Healthcare Marketing: 1 Radical Idea + 3 Leverage Points

Healthcare marketing is going through a radical change. The sheer number of developments and trends reported each day is overwhelming. The good news is that it’s creating more opportunities to share your brand’s message than ever before, if you can figure out how to sort through the noise of the chaotic healthcare landscape. That just might take a radical idea.


RADICAL IDEA: Science fiction can inform healthcare marketing

Clay Cutchins opines in Why Health Care Marketers Should Read Science Fiction that science fiction isn’t so much about space rockets and sexy cyborgs as it is about change and how we humans respond to change.

While it’s easy to get caught up in the gee-whiz aspects of how healthcare looks more and more like something out of a science fiction novel, we cannot lose track of the fact that these changes have a direct impact on real people and their health.

As healthcare marketers, it is our job to help people understand our brand’s products. These days, more often than not, those products are generating the radical changes we are seeing in healthcare. Some products deploy new technologies. Others change the way care is delivered. Still others call into question our assumptions about the limits of healthcare.

Not sure you see this happening? Here are a few examples.

Augmented Reality (AR): AR has entered the Operating Room (OR) with systems that combine MRI and CT scans to create a 3D image of the patient’s body. These complex images give surgeons a planning tool and real-time surgical assistant. How can we help people understand the advantages of combining cutting edge digital technology with human expertise when going through surgery or a medical procedure?

Digital therapeutics: What if an app could replace a pill or an office visit? Companies are developing digital delivery for everything from diabetes education to treatment for substance abuse. What will it take to convince people that their cell phone and tablet can deliver high quality, effective treatment? Should we simply accept the provider’s data and diagnosis? Or do we need controlled studies to be conducted first?

Bioprinting: In the lab, 3D printers have created muscle and tissue that can replace muscle and tissue in the human body. It’s thought that soon it will be possible to print replacement organs on demand. It’s one thing to make a skin graft and quite another to print out a replacement heart. How do we help people make wise decisions about their health and healthcare when the ability to replace deteriorating or damaged body parts seems limitless?


Bioprinting promises a future where replacement cells, tissues, and organs will be 3D printed on demand – Source:


There’s serious money backing futuristic developments in healthcare

Don’t assume that looking at these changes in healthcare through the lens of science fiction is the result of fan-boy enthusiasm. Organizations as diverse as USF Health and Forbes have written about this phenomenon. And in 2016, Rock Health tracked $4.2 billion invested in digital health companies.

In 2016, the number of funded digital health companies reached its highest at 296 – Source: Rock Health


What this means for healthcare marketing

While I wouldn’t go so far as to say science fiction predicts the future of healthcare, I would say that the changes happening in healthcare are bringing what were once futuristic fantasies to life. We must remember that much of what we are marketing is creating these changes. We are responsible for helping people understand and navigate these changes. And the insights we gain from remaining mindful of the change created, and its impact, must inform our brand’s message and how we deliver it.

But the real question is how does looking at healthcare through the lens of science fiction impact healthcare marketing? From this vantage point, I’ve identified three leverage points that need to be addressed in order to keep healthcare marketing effective in this brave new world.


LEVERAGE POINT #1: Trust is one feeling that truly matters in healthcare marketing

No matter how futuristic the health solutions being brought to market, remember that trust is fundamental in healthcare. When trust is present, patients are more likely to be actively engaged in their care, to take their medications as prescribed, and to adopt healthful behaviors. In these ways, trust leads to better health outcomes.

Patients rely on trusted sources when making nearly every healthcare decision – Source: Kantar Health


Trust, and its importance, isn’t limited to the relationship between patients and their healthcare professional.

Patients seek health information from others whom they trust: including family members, friends, and patient influencers. Family members and friends can share their own health experiences and knowledge. Patient influencers communicate within their patient communities, often online, providing education and peer support.

In healthcare marketing, we must look for opportunities to build trust throughout the customer’s experience.

Every stage is important: from the first search online for information, through conversations with trusted sources (both online and in real life), to their treatment and recovery. Each stage provides an opportunity to communicate clearly and truthfully, to deliver benefits to the customer, and to build a relationship.

Actions, more than words, build trust in the connected world we now live in. Here are a few things marketers can do:

  • Listen more than speak when communicating with patients and patient influencers.
  • Respond in a timely and truthful manner to queries and criticisms, especially in social media.
  • Use real-life patient stories and testimonials as social proof. A true story is a thousand times more powerful than a persona.


LEVERAGE POINT #2: Think of healthcare marketing as community building

Technology, especially the Internet and social media, has changed the nature of all relationships in healthcare. Not only can patients and their caregivers research the most minute detail of an illness or treatment, but social media gives them a direct channel to healthcare companies, their healthcare providers, and peer support.

