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Written by Gerhard Pappert
on June 07, 2021

Are you trying to reach healthcare providers (HCPs) and decision makers, but the costs and challenges are piling up? Things have changed since the golden days of pharma advertising. In 2021, HCPs are busier than ever, often overworked, so building a meaningful relationship can seem like an almost impossible undertaking. The good news? It isn't.

Healthcare marketing may be one of the most saturated and expensive marketing niches, but it's also a space full of exciting opportunities to reach professionals, achieve business goals and educate the world about life-changing treatments. Here's what you need to know about healthcare marketing strategy to make it work in 2021 and beyond.

The state of health marketing: challenges & opportunities

Anyone who works with HCPs can tell you the main marketing difficulties they face daily. From hard-to-reach physicians to high lead generation costs to 6+ months to close a deal, healthcare marketers are definitely facing challenging tasks. Here's a look at where healthcare marketing stands right now and what we can do to get the results we want, even with these challenges.

Fewer rep-accessible providers

Gone are the days when HCPs welcomed pharmaceutical representatives with a smile on their face and more than 20 minutes of their time. Today, less than half of physicians are willing to meet with reps, and that number is steadily declining. Prescribing physicians receive countless contacts per year, and most already feel overwhelmed by pharmaceutical industry communications. Today's physicians are busier than ever with patient and desk work. Those in private practice also face the challenge of running the business side of things without losing sight of their primary goal, patient care.

Long sales cycles and pricey leads

Research shows that only 43% of B2B healthcare sales of B2B healthcare sales are closed within the first six months of contact. In fact, one out of five deals takes longer than a year! Year-long sales cycles mean it can take time to see results, even if you have plenty of prospects in the pipeline. Keep in mind that healthcare leads are some of the most expensive to win. The average cost per lead is a whopping $162, which is the second highest of any industry. That's not surprising, considering it's a complicated market with multiple stakeholders and decision makers, and restricted access to HCPs.

HCP marketing busy doctor rv

Hitting actual business goals

For the longest time, we haven't measured properly. The number of calls and visits to doctors is all some marketers do. But that doesn't tell you much about the impact of your efforts. Not understanding performance, in turn, makes it nearly impossible to optimize future campaigns and evaluate strengths and weaknesses. At the same time, the marketing field is difficult to navigate, especially when you consider how many people are involved in the decision-making process. To see a difference, you need to reach a critical mass of HCPs. However, your ability to reach them is limited in many ways:

  • HCPs don’t have the time or energy to meet with sales reps
  • Not all HCPs read medical journals and purchasing ad space might be pricey
  • Similarly, conferences don’t reach all specialists, and meeting with people there might not be enough to make a difference in sales

Is there anything you can do?

With a new era comes new opportunities.

Communication happens online – this is true in the general sense, but it is particularly relevant for healthcare marketing. Today, 72% of medical buyers start with an online search.

B2B healthcare buyers are already 60-90% down the buyer’s journey when they get in touch with a rep. In other words, most of the “convincing” people to get your product has already happened by the time a salesperson gets involved. So, it’s only natural that 83% of healthcare companies are already doing content marketing.

If you're not leveraging the digital space, you're already behind the curve. But there's still plenty of opportunity for growth in online marketing. Only one-third of organizations say their content marketing efforts are very effective. But we know that content marketing works and produces 3 times more leads per dollar spent.

This right here is the sweet spot for ambitious marketers:

  • The old model is becoming obsolete
  • Digital marketing is already gaining traction
  • Healthcare companies need better content marketing to hit business goals

We are working in one of the toughest spaces with busy HCPs, complicated decision-making, and long sales-cycles. But healthcare marketing is about to go through a new golden age (the previous one being boom of pharma reps) and we can be a part of it.

