Marketers in all verticals want to be on target. Sending the right message to the right audience—that’s the name of the game, right? Well, not in healthcare. Not exactly.

Healthcare marketing is its own beast—unlike marketing a new toothpaste to a broad demographic audience, you cannot give someone a chronic disease. You have to work in the opposite direction—from the bottom up—to find the patients that actually need (and can benefit from) your treatment solutions.

Healthcare brands can’t fall back on traditional audience segmentation to locate the people they’re looking for because they’re not really looking for people to begin with. Rather, they’re looking for moments—short windows of time during which treatment decisions are being made.

That’s what healthcare marketers have to focus on: Identifying in-play moments. And when we do this well, we’re not just moving patients toward treatment decisions—we’re connecting them with life-changing health and wellness solutions.

If we fail to embrace this strategic shift, we’re leaving a mountain of capturable ROI on the table.

On Target: But So What?

When it comes to healthcare, the “on-target” mentality is an ineffectual one. It can’t help us identify patients that are actively making treatment decisions, so it can’t help us achieve our clients’ objectives.

In healthcare, you’re marketing solutions that might only apply to a thousandth of a percentage of the population, and where there’s already tremendous friction and periodicity to purchasing decisions due to the nature of the healthcare system. If your media plan is only designed to reach a target audience, you’re acknowledging and accepting an unnecessary amount of waste.

The good news: healthcare marketers don’t have to abide by the status quo. The bad news: As an industry, we’ve been slow to transition. What we need is a wholesale strategic shift. But how to get from on-target to in-play?

“In-Play” in a Patient Journey

In short, data. Every interaction in the digital world—whether a search query, a content interaction, or a navigation pathway—leaves a trail of “data exhaust” in its wake. This exhaust forms the bedrock of data-driven marketing, and combining it with prescribing patterns and demographic information to produce clear data stories that tell you who’s in play and where they are in their patient journeys is the crux of the new model for healthcare marketing.

The ultimate success of any healthcare marketing effort today depends largely on the degree to which one is able to interpret and connect data to identify in-play audiences. Timeliness matters. Efficiency of media matters. But connecting with in-play patients when they’re in that decision window is what matters most. There are no peripheral benefits for just getting close to your audience.

Marketing To Moments

Simply put, having a chronic disease doesn’t put a patient in play. Just because someone has type 2 diabetes doesn’t mean they’re actively looking for a new medication.

Healthcare marketers need to pinpoint the precise moments in which patients are most likely to be receptive to their messaging. Whether a patient is newly diagnosed, non-adherent, or switching physicians, healthcare marketers must define—and prioritize—high-value moments, and use data to reach them.

But here’s the problem: Pinpointing high-value moments with reactive tactics and syndicated data alone is all but impossible. By the time a marketer is able to identify an in-play moment from syndicated data, it has probably already passed.

Healthcare marketers must be able to identify the deterministic signals that precede and precipitate in-play moments. They must be able to skate to where the puck is going—not where it was three months ago. As an industry, we haven’t yet adequately addressed the challenges of this latency.

And the windows of opportunity are few and far between in healthcare, simply because treatment decisions are few and far between. If you can’t activate off your data in real time, you’re not just missing one opportunity—you could be missing the only opportunity.

Cutting The Fat & Capturing Value

Traditional mass marketing tactics optimize for reach. But reach means waste in healthcare. All too often, healthcare marketers invest time and money into reaching certain audiences without considering where their prospective patients might be in their patient journeys. This is a classic example of why “data-driven marketing” doesn’t always amount to more effective marketing.

It’s not enough just to use data. We have to use it well. The real value of data in healthcare is in its ability to help us identify signals that indicate when treatment decisions are being made. We need real, robust cross-channel data connectivity in order to identify those signals and behaviors which indicate who’s in play.

Effective healthcare marketers can identify clear insights within data exhaust, stitch together holistic pictures of patient healthcare journeys, and deliver messaging tailored to the most appropriate and high-yield moments along that journey.

The value that’s being left on the table by healthcare marketers who fail to adopt these strategies is astronomical. But there’s value out there for the taking, and those with the drive to capture it can.

  • Ray Rosti

    Ray Rosti is the EVP of Platform Activation for Publicis Health Media where he is responsible for leading Search, Programmatic, and Social. He oversees a team of more than 130 digital buying and optimization professionals dedicated to the health and wellness space providing holistic digital strategy for more than 200 brands. In his role, Ray ensures that the PHM platform buying and optimization teams are applying precision to the planning and execution of digital campaigns all while leveraging the continuous flow of data to implement real-time optimizations.

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