The 4-Hour Digital Health Marketing Plan

Timothy Ferriss may seem a strange inspiration for a health marketer, but the author of The 4-Hour Work Week may be onto something. Ferriss writes about achieving maximum impact with minimum effort. Building on the Pareto Principle in which 80% of output comes from 20% of input, he encourages people to “DEAL:” Define the life you want; Eliminate what doesn’t need doing to achieve it; Automate the rest; and Liberate yourself from drudgery.

Sounds appealing. But as brand team responsibilities increase and health marketers are asked to do more with less, a 4-hour work week sounds unrealistic—you may spend more than that in review meetings alone. So let’s start with something more attainable like, say, a 40-hour work week.

To this end, I’d like to propose a new DEAL specifically for health marketers.

Define a “Master Brief”

Ask yourself: How many brand or agency team members do you continuously brief about a brand only to re-brief when new people join the team? And how much of that information actually changes regularly?

A few years ago, frustrated with repeatedly writing the same information in tactical brief after tactical brief, I came up with the idea of constructing a “master brief.” Since 80% of a brief is often background information that changes infrequently (i.e., information on the disease state and target audience characteristics), why not put it into a master document and then reference it from more succinct, focused tactical briefs?

Case in point: When writing a brief for a new website, focus specifically on what the website must do to achieve success, and link to the master brief for background information on who will use it. In practice, this can cut the briefing process down by about 75%. It can also help with onboarding new team members.

To create a master brief, you can use a document-sharing platform with version control, such as Google Docs. Include the  following information:

  • Brand-specific information, including the indication, vision, positioning, strategic imperatives and supporting research.
  • Market information, such as therapeutic category, target audiences and competitors.
  • Marketing details, such as patient and healthcare professional tactics across all channels.

Then, when anything changes, simply update the master brief. Everyone with access will be in the loop, and you’ll have a record of the brand’s evolution over time.

Eliminate Tactical Islands

We all know that media has fragmented from print, radio and TV to a plethora of devices, channels, formats and vendors. And we’ve heard countless times that “the funnel is dead” (just look at the more than 4,000 web pages that come up on Google search). Instead of proceeding through awareness, consideration, interest, trial, loyalty and advocacy, some argue, a patient or HCP’s journey to prescription is nonlinear, with multiple indeterminate touch points.

Unfortunately, such thinking can lead to the creation of tactical islands—disconnected tactics with self-contained impact. After all, if the journey is nonlinear, why bother stringing tactics together? For example, a brand may run a display advertising campaign to raise awareness without a sufficient paid search campaign to harvest demand. Or produce an interactive visual aid to increase interest without a CRM opt-in screen to cultivate loyal prescribing.

Eliminating tactical islands provides an immediate boost in effectiveness. You increase the impact of tactics that can work synergistically and decrease investment in those that drive minimal future brand interaction. The simple questions to ask for each of your tactics are:

  • What next brand interaction will it drive?
  • How do I maximize the impact of that subsequent interaction?

The result should be the creation of a tactical ecosystem, in which each tactic plays a role in moving audiences further along their journey. While not everyone will travel linearly, you will at least pave a road to your desired destination.

Automate Against Rx Data

In his recent book about smart machines (bear with me, this is relevant…), Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies, philosopher Nick Bostrom describes the risk of smart machines turning the world into “paper clips.” If you gave a smart machine the task of maximizing paper clip production, he says, there is a risk it will optimize itself for that task and turn everything it can into paper clips.

How much of your marketing automation and optimization are just making more paper clips? For years, digital marketers have optimized tactics against clicks, website visits or, in rarer cases, website conversions, such as savings card registrations. It was often the best we could measure. And so, brands would evaluate against those metrics and deprioritize tactics with poor results. Display advertising, with a paltry click-through rate of 0.1%, would suffer accordingly with funds shifted to higher click-through rate tactics, such as paid search. And paid search would be optimized—often using automated tools—to maximize clicks and website conversions.

Thankfully, times have changed. Today, at least three companies can measure the impact of multiple tactics and placements on prescriptions. And several other companies—such as EHR and ePrescribing vendors—can measure the prescription impact of tactics run on their own platforms.

Without using such Rx measurements, it’s like optimizing for paper clip production. In a recent campaign with an EHR vendor, for example, the click-through rate for branded ads was .03%—about the lifetime odds of getting struck by lightning.

If we were optimizing for clicks, website visits or website conversions, we would have shut it down. But a controlled study showed that physicians exposed to the ads prescribed 34% more than those not exposed, resulting in a strong positive ROI. We saw similar data for display ads targeting patients on health content websites, albeit with significant differences between publishers—as much as a 4.92:1 versus a 0.29:1 ROI—that would not be as obvious from click-through or view-through data.

Trying to optimize your marketing based on soft numbers is hard work, and fraught with risks. Ranking tactics by ROI using hard Rx numbers makes things significantly easier, allowing you to clearly invest where you’ll receive the biggest returns. This can significantly reduce your planning time and allow more effective automation of marketing activities—without the risk of turning everything into paper clips or, in this case, “pay-per-clicks.”

Liberate Innovation With A Dedicated Budget

Buzzword or not, most brands want and need to innovate to compete. Unfortunately, few do it consistently and effectively. Stifling regulations aren’t the main barrier—constraints can actually spark creativity, and much innovation falls outside marketing regulations (think, for example, about innovation in HIPAA-compliant advertising targeting).

Rather, the main barrier is single-column prioritization. When evaluating where to spend marketing dollars, most brand teams logically prioritize what’s going to move the needle most based mainly on historical performance and experience. While this is a smart way to maximize results in the short-term, it comes at the cost of innovation and experimentation, since by definition anything new for a brand will be unproven.

A wise, forward-thinking client recently suggested a different innovation investment approach that we eagerly adopted, based on an idea from Coca-Cola. At Coke, roughly 70% of investment is in “now” (established programs); 20% is in “new” (emerging trends); and 10% is in “next” (untested ideas). Ideas that prove themselves move their way up the chain. At Klick Health, we’ve modified this for digital marketing, recommending 80% of budget for “proven” tactics—ideally using Rx metrics, as noted above; 15% for tactics with “promise” that a brand hasn’t tried; and 5% for “untested” tactics that no brand has likely tried but have great potential.

This simple change to prioritization guarantees investment in innovation and prevents sacrificing the future for the present. What’s more, if you’re optimizing against Rx impact, 80% of investment should have quantifiably positive ROI, making a 20% investment in innovation less concerning.

Choose Your Beach (Or, At Least, See Your Family)

Okay, important disclaimer: Results may vary. I admit, this new DEAL alone may not free you to work four hours a week from a beach in Thailand. But by defining a master brief, eliminating tactical islands, automating against Rx data and liberating innovation with a dedicated budget, you will undoubtedly be more effective. If nothing else, you and your team will benefit from having more streamlined briefing and onboarding, more integrated campaigns, greater confidence in tactics and less risk of stagnation. And if that’s not enough, you should also make it home on time for dinner.

  • Simon Smith

    Simon Smith is VP Strategy at Klick Health. Simon’s passion lies in creating scalable solutions to meaningful problems. He has spent 15 years leading digital marketing and product initiatives—the majority in digital health. Follow him on Twitter @simonsmith.


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