budget should be allocated to educating payers and advocating for coverage both to generate revenue and to promote optimal patient wellbeing.
At the same time, consumers are taking greater responsibility for their own healthcare decisions. Reputation and brand identity play an increasingly large role in consumer choice. And with ratings sites, social media platforms and instant access to information proliferating, digital channels ultimately will shape user opinions.
However, consumers continue to be inundated with generic brand messages promoting “quality” care from physicians’ groups, empty promises from insurance companies and scare tactics from pharmaceutical companies warning of dire consequences for failing to use their drugs.
Digital marketers that provide accurate healthcare information will find a voracious audience (witness the popularity of WebMD and other less accurate sources for self-diagnosis). Establishing trust through proven online and social platforms, like content marketing and blogs, can attract readers and convert them to clients.
More often than not, healthcare providers and companies are stuck in an analog marketing world. They continue to throw money at digital marketing ventures with no true understanding of how to accomplish their goals or even what those goals really are. Their mistakes can be your goldmine. The healthcare industry is extremely competitive and it is a zero-sum game. Patients generally use one doctor, one dentist, and one lab. When you out-market your competition in the digital workspace and cause patients to switch, the effect is doubled. Your practice gains a patient, while your competition loses one. This makes it imperative to outperform others in your industry when it comes to marketing. Others will not invest the time and resources to analyze the competition and establish a position that will set their message apart. You will not make that mistake if you hire a digital marketing and public relations agency that will dig into the competition’s weaknesses, accentuate your strengths and develop a tactical ad placement schedule that will magnify the effects of laser-guided messaging, making sure it is delivered at the right place, at the right time.
For instance, when I partner with a healthcare client, I work with them to first determine what online action we want a potential customer to take. It might be something as simple as watching an educational video on the client’s website or subscribing to an email list so we can capture information that will guide our optimization of future engagements. From there, I can “reverse engineer” our methods and tactics, creating messages and contact points that will achieve the client’s objective.
Where your competitors get digital marketing wrong, there is an opportunity to jump in and do it right. Generally, healthcare marketing is cold and unauthentic. It does not connect with the consumer. Testimonials tend to do well because there is some authenticity there. But consumers are wising up to this ploy. Noble as it is, healthcare organizations are businesses. It’s time they started acting like it in the digital marketplace. Non-profits, consumer-oriented, even B2B and government websites often exhibit a more authentic human approach.
Healthcare should take a page from their book by providing curated content for their audience and delivering it in both niche locations and media. The industry should connect on every level to the consumer and react to feedback by saying something different than the same old platitudes the competition spouts and capitalize on the competition’s cluelessness. They should experiment with marketing dollars. A little bit goes a long way in digital marketing, and healthcare organizations can improve their images, attract traffic and ultimately increase revenue with an active, dynamic social media presence. Answering patient questions. Showcasing true patient interactions. Putting a face to your brand!