Are you struggling to communicate with your target audience using digital marketing channels? Do you want to know how the best healthcare companies attract thousands of healthcare professionals to their websites using digital marketing?
These are common questions amongst our pharmaceutical and healthcare partners, hence we decided to write this blog post to help you understand the digital marketing landscape for healthcare companies and to highlight the opportunities it presents to reach out to healthcare professionals in the most efficient and cost-effective way to ensure optimal omnichannel strategies.
Which traffic acquisition channels do we have to reach our HCP audiences?
Acquisition channels are basically the mediums you use to bring traffic to a predetermined destination you own and control, or to bring your customer to do an action you want. We might want to target our audience to make them come to our website or landing page, convince people to register for a webinar you are hosting, or to subscribe to your CME training or Newsletter.
These acquisition mediums are basically the platforms, tools or avenues you use to reach and intersect your target audience. These mediums can be grouped into various categories depending on the services and products they offer to pharma companies to communicate with their target audiences.
The main categories to be considered are:
- Medical Journals – are scientific publications of peer-reviewed studies and research that help physicians and healthcare professionals to find expert medical information. Many of them are owned by larger publishing groups. It allows for efficient cross-journal strategies. (Elsevier, Springer, Oxford University Press or Wolter Kluwer).
- Medical Media Sites – position themselves as a centralized online hub of aggregated medical news and expert information from various medical journals to help physicians and healthcare professionals. Here as well, a handful of large groups own most of the important medical media sites:WebMD (Medscape, Univadis, RxList, etc.) m3 (Gelbe Liste, Medicom, Vidal, Egora, etc.).
- Professional Social Networks – online professional communities where healthcare professionals can share information and learn from each other. They work like Facebook or LinkedIn but are specific for healthcare professionals (Medshr, Sermo, DocCheck or Esanum).
- Digital Medical influencers: are usually perceived by their peers as Key Opinion Leaders (KOL) and are a great vehicle to share information about your product and services. They are usually present on general or professional social networks. (Eric Topol or Rachael Clarke).
- General Social Networks – these generic social networks offer specialized groups of discussions where medical professionals participate and collaborate in a more casual way (Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn)
- Search Engines: offer numerous opportunities from a paid and organic point of view to target your audience (Paid Search, SEO, etc..).
- Sales Rep: continue to be one of the most trusted channels to communicate with healthcare professionals. Sales representatives can bring eyeballs to the content using various offline or online tactics (in-person visits, calls, videos or newsletters).
- (Virtual) Conferences: are a digital version of live, in-person conferences. These online events allow HCPs to share knowledge, listen to expert talks and discuss specific medical topics in a virtual way. The content can be live streamed or consumed on an on-demand basis which offers many advertising opportunities (sponsored content, Banner ads or video, etc..)
- Email databases: can be split into external (like Iqvia or Dateva) and internal databases (your own HCP database). Targeting external databases allow you to target 3rd party HCPs contacts in a very targeted approach, whilst targeting your internal database is a very cost-effective way to reach HCPs and strengthen the brand.
Some other channels are important information sources, but may not allow advertisement or direct cooperation with healthcare companies.
- Medical Associations and Societies – are organized by speciality or therapy and represent the medical professionals of that therapy area. Usually not open for advertising as their main revenue source is the membership fees (JAMA Network, Rena. org or AAFP).
- Governmental Medical sites – sites to share high-level government information, policies and regulations across all specialities and the healthcare industry. Not open to advertisement (NHS.uk ,Health USA.gov)
These mediums all offer different possibilities to communicate with your audience, that’s the format which we’ll cover in the next section.
How can you use those channels to convey your message?
The marketing formats you have available to tailor your message to your audience
Here we’re going to outline the main formats pharma companies can use to get their message across. Not all the formats are available in every medium so the first thing you need to do is define a clear objective for your communications, define who your audience is, and then assess the best way to communicate that message.
Below is a list of the most common formats used in the healthcare industry.
- Email Newsletters
- Display Banners
- Sponsored articles (branded and unbranded content)
- Virtual events (conferences)
- Blog posts
- Guest interviews
But the distinction between channel (medium) and format is not always linear and straightforward. The channels can be used to bring traffic (eg. with a banner ad in a medical journal sending traffic to your site) but they can sometimes host the content in various formats (they can have sponsored content, patient simulation, webinar on the site, etc).
Medscape for example is a channel that offers multiple different formats directly on their site. If you have a webinar on Medscape, they will bring you the traffic (channel) AND offer you the format (webinar). If you send users to your own site for the webinar, Medscape would be used only as a channel. The format would still be a webinar, but it’ll be on your website.
Let’s have a look at some of these formats.
This one is in fact a bit more complex and there are some grey areas.
But don’t be scared, we’ll explain everything.
A newsletter is a format, it’s one of the ways to pass information. You can have the same information as in a webinar, but in a newsletter format. Various channels can have a newsletter. Medscape has newsletters, so does IQVIA or the British Journal of Medicine (BMJ) – external newsletters. But don’t forget that your company has newsletters – we call them internal newsletters (not to mix up with your company-internal newsletter, sent to your own teams).
