Dan MartinDan Martin

One thing is certain in today’s unpredictable communications landscape: marketers are now more accountable for revenue than ever before, and it’s essential to drive true, meaningful engagement that ultimately leads people to take action.

When it comes to the healthcare industry, this means marketing is staring out at the next frontier. Until recently, it was acceptable to provide consumers with information several times per year — send an email about the upcoming benefits enrollment, or touch base on their birthday wishing them a healthy year ahead — then check a box off the list and move on to other priorities. However, there are influences afoot creating monumental shifts in the way brands need to approach and engage their audiences, including current policy in place and looming potential changes; consumers’ willingness to adopt new advances in technology innovation; changing business models across all key players, including payers, providers and vendors; and patients who are now taking a self-service approach to their healthcare.

O'Dwyer's Oct. '17 Healthcare & Medical PR MagazineThis article is featured in O'Dwyer's Oct. '17 Healthcare & Medical PR Magazine

No longer is it acceptable to simply guide a buyer through the sales funnel and sporadically nurture the relationship.

Thanks to the digital revolution taking hold in all aspects of life—rapid e-commerce, online banking and online education, just to name a few—people have grown accustomed to getting everything quickly, wherever they are, whenever they want and via any device of their choosing. This same expectation now applies to healthcare. Consumers now have the awareness, technology and access to resources that influence their decisions more than ever before. In today’s healthcare marketing landscape, it is imperative that brands provide consumers with memorable experiences that inform and excite, are highly relevant and personalized, and foster an emotional connection.

With advances in technology, such as inbound and sales enablement platforms and analytics, it is now possible for marketers to better personalize, engage, measure and refine their approach to resonate with target audiences. While technology is a great place to start, it alone is not enough to drive true behavior change and spur a desired action. Success is guided by two critical factors: story-telling and relevance. Healthcare brands need to engage their audiences with unique, interesting stories they can relate to.

It’s not an earth-shattering insight that business and life are about personal, human relationships and that people buy from people and companies that they know, trust and with whom they share a common connection. In today’s world of healthcare marketing it’s even more critical — remember, we’re talking about a topic that is highly personal and deals directly with individual preferences, values and interests. So, why then do so many healthcare marketing and business leaders still fall into the trap of lazy marketing tactics? They claim they want to connect with consumers as real human beings, yet their priorities, actions and language are oftentimes doing just the opposite and, as a result, getting lost in a sea of sameness and uninspired corporate speak.

Healthcare brands can and should tap into the power of storytelling to inspire, build trust and serve consumers. We’re not talking about constant self-promotion of the latest platform or industry-speak about hard-to-grasp concepts or trends — real people don’t care about that and don’t comprehend most of the jargon.

In fact, statistics abound demonstrating that millions of Americans lack confidence in understanding their insurance policy, the ACA and its proposed changes, basic insurance terminology, and additional benefit options such as HSAs and FSAs.  Both consumers and businesses want to know, in layman’s terms, how your offering provides a benefit to them. Can they more easily order prescription medication? Make a doctor’s appointment? View the balance of their FSA? Manage their employee benefits program and connect data from various sources? They also need to understand how others are using your offering to drive positive change.

Whatever the size of your company and category you fit within—whether it be healthcare IT, digital health, pharma or medical devices—storytelling requires a solid brand architecture and message foundation, as well as deep knowledge of your audience and competitors. Knowing what you are, what you do, who you do it for and how you do it differently enables you to clearly articulate a story that will be unique, relevant and, ultimately, resonate with consumers. With a solid story in place, marketers have an overarching architecture that communicates the company’s mission and vision as well as its relevance to the larger market landscape. 

The key factor is ensuring that your story, content and distribution channels are relevant to your target audiences. As mentioned above, people and companies are interested in how you provide value to them. Therefore, what you’re saying and what you’re offering must be meaningful and give them a reason to engage with your brand.

For example, if you’re selling a health plan, each member of your covered population is different and at a different stage in their healthcare journey. There are gender, age, financial and geographical considerations to take into account. There are also varying lifestyle factors to consider: some people run marathons, others have chronic conditions and others lead more sedentary lives. You need to be able to stratify your population and provide each of these individuals with information, resources, reminders, etc. that pertain specifically to them. A 35-year-old male is not going to respond to a women’s health campaign, any more than an 18-year-old female will respond to a campaign focused on prostate cancer. Utilizing your overarching brand position and messaging, you must tailor campaigns to specific audiences — allowing for consistency, yet specificity. To do so, marketers can employ several strategies, including creating personas and conducting primary research.

When creating your story and laying out your brand position and messaging, target audiences should be addressed by role, needs, and buying behavior. However, many modern marketers are taking it to a deeper level with “persona marketing,” whereby representative versions of prospects and customers are created containing in-depth, lifelike characteristics that inform content development.

As you start to think about the personas that best align to your company and products, a few questions to consider include:

• Demographics. Where do they live, what is their gender, education and income level?

• Lifestyle. What are their interests, and what do they like to do in their free time?

• Who influences their product choices?

• What are their personal goals?

• Why would they choose to interact with your company, or your competitors? What do they want from your company?

• Where do they look for information about your company or products? What type of information are they seeking?

Giving consideration to these questions should provide you with the groundwork from which to build your approach to reaching and engaging your target audiences. Persona marketing isn’t one size fits all. Marketers need to spend the time to truly know and understand the details of what makes their audiences tick.

Primary and secondary research can also be a useful guide as you seek to make your brand story relevant — and it can also play an instrumental role in creating your personas. Spend time surveying key audiences to understand what matters to them, what challenges they face, what they need to reach their goals, and where and how they get their information. Look at online communities, media outlets, tradeshows and events. Doing both of these will help give you a pulse on your audience. Don’t leave it to guesswork.  

Additionally, when talking about relevance, it needs to extend beyond just your story and your brand identity. It is crucial to understand how your target audience wants to receive information. What are the most relevant channels for your audience? For example, certain generations are inclined to do everything via their mobile phones, whereas others might prefer traditional mail. You’ll never drive people to action if you’re not reaching them in a way that is relevant to their lifestyle.

As you forge ahead into this new generation of healthcare marketing, be mindful that your story be unique and compelling, and that your messaging support your overall brand identity — now and into the future. Otherwise, you’ll see more of the same and be stuck in the past with irrelevant content, an outdated view of your audience, and a patchwork of strategies and tactics that leave you wondering why you’re not seeing results.      

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Dan Martin is Vice President at PAN Communications.