Mohamed Abdelbaki | March 29th, 2021

The health services and pharmaceutical industries were undergoing digital transformation well before the pandemic began, but it has greatly accelerated this process. Companies in the sector must now reassess their digital marketing strategies based on the impact the pandemic has had on their target customers, namely healthcare providers (HCPs).

In my previous blog The 5 Essentials of B2B Digital Marketing I discussed the key considerations for B2B digital marketing in general. These all still hold true, so I won’t repeat them here. But the nature of the pandemic and its impact on travel, transport and business practices like meetings and conferences – all key aspects of business for HCPs – means healthcare marketers must take additional factors into consideration, which I’ll summarise here.

1. Audience Research

Having already established the effect of the pandemic on business practices and social behaviour, you will need to revisit and revaluate the impact these changes have had on marketing communications, publishing, and distribution channels – particularly with regard to the localisation of content or marketing tactics.

For instance, a survey conducted by McKinsey of HCPs in Europe showed that on average, in-person interactions between pharma reps and HCPs in September 2020 was down 70% from before the pandemic. This was in addition to an accelerated adoption of digital channels and telemedicine between HCPs and pharma reps and patients. So to be effective, any campaign must recognise that channels of interaction with clients have changed, likely for good.

Moreover, segmenting audience cohorts based on their preferences and habits remains crucial to successful targeting and personalisation of communications. Though some broad themes (COVID treatment and prevention, telehealth, data security, personalised healthcare and so on) may appeal to a wide variety, each HCP subsector, even within markets, will be different and will have seen their priorities shift in recent months.

2. Data & Analytics

With a global presence, thousands of customers, and multiple divisions and subsidiaries, marketers at healthcare giants the likes of Pfizer, Novartis, and Johnson & Johnson amass huge quantities of data daily, across a wide variety of jurisdictions. How well their marketing teams manage and use the data they have access to is a key priority.

However, as prior customer interaction channels such as meetings, seminars and conferences have been forced to change, customer insights and feedback have diminished in contribution. Increased use of online communications requires the need for capturing and integrating data from all sources into a central database.

Platforms such as CRM, sales & invoicing and online interactions for example, can all collectively contribute to a holistic viewpoint and more accurate insights. In turn, this will further enhance the data’s accuracy and applications such as in predictive analytics.

3. Skills, Capabilities & Resources

Both of the above mean new skills are in demand for healthcare marketers. Naturally, as conditions change and marketing strategies adapt, ensuring that your business possesses the proper talent, skills and resources are essential to executing your strategy with success. With more and more customer engagements shifting online, your marketing team may need to be upskilled or trained on new skills and technology products.

Unsurprisingly, the demand for digital and content marketing experts, in addition to data science, talent has noticeably increased across all sectors, as more and more companies invest in online marketing and adoption of AI and machine learning applications. Given the changing profile of HCP audiences described above, the importance of having marketing professionals with these skills has grown even more acute. And their need to collect, analyse and understand data from various sources has grown exponentially too.

4. Search Engine Optimisation

With changing audience habits, the importance of establishing effective SEO has been magnified. Naturally, established healthcare giants are at an advantage when it comes to their online presence. With a strong domain authority and global brand recognition, achieving organic rankings is likely much easier than for others. But a deluge of information has made standing out even more crucial.

It’s not impossible for smaller healthcare firms to make an impact, based on deep understanding of what their audience is looking for. The uniformity and standardisation of medical terms and scientific expressions makes it easier for content to match common terms, for one thing. But this also makes it harder to stand out: the opportunity lies in the ability to predict and respond to specific and in-depth queries.

5. Social Media’s Magnified Role

Social media’s increasing reach and influence have made it an integral source of content discovery and information research. However, since the onset of the pandemic, social networks have become amplification channels for misinformation, disinformation and malinformation.

The Age of Information Disorder
Source: The Age of Information Disorder,

While battling misleading facts and conspiracy theories is a mammoth task, for the healthcare industry social media presents them with the ideal channel to drive brand trust and integrity.

Benefits & Challenges of Social Media for the Healthcare Industry

With their global reach and cost-effective nature, social media platforms hold numerous benefits for the healthcare industry. From the ability to build authority and brand trust, to a means of communicating in times of crisis.

However, owing to the sensitive nature and potential impact of incorrect or misleading health information, healthcare professionals must adhere to strict compliance guidelines and policies on social media. For example, the US Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) has published and regularly updates their social media policy guidelines for healthcare professionals. Content marketers in the sector must understand and adapt to these rules as they evolve, and be mindful of variations across different jurisdictions.

Strategies & Use Cases

Depending on your objectives, target audience and social platforms, healthcare companies can utilise a mix of social media strategies and tactics:

i. Educational Content: Through publishing educating and engaging content, either targeted at HCPs with research updates or technology advancements, or more broadly for public consumption.

ii. Online Communities: While social networks in themselves are online communities, medical and healthcare communities such as Inspire or WEGO Health, among others, allow a more targeted approach and offer healthcare companies an opportunity to engage with their target audiences on discussions of crucial importance like health policies or practice issues.

iii. Research & Discovery: Social listening, the process of mining and analysing posts and conversations on social media and online forums, is a great example of how social media can work in favour of public health, allowing healthcare companies to discover and respond to informational needs, and pre-empt rising trends.

iv. Healthcare Influencers: The pandemic has given rise to influential healthcare professionals that have become regular guests and commentators on media networks. Their ability to amplify and deliver information to the wider public can assist in delivering expert and trustworthy information.

Carpe Diem

Notwithstanding the challenges the pandemic poses across society, the potential for healthcare companies to succeed and innovate in this era has never been bigger – giving healthcare marketers a unique window of opportunity. The ability to harness the power of evolving technologies, gain a true understanding of their clients’ new habits, and prove their willingness to adapt and experiment with new marketing strategies and tactics can be game changers for global corporations and healthcare start-ups alike.

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