Three Things Every Marketer Can Learn From The Changing Healthcare Marketing Landscape

Andrea Palmer, President, Publicis Health Media.

The marketing industry was turned on its head this year when, in one fell Covid swoop, total media spend dropped 19.1%. Brands and their advertising partners are now compelled to rethink, rework and reconsider plans. It was quite likely the jolt everyone needed.

Consider all the possibilities this disruption has created. Why not rebuild a marketplace that works for what we can do, rather than what we have been doing?

As a marketer, I’ve always preferred to push the limits of what brands can do — especially in healthcare, a highly regulated industry. Here, the prospect of innovation is much more interesting, and opportunities to break new ground need to be seized when presented. For example, our healthcare media agency has led health integrations in broadcast and primetime TV and pioneered health brands into previously untapped social spaces, including Pinterest and TikTok. We call these “Pharma Firsts” and actively look for new platforms, integrations and media opportunities to push the envelope, bring a brand to the next level, and most importantly, improve health outcomes for real people.

Simply put, you have to push the boundaries of the marketplace. And there couldn’t be a better time to do just that. Here are a few things to consider.

Mix up your marketing mix.

It has been far too long since many brands refreshed their marketing mix models.

With the pandemic, the safety net that marketers have created with audience propensity and potential has disappeared — people simply have abandoned old habits. Print, out-of-home and TV programming that in any other year would’ve been golden placements have become seemingly obsolete even as the use of social media, streaming platforms and gaming have skyrocketed in homes.

Channels are different and engagement is different, and it changes every day. If Covid has taught us anything, it’s that nothing is forever. So why do we treat marketing models like they are?

With the constant stream of media finding us at every turn and the sophistication of targeting available today, achieving reach through media is almost inevitable. But taking a brand from finding the right customers to delivering impact requires much more. It necessitates making some kind of material behavioral change, be it early-stage consideration, deeper understanding, or, ideally, real action.

Brands must be more agile in their marketing decision-making, employing real-time measurements and evidence-based outcomes, rather than past behavior to hypothesize, test and continuously optimize their strategy.

Adopting a nimbler marketing approach will force more nimble solutions in the marketplace.

Align values, create virtue.

Consumer health awareness was already on the rise before Covid-19. The booming global wellness industry has topped more than $4 trillion as of 2019, with no signs of slowing. Issues of health permeate every aspect of consumer culture as nutrition, fitness and even preventative care migrate to retail, restaurants and consumer packaged goods.

Health and wellness is no longer in the realm of any one industry, but a ubiquitous concern in people’s lives and a market for many. We’re seeing this shift reflected in two key ways: first, in brand products and services. Walmart recently began trials of drone deliveries for home Covid tests, and tech giants including Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple began “ramping up their investments in digital health initiatives.”

Second, we’re seeing this health and wellness shift reflected among publishing companies as audiences and advertisers alike look for health and wellness content to take action on. For example, Bustle and Elite Daily have seen double-digit increases in average monthly traffic for health and wellness-related content, year over year. Pharma and wellness advertisers have increased annual spend by 34% as of August in response.

Both changes reveal a fertile landscape for brands of every kind to rethink how they’re engaging with topics and concerns in real-time — exactly as consumers are — by creating more value-driven and virtuous content environments for all involved.

Reimagine social media.

We already know that people are engaging with social media more as a result of Covid-19, but it’s not just to pass the time — it’s also in pursuit of truth.

As the pandemic grew and spread in the U.S., so too did the need for accurate, up-to-date information and answers. When communication from government and public health institutions became mired in confusion and, at times, contradiction, people turned to the places where they felt they could get trustworthy, reliable guidance from real people.

Social media and its influencers stepped in to fill this void and make connections.

That’s not surprising when you consider that 54% of millennials and 42% of all adults either already are or would like to be connected with their healthcare professionals on social media. And 65% of millennials and 43% of all adults believe it’s appropriate to contact physicians about health issues via social media.

This may be specific to healthcare, but the trend of consumers wanting to be more up close and personal with the businesses and brands they are patrons of is not new. The biggest difference is that it’s taken on a new kind of importance in a world where trust and truth in media feel scarce.

Even some of the world’s most renowned and authoritative organizations have had to replace their singular institutional voice with a social chorus in order to reach and create impact among populations, a tack that led the World Health Organization to be dubbed the “most important media influencer” after it launched the Safe Hands Challenge on TikTok with the help of famous global friends. And sure enough, everyone took the challenge on, popularizing one of the single most important hygiene measures any one of us could adopt during Covid.

Social media, while still fun and full of distraction, can no longer just be considered a space for memes, viral videos and quick, consumable brand antics. The stakes are higher for the kinds of content found there, and the opportunities are significant for brands to create trust and new paradigms of engagement — look no further than WebMD and Twitter’s recent effort to educate consumers on important health topics.

When brands reimagine what social can be, its purpose becomes that much more powerful.


Forbes Agency Council is an invitation-only community for executives in successful public relations, media strategy, creative and advertising agencies. Do I qualify?