Anyone can Tweet a kudos, question or grievance directly to a doctor, hospital, insurer, pharmaceutical company, or medical equipment manufacturer. Every social media exchange presents an opportunity to build trust and strengthen relationships, resulting in a stronger relationship with the patient community.

We, as marketers, must always remember that our exchanges with patients are public, especially in social media, and we want our communication to strengthen trust in our brand.

Patients identify Facebook (posts and messages) as the top online community channel for sharing health information – Source: WEGO Health


Online communities provide a channel for targeted communication with patients, patient influencers, and caregivers. WEGO Health’s study documenting the role of patient influencers found that 91% of those surveyed reported that online communities “play a role in their health care.”

In that study, patient influencers identified Facebook as their top channel for sharing health information. Patient influencers use both the public and private Facebook channels for communication.

The breadth of health-related information sharing and support in online communities is not readily apparent because so many patients communicate privately. Source: WEGO Health


You may not be aware of the breadth of activity in online communities because 75% of respondents share information privately. They use a variety of private channels, including member-only groups, direct messages, and email. Nonetheless, online communities play a significant role in educating and supporting patients and caregivers at every stage of their healthcare journey.

Given the private nature of many online health communities, efforts in healthcare marketing often reach these communities via a Patient Leader or patient influencer. We, and our brands, will be guests in these communities. We must be respectful of the community norms and code of conduct.

Value the feedback received from these communities as an opportunity to listen and learn about the real-life experiences of patients and caregivers.

Don’t approach online health communities only as an opportunity to push your brand’s message to a captive audience.

Instead, take note of the conversations that resonate with these online communities, and tailor your campaign concepts and messaging to these cues that are coming from your target audience.


Online community building: what you need to know

When approaching online community building, there are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Online communities vary in their focus and openness. Be mindful of whether the community is mostly about treatments, or providing peer support, or something else.
  • Our healthcare marketing goals won’t always align with the community’s goals. Not every patient community will be interested in, or welcoming, to a brand’s message.
  • From the start, be honest about who you are and why you’re in the community. Nothing undermines trust more quickly than being “uncovered” as a company representative.
  • When in doubt, first reach out to community leaders and ask if what you want to do in the community is okay. Every community has norms and codes of conduct, the community leaders can guide you when it comes to what information is welcome.
  • Don’t just talk about your brand and its message. Nothing is more tiresome than someone who only has one thing to say and repeats it relentlessly. Patient communities share more than their illness; join in on those conversations also.

As time progresses, patient online communities will change in format. By keeping these community building tips in mind, healthcare marketing can progress alongside the industry developments.


LEVERAGE POINT #3: Healthcare marketing and data protection

As technology plays a larger role in today’s sci-fi healthcare world, the industry becomes more reliant on data. For healthcare marketing, this means:

  • On the front end, sending the message that patient data is protected
  • On the back end, having a crisis communication plan in place in the case of a data breach


Protecting patient data

KPMG, in its white paper, The healthy approach to cyber security, reports that data sharing is the key to superior care, improved outcomes and lower costs in healthcare. Whether it’s EHRs, cloud-connected wearables, apps, or blockchain, data sharing is a primary driver in how healthcare is evolving.

Data sharing makes it possible for us to tell astonishing healthcare marketing stories about transforming clinical care. We’ve gone from having doctors write notes on paper charts to typing notes that are stored in the cloud.

Now individuals can gather, store, and share their own health data collected from wearables and apps. And one of the big next things is building distributed networks to store transactions, whether they be payments or courses of treatment.


Crisis communication

And yet every tech-reliant healthcare company and organization is one data breach away from damaging its brand.

Data sharing is seen as both a key to better outcomes in healthcare and the top security vulnerability – Source: KPMG


Often, we think of data breaches in terms of sensitive data being compromised or trade secrets being stolen. However, data breaches also include fake news and its effects on online communities.

When a data breach happens, marketing is called upon to implement crisis communications.

There are actions that marketers can take to support communications during a crisis:

  • Have an action plan in place to address breaches.
  • Don’t wait for a crisis to figure out how to respond.
  • Communicate in a timely and transparent manner.
  • Be clear and direct when talking about the breach, who is affected, how they are affected, and what is being done to help them.

Bottom line: Show that your organization takes the protection of patient data seriously. Anything less and you will undermine trust and further damage your brand.


Opportunities abound for healthcare marketing

The nature of healthcare and healthcare marketing is changing dramatically as the technologies suggested in science fiction make their way into real life. As with any transformation, we are presented with both opportunities and pitfalls. By remaining mindful of building trust and being transparent in our communications, healthcare marketing will support better-informed patients and caregivers ready to make informed decisions about their health care.

Within these three leverage points are 12 takeaways you can start implementing today. Which ones will you take on?

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