Healthcare marketing: Digital in channel, human in nature

Harnessing the power of digital marketing, means first understanding the core values that underpin digital expectation and behavior

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Philip Hwang

The first Apple iPhone was released in 2007, shifting information and power irrevocably into the hands of consumers. The company enjoyed unparalleled revenue growth from 2004 to 2014 as it successfully marketed its brand to consumers by developing a deep emotional connection with them.  

In an article analyzing the secrets to successfully sharing content online, Dr. Jonah Berger, Marketing Professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, spoke of his research which showed content that evokes high arousal emotions is more likely to go viral than content that provokes no emotional response.  

In contrast to Apple, the pharma industry was too slowly pivoting to the expectations of a new era, let alone finding ways to harness the power of emotion in its marketing. It was clear pharma brands needed help. The industry’s reputation hit a bottom in 2019, when according to a Gallup poll, it was found to be the most disliked industry in the US.

However, more recently, the Covid-19 pandemic shone a new light on pharma. Never has the world’s eyes been so fixed on the industry. Buoyed by heroic efforts to develop a vaccine, support frontline workers and cooperate with each other, a recent Harris Poll survey showed that pharma’s positive reputation rose from 32 per cent in January 2020 to 54 per cent in September 2020. The Covid-19 pandemic was a clarion call and the industry stepped up to plate.

The role that digital communications played during this time cannot be overstated. With a lack of credible information, pharma companies amplified their communications to become sought-after resources. Now, 70 per cent of American’s trust the industry as a source of vaccine information. Covid-19, in essence, has inspired the best of pharma, in both action and communications.

Health is at the top of the mind for everyone, everywhere. With a spotlight on the pharma industry, using digital marketing to rewrite patient-brand relationships will be key to “win in the turns”.

The first lesson that brands should keep in mind

Regardless of how digital we are in our lives, being empathetic and human needs to be at the heart of what we do and say, digital or otherwise.

Digital is not only a channel or a medium – it is a behavior and an expectation and its power and impact are unmistakable. It has fundamentally reshaped the patient-brand relationship.

When there was information asymmetry and healthcare providers were the primary gatekeepers of knowledge, pharma brands could afford to speak “from science-to-science”, and not bother to engage patients on a human level.

When Fitbits and Apple Watches democratized health data; when infinite information and reviews are only a tap away; when digital has opened up new self-help apps and services, previously passive patients are now active consumers, armed with choice.

Tellingly, a McKinsey-cited survey highlighted that more than 85 per cent of patients now feel confident in their health and in their access to digital and online health resources. Harnessing the power of digital marketing, means first understanding the core values that underpin digital expectation and behavior.

Here are five examples of them:

  • Transparency: There is nowhere to hide on the internet. Whatever a brand does will be amplified and inspected ad-infinitum.
  • Immediacy: Our tolerance of wait times have diminished to the point of negligibility. Content needs to be always on and reactions immediate.
  • Intimacy: Our digital relationship is with our phones and our phones are in our pockets. This means that brands need to be more friend than instructor or salesperson.
  • Virality: In a networked world, top-down messages do not get much mileage. Messages amplify peer-to-peer, for better or for worse.
  • Scarcity of attention: When media channels have multiplied as much as our attention span has shortened, the age of marketing as interruption is over. Brands now need to provide a clear value in exchange for consumer attention.

Register for our one-day masterclass and attend, Develop a human-centric digital transformation strategy in pharma to improve communication with healthcare providers by deploying user-friendly digital channels.

Stay tuned for our 2021 Trends Report, Making the Connection: Global perspectives on consumer-centric marketing where we will take a deep dive into how pharma marketers are revising their marketing strategies amidst the Covid-19 pandemic. Sign up to become a Pharma IQ member to receive our weekly newsletter and access our latest industry reports.

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