Healthcare Marketing in the Digital Age

5 min read

Healthcare Marketing

From supplement endorsements on Instagram to physician reviews and virtual doctor’s appointments, the landscape of digital healthcare marketing is constantly changing—and new rules seem to be cropping up every day. Any field of marketing demands that we stay on top of trends and technologies, but with health care a lack of regulatory knowledge can mean a big trouble with the FTC, the FDA, or whoever hands out detention for HIPAA.

A couple of weeks ago, I got the chance to hear hospital, biomedical, pharmaceutical, and agency marketers discuss these challenges and more at the Healthcare Marketing Summit in Chicago. Based on what I learned (which was a lot), here’s what I think we should keep in mind as marketers in an ever-changing industry.

Consumer-driven health care really means community-driven health care.

By now we know that patients have become their own advocates and decision-makers when it comes to their health. They’re relying less on physician referrals and are seeking input from their communities, particularly online communities.

And this isn’t just a few web-savvy folks. 87% of US adults use the internet, and 72% of these internet users seek health information online. (Pew Research Center)

26% of these people have read about someone else’s health or medical experience on an online news group, website, or blog.

One in five internet users has consulted online reviews for healthcare service providers and treatments, and 18% of internet users have gone online to find others who might have health concerns similar to theirs. This is particularly true for people living with chronic and rare conditions.

One such community on Facebook is LGS Together. LGS is a rare, untreatable brain disorder that often leaves patients and caregivers feeling isolated and hopeless. Lundbeck, a pharmaceutical company that develops treatments and therapies for brain disorders like LGS, has used Facebook to build and nurture a community of LGS patients and caregivers. Lundbeck has truly become part of this community, making a difference in the lives of patients by fostering connections, hope, and education. In the process, they’ve learned a lot about their audience: when, where, and how they respond to certain messages, and what they need when it comes to living with LGS.

People make healthcare decisions based on emotions, too.

Healthcare is often positioned as primarily a clinical thing. And that is legitimate and important, especially when you’re marketing to physicians. But patients and caregivers make decisions as much with their hearts as their brains. That’s one reason these online communities around chronic diseases are so big and significant. It’s also why pharmaceutical commercials often appeal to the heart rather than the brain. .

Some emotional manipulation can have really positive results though. Take Walgreens’ line of vitamins. Their sales were pretty dismal until they learned that 91% of Americans would switch to a brand that supports a good cause.

So, Walgreens partnered with Vitamin Angels to donate a portion of their vitamin sales to providing vitamins for at-risk populations all over the world. And then they created a big, beautiful content marketing campaign to promote it, including feature stories of communities receiving vitamins, and some pretty slick 360 videos. Content and video was formatted and optimized for every platform, and new stories were rolled out over the course of the campaign.

In the end, not only did Walgreens contribute to providing vitamins for over 100 million children around the world, they also increased their vitamin sales by over 5%.

Patients are people, and people expect a lot out of their online experiences.

Everything about our lives is online now. And slowly but surely, healthcare is getting there, too. Or at least it’s trying to. Healthcare’s resistance to or improper use of technology can be a headache at best, and potentially even a threat to one’s health and safety.

So when a healthcare organization like Walgreens focused on bridging the gap between online, mobile, and brick and mortar shopping experiences, it made all the difference. They merged a digital product with digital marketing in the form of an app that puts coupons, prescription fills and reminders, virtual care, health and wellness, and in-store shopping all in one place. And they did this because it’s what people have come to expect from their digital life—all the things, immediately.

Now, 50% of prescriptions are filled on a mobile device (versus 10% in 2010) and Walgreens fills more than one prescription every second on a mobile device. Customers who shop online and in stores outspend people who only shop in stores by 350%, and customers who interact with Walgreens on mobile spend six times as much as in-store only customers.

The payoff of digitizing products and services was huge for Walgreens. But the flip side is that if patients can’t find what they need right away on your site, they’ll quickly bail and go somewhere else to get it.

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All of this innovative, creative, community-driven work was done well within the compliance rules and regulations of the healthcare industry, so it can be done! What we heard over and over from every presenter was the importance of keeping communication open between marketing and regulatory departments, and for marketing to get regulatory involved at the beginning of every project. And this includes agencies! The more healthcare organizations can involve their agencies with every stakeholder and decision-maker, the better, more efficient, and more compliant the work will be.