Of WebMD and self-diagnosis: Healthcare marketers must step up to digital
Since more and more consumers are looking to the internet to diagnose and research their medical conditions, marketers in that segment should be upping their game when it comes to promoting patient-education materials online.
Oddly, that shift has been slow to come about. An eMarketer report from last year shows the healthcare and pharma industries represented only 2.8 percent of total digital ad spend, relying instead on TV and print venues. Barriers include heavy regulation, concerns about privacy and the industry’s overall resistance to change, the study reports, in comparison to other industries better able to embrace new tools like social media, programmatic buying and data targeting.
That’s unfortunate, given the huge opportunity. One in 20 Google searches are now targeted toward health information. And in recent Pew research, 80 percent of internet users said they had looked online for health information in the past year, most commonly seeking information on specific diseases or conditions (63 percent), treatments or procedures (47 percent) or health professionals. Users were also interested in diet, nutrition and vitamins (44 percent), and exercise or fitness information (36 percent). Interestingly, half of all searches were conducted on behalf of someone else.
“There is a great opportunity in healthcare to use digital marketing to educate, inspire, motivate and engage target audiences,” advises Neil Mammele on Evariant.com. “Unfortunately, the healthcare industry is lagging two years behind other industries in their digital marketing efforts.”
Still, interest is growing; eMarketer predicts such spending will rise from about $1.64 billion last year to $2.55 billion in 2019, with a large focus on search, display and in-app ads that convert well on mobile platforms.
If you’re seeking to step up your online healthcare marketing, consider the following guidelines.
- Be personal: By their very nature, digital ads can be much more personalized than TV or print ads, usually producing better click-through rates, conversions and ROI as a result.
- Be comprehensive: When possible, develop different campaigns for different audiences based on what’s most appealing, most relevant, and easiest to understand and act on for that group. Ideally, your messages should be tailored to the consumer at different stages of their medical journey. Creating clearly delineated customer personas can help you identify exactly who you’re targeting.
- Get optimized: Because online marketing is so competitive, you’ll need to maximize your chances of being found in user searches. Your best tools include well-designed ads; informative landing pages; targeted pay-per-click and/or click-to-call ad campaigns across major search engines and social media sites; website optimization for clarity and navigability and/or original video content. The Pew study indicates that 77 percent of online health seekers begin their search on Google, Bing or Yahoo, while another 13 percent simply turn to an information site like WebMD.
- More on click to call: Mobile ads that allow users to click on a button to call you directly can be extremely effective in healthcare marketing, combining the convenience of digital with the ability to direct traffic to local vendors.
- Track leads: You can continually tweak your campaign by investing in a lead intelligence platform that automatically measures how different elements are performing.
- Spiff up your website: A great deal of strategy should be devoted to the copy and graphics that make up your website, since confusing or irrelevant content will deflect the traffic sent there by your ad campaign. When possible your landing pages should be customized to the user, and requests for information should emphasize privacy and security.
A 2014 McKinsey study discusses how basic digital healthcare marketing can be a forerunner for more extensive online communications, as long as it is relevant to the customer and helps build trust.
“Once patients are familiar with the general idea of digital-service provision, organizations can begin offering more complex, high-value services such as integrated-care companion apps or mobile health records,” it notes. “We believe the healthcare industry is on the cusp of a third wave of IT adoption, and now is the time for it to go all in on digital strategies. Understanding what patients want — and what is purely myth — can help pave the way.”