Healthcare and pharma marketers in the U.S. have historically lagged behind other verticals in adopting creative content marketing strategies. Television ads have traditionally reigned supreme over digital efforts, mostly due to a lack of digital-savvy and more recently a lack of understanding of how to navigate changing rules, such as loss of cookies and limited Identifier for Advertisers (IDFA). But that is about to change.

For the first time in recent history, healthcare digital advertising spend is forecast to overtake healthcare TV ad spend by 2021, at which time healthcare digital advertising spend will account for 46% of all healthcare ad spend. Further, according to our own client insights, healthcare digital ad spend in the European markets increased by 42% between January to April 2020, more than entertainment, retail, and other sectors.

This signifies that the U.S. healthcare marketing industry is ripe for disruption, and now is the time for marketers to reach beyond the TV screens and flex their programmatic muscles. Let’s explore how.

Reevaluate Strategy to Put the Patient First

A TV commercial touting a long list of drug benefits followed by an even longer list of possible side effects hardly puts the consumer first. Yet, that has been the traditional way of industry marketers.

Today’s digital healthcare campaigns should speak to consumers’ health awareness, rather than specific product specs. Argentina’s Movimiento Ayuda Cáncer de Mama (MACMA), also known as the Breast Cancer Awareness Movement, is an excellent example of a digital healthcare ad done right. When the organization struggled to build ads around breast examinations because of social media’s ban on women’s nipples, MACMA partnered with digital agency David Buenos Aires to create a campaign, showing how to conduct breast self-examinations but with men. The ad hit all the marks—it was easy to understand, it wasn’t overtly selling a product or service, but it did gently encourage viewers to take control of their health. And bonus—it applied humor to an otherwise serious topic.

Remember, consumers aren’t particularly interested in the products themselves but more so in how they will make their lives better. And at the end of the day, the experience is indeed part of the brand.

Optimize Your Online Presence

Healthcare and pharmaceutical websites, like government sites, are too often clunky and not user friendly. Marketers should consider how well their sites serve their purpose as part of a digital marketing strategy. Clean interfaces and easily found resources are a must. Perhaps investing in AI-powered technology such as chatbots can help with basic issues after hours. Of course, also remember to ensure that the user experience is seamless across devices and channels.

With that in mind, don’t simply create content for the sake of selling but for the sake of informing. Consumers appreciate marketers who focus on the larger story, and not just the sale.  Engage with your target prospects, share tips for staying healthy during flu season, or encourage a practitioner to write a blog post or host a webinar to engage with target consumers and share where they think the industry is headed and what it may mean for patients. An effective marketing strategy takes the target consumer into account first and always.

Divulge When It Comes to Data

The best marketing strategies have a few things in common, and one of them is data. Who are your main customers? What do they want and what do they need? What income bracket do they fall into?

Privacy is essential, especially when it comes to the healthcare and pharmaceutical industry and compliance regulations. However, marketers can still create and disseminate great campaigns while remaining sensitive to privacy guidelines and other consumer needs. Advertisers today are figuring out how to reinvent themselves in light of the end of Chrome third-party cookies and new limitations placed on Apple’s IDFA. Healthcare marketers and advertisers should do the same.

Take a look at the data that’s readily available—emails, phone numbers, as well as other information—and use it to the best of your ability. Data around little snippets from your customers’ lives, like whether they have children or work two jobs will help you target them in the best way possible. This may be a step in elevating your overall ad strategy. Take the extra step to reassure your consumers that their information is safe by openly sharing your privacy policy. Let them know that certain measures are in place so that you can collect data that will help personalize marketing efforts to fit their specific needs. Be transparent, and help them to understand that ultimately any first-party data usage is to their benefit.

Healthcare and pharma ad spend was expected to reach $4.23 billion, an increase from last year’s $3.62 billion. While those projections must be adjusted due to the pandemic, U.S. digital ad spend continues to increase. Now is the time for healthcare and pharma marketers to pivot in strategy and adopt a customized, digital approach. It will not only help marketers generate brand awareness, optimize media spend, and boost sales, but it will help healthcare marketers put into focus what should always be the focus: advancing patient care forward.

  • Michele Marzan

    Michele Marzan is Chief Strategy Officer at MainAd. A veteran digital professional, Michele brings a depth of digital know-how to MainAd company operations from his time served in key roles across the industry. As CSO, he is a creative and focused strategist, with heavyweight experience in brand transforming initiatives that deliver results.

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