The keys to success

How do you leverage digital marketing opportunities to reach HCPs and hit business goals? These are the crucial elements of a successful strategy:

Understand your audience

One-size-fits-all doesn’t work – personalization does. Before you make any marketing decisions, get to know your audience and tailor content to them. Targeting HCPs is fundamentally different from targeting consumers. For example, if you were marketing a new drug to patients, you’d speak in their voice, address their pain points and highlight the benefits they will experience. Are these the same advantages you will cite to HCPs? No, because providers have different goals, values, and challenges than their patients.

To understand and segment your audience, you can use surveys, market data, or make a content offer to capture information. In some cases, it will also be an educated guess. For instance, HCPs all have higher-level education, which is very evidence-based in the medical field. They will appreciate seeing data to prove your claims much more than a patient who has no medical background would.

Talk to your buyer personas

A buyer persona is a useful way to organize your target customer information and optimize your content. They help put a face to your target group segments. For example, if you target a physical therapist with his own practice, you can see from statistics that he is probably between 40 and 50 years old, male, married and father of two children. This is just an example, always do your own research. So, your buyer persona is Alex, a 45-year-old physical therapist. What does he want? A successful business doing what he loves, but also a work-life balance. What are the benefits of a work-life balance for Alex? He can spend more time with his family, doesn't miss his son's piano concert, etc.

How can your solution help? If you're a B2B service, it could be reducing the business owner's workload so they can focus on physical therapy and spend the extra time with their kids. What if you hadn't used a buyer persona? You know what your service does – save time and help healthcare business owners grow – but you wouldn't phrase it in a way that appeals to Alex. But you're selling to Alex! You're trying to appeal to Alex, you're building a funnel for an Alex-type lead. By understanding and addressing your specific buyer personas, you can build more meaningful relationships and increase conversions without ever having to meet the HCP in person.

In a world where it's increasingly difficult to reach HCPs, segmenting and targeting buyer personas is essential to making a personal connection with the brand. And considering that most of your communication happens before the customer even contacts a sales rep, good content targeting is just as important (if not more so) as an experienced rep.

Free guide to creating personas

UP busy doctor marketing HCPs rv-2

Go where you will be seen

Tailoring your message to the buyer persona is only one part of the equation. You also want to engage your potential customers where they naturally spend time. In digital marketing, this means choosing the right platform for the right person. You wouldn't find the same people on Instagram as you would on LinkedIn, right? Use an omnichannel presence to reach HCPs but keep efficiency in mind. Here's how to do it:

  • Create a professional online presence. Your website is the face of your company, make sure it’s easy to navigate and enhance it with thought-leading articles. Set up analytics to track traffic.
  • Run campaigns on different platforms. Use your buyer persona research to find out which platforms you will target. Then track the visitors who go to your website.
  • Invest in high-return channels. If you find that 80% of your website visitors are coming from LinkedIn, should you spend most of your time on Instagram? Probably not, unless you think there is an untargetted group there.

Start with your buyer persona in mind, think about where you might find them, and use a cross-channel presence to ensure your marketing strategy actually appeals to your future customers.

What are the next steps?

Healthcare marketing is a unique niche, both in terms of challenges and opportunities. If you're a company that sells to HCPs, I hope this article has inspired you to think about your audience, take the time to understand them, and start delivering personalized content to engage them. Regardless of whether you do the work in-house or hire an agency, your strategy is about the bottom line. What do you want to achieve with your efforts? Is it generating leads, building trust or introducing a new product to your customer base?

Depending on your needs, bring yourself up to speed with training, education, knowledge, and insights – including the softer things that HCPs need to know to run their business. For example, physicians often don't have time to deal with branding, or they want to get advice on how to safely bring in an influencer.

Ask yourself, what is the one thing that would help you get closer to that goal? For some HCPs, it is printed brochures to display in the waiting area or having films made for the screens in their clinics. For others, it is finally getting active on social media and improving their presence (e. g. by subscribing to a monthly social media package with ideas and materials). As long as you keep the goal in mind and choose a targeted way to achieve it, you won't miss.

Mixing up the message for the sake of “killing many birds with one stone” is the wrong way to think. Content must be directed to one persona at a time. Whether you are writing for HCPs or consumers: your targeting must be precise and exclusive.

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