However, a newsletter can also be the medium to drive traffic to another format (eg webinar or your branded website). In this case, it’s not really the “how” HCP consumes the content per se, but just an in between step. If your company or Medscape sends a newsletter about a new webinar and somebody clicks through it to the Webinar, it’d make sense to track both the “newsletter” AND the “webinar” as a content format.
Still, within the internal newsletters, it’s important to distinguish between “Corporate Emails” and “Sales Reps Emails” as they are completely different channels (the trust is different, and the open rate will differ greatly). The first ones are those sent by your company, whereas the “Sales Reps Emails” are those sent directly by… you guessed… the sales reps.
The main advantage of an internal newsletter is the fact that it is low-cost compared to other channels and 100% controlled by you. You can use it to acquire data about your HCP preferences and can more easily create segments to have a more customized communication.
Video is another content format on the rise
Video is a format that is easy for HCPs to consume and is a great way to communicate complex topics. We are seeing a growing interest in video content across multiple platforms, especially in the social media world (professional and general), Youtube or even across the main medical media and journal sites. A great example is the National Kidney Foundation which uses its YouTube channel to communicate about Nephrology topics to the general public and HCPs audiences.
To support this, the Becker’s Hospital Review stated in the healthcare marketing trends for 2018 research that, “Health-related video content is in demand. There is a whole market for qualified physicians to provide health information through videos without offering clinical advice.”
Don’t forget podcasts
Another format that has enormous potential to grow is the podcast format. Again, this format is good to host talks with experts or to share real-life cases with the HCP audiences, and the big advantage of this format is that it can be consumed on-the-go while driving home or jogging.
Few podcasts examples:
- NEJM This Week — Audio Summaries
- NICE Talks – Health & Wellness Podcasts
- JAMA Editors’ Summary
- Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology (CJASN)
- Mayo Clinic Talks
Gain reach with Display Banner Ads
Display banner ads are a common advertising format offered by most of the marketing channels highlighted earlier. It’s basically a rectangle positioned more or less prominently on a site with a message and an action like “Click on me”. This format can have multiple shapes, sizes and interactive features but they all aim to be seen by many people and drive quick actions from the audience (eg. register now for the webinar, download the ebook).
Most medical journals and media offer display banner advertisements. You can usually target by therapy areas (eg. all readers of cardiology journals).
Google also offers the possibility to display those banner ads across their entire network of partner sites (Google Display Network) including non-medical sites and apps. However, when using the first option (medical sites), you will expose your ads to more qualified audiences.
Branded and unbranded sponsor/native content advertising
Sponsored content is an advertising format available across the main Medical Media sites, Medical Journals and professional social networks, and it aims to have an expert in a specific area or topic, promoting your product/service explicitly (branded) or implicitly (unbranded).
Sponsored content can have multiple formats (blog posts, social media posts, articles, videos, etc) but the end goal is to have your content published in a way that could be perceived by your target audience as “regular” editorial content.
Use data available to be personalized and relevant
Data is one of the foundations of the digital transformation of the pharmaceutical industry, and one of the pillars of the Pharma 4.0 revolution.
Consumers are demanding personalized content and services, and that’s what data can offer you. It’s important to understand that digital transformation will only be as successful as its ability to use data insights in a relevant and personalized way.
What I’m trying to tell you is that the above sections on marketing channels and formats need to have an underlying data-driven approach. In order for you to choose which Medical Media sites you want to use you need to look at their data: how many eyeballs will be exposed to my content, what profiles am I targeting through them, how do I measure success and how much budget should I invest in each medium.
All these questions can be answered through data. But the holy grail of using a data-driven approach is the ability to tailor your content strategy to niche audiences. Your content will be tons more relevant if you could personalize the message to each individual audience.
Let’s look at SEO for example. To have a winning SEO strategy you’ll need to understand what your audience is searching for, and what are their doubts and questions.
Help your sales representatives by shortening their sales cycle
Sales reps continue to be the cornerstone of your acquisition strategy, however, their sales cycle is long (less than 43% of B2B healthcare sales are closed within six months), expensive and quite limited in terms of scale and reach. Also, nowadays HCPs are less available to meet with sales reps – they look for other platforms to get the information they need, hence it’s important to use sales reps’ time in a more efficient manner.
The healthcare industry still considers sales reps very trustworthy partners and a reliable source of medical expert information, however, in this digital era, digital marketing can do most of the “top of the funnel” awareness and education that traditionally was done by the sales reps. This way, sales reps can be dragged further in the sales funnel and be more focused on explaining HCPs how your products and services can help their patients.
This orchestration of “new” vs “traditional” channels will make the whole sales experience more efficient, more relevant and faster to close. If for example, a sales rep used to visit most of his HCP clients and visit a congress to communicate the latest treatment for a disease X, and spend weeks doing that, now he can create or share content (video, blog or newsletter) to convey that same message and spend more time reaching out to those HCPs that were too far to visit.
Digital marketing will help your organization to be more efficient and will deliver real ROI. On top of that, HCPs are looking for content online and they are getting more digitised every day so you need to be present in that space.
Finally, having a balanced mix of online and offline channels will help sales reps to be more focused on helping their HCP clients and closing sales even faster.