When it comes to better engaging their target audience, healthcare and life sciences organizations continually find themselves at a crossroads between practicing caution and driving innovation. While Amazon and Apple have been setting the standards for targeted engagement among consumers, healthcare organizations have had a few other things to worry about. For payers and providers, the pressure to accelerate down the path of digital transformation challenges the regulatory hurdles that require a more discerning step, but evolving customer engagement in healthcare and life sciences is critical to achieving business growth.
Because of this challenge, healthcare organizations tend to lag behind other industries when it comes to meeting the buyer expectations of today. However, there are advanced strategies that can put healthcare ahead of the curve without the risks involved with leveraging sensitive data. Shifting from tactical demand generation to a strategic demand marketing state gives healthcare organizations a competitive edge in a world of one-off campaigns, product-centric communications, and vanity metrics. To compete with the expectations that have been set by today’s innovation leaders, healthcare companies must make sure that strategic demand marketing is the goal of innovation initiatives.
So what are the characteristics of strategic demand marketing?
1. Buyer Led
Healthcare buyers have a number of factors contributing to their culture of caution and tendency toward the downward slope of the adoption curve. Obviously, serving needs that form the foundation of Maslow’s Hierarchy can create a lot of risk. This is amplified by experiences like Electronic Medical Record adoption, which produced more chaos than many providers felt the project was worth. And finally, the stakes are higher in healthcare than any other industry when it comes to security and compliance. A 2019 IBM study reported that for the 9th year in a row, healthcare organizations had the highest costs associated with data breaches – over 60% higher than the cross-industry average. These stats are daunting for organizations considering leveraging patient data – particularly protected health information – for more targeted engagement. Consequently, this is a group of buyers whose trust is hard for vendors to earn and even harder to earn for vendors that aren’t well aligned with their buyers’ journey.
Evolving customer engagement in healthcare via strategic demand marketing puts the buyer in control of their buying journey by creating an experience that responds to their engagement with both content type and cadence.
Let’s start with content type. If a lead comes to your website to read a high-level thought leadership piece on challenges associated with value-based care, the next logical step in their buyer journey is probably not a guide to RFP or on-demand demo for your solution. Mapping your typical buyer journey and tagging your content to align with each step will help you create a nurture program that aligns with your buyer’s needs so that you know what type of content they’d likely want to engage with next.
Now let’s talk cadence. Relentlessly bombarding your lead with communications for an indefinite period will increase the chances of them unsubscribing, thereby terminating your ability to communicate altogether. Create logic that reduces the frequency of communication for non-responsive prospects after a certain period of time, but still keeps your brand accessible in their inbox for when the timing is right. One way to do this is to remove them from nurture campaigns and instead send them a monthly e-newsletter for re-engagement. When they click to a piece of content and download it, you can take that as an indicator of renewed interest and re-enter them into a higher cadence program.
2. Always On
Last year, a leading life sciences company blew up a balloon to represent each of their one-and-done campaigns for the year before launching their perpetual demand generation program. These balloons filled the room, each one its own separate initiative confined to specific time period. The campaigns were done and the balloons were popped, disappearing with far less effort than it took to blow them up and leaving little evidence of any impact. Just like the balloons, one-off-campaigns often take a disproportionate amount of effort to inflate relative to the results generated because they operate on the assumption that your target segment is ready to engage at the same time you’re ready to reach out.
Think about how long the buyer journey can be in healthcare and life sciences: you could be marketing a $100,000 mass spectrometer to a pharmaceutical lab that just replaced theirs within the last couple years, or a game-changing revenue cycle management software system to a hospital whose technology budget was just cut. These are large purchases that require significant budgetary planning and a strong need, criteria that are rarely met simultaneously and even less likely to harmoniously coincide with a one-and-done campaign, or even a series of one-and-done campaigns. This is why your marketing efforts need to be always on, so that they’re ready when your buyer is too – this is how you can truly begin evolving customer engagement in healthcare and life sciences.
Because the healthcare industry is always changing, you’ll eventually have to tweak your channel mix and update your early stage content topics, but you should have a model for success to work from. Once you figure out the combination of initiatives and investments that generates the most revenue for the least input, you want to be able to repeat it again and again. The problem is, most healthcare organizations (and most marketing teams in general) aren’t measuring the KPIs indicative of real success. Rather than throwing campaigns across various channels at your prospects to see what sticks, you want to be able to slice and dice each variable throughout the funnel to identify patterns and create a strategic framework for repeatable, predictable demand. KPIs that can be used to create a repeatable path to revenue include:
- Elasticity: You might be generating thousands of prospects on paid media each quarter, but that’s not necessarily an initiative you want to repeat. Volume is important, but which channels and content offers are most effective at generating top and mid funnel leads, and more importantly– wins? Out of every dollar spent and every lead generated, how many actually become opportunities? If the channel or offer effectively generates top-of-funnel leads but they aren’t converting, you want to be able to dig deeper to understand if the variable in question is attracting the right target leads.
- Impact Expectation: Elasticity is a great indicator of conversion potential, but impact expectation takes volume into account alongside elasticity. Disparities between elasticity and impact expectation could indicate a channel is being underutilized or a content offer is being under-promoted, revealing opportunities for improving visibility and usage that lead to wins.
- Channel ROI: Perhaps your annual HFMA sponsorship is guaranteed to generate event traffic and lift brand awareness, but the cost is staggering. Rather than investing in the same channel every year because it’s what you’ve always done, you want to be able to allocate your marketing budget to support the most cost-effective channels for quality leads.
- Conversion Rates By Stage: If prospect to closed-won conversions are up, you want to be able to properly attribute the cause within the funnel. If conversions at the handoff between marketing and sales have improved, was it a result of more sales training or higher quality leads created by marketing? If early to mid-funnel conversions are up, which marketing activities impacted those that converted?
- Revenue Outcome: It’s not just about volume of wins; it’s also about value of the win. You want to be able to observe which marketing efforts are likely to drive larger deal sizes, such as enterprise deals, and weigh that against the effort and cost of those types of acquisitions. Understanding which personas need to be targeted for those types of deals, differences in buying cycle length, etc. will help you shape your marketing strategy into one worth repeating.
4. Inbound Oriented
Inbound leads are important because these people are actively looking for something – information, a solution to a problem, or your company specifically. You want to capture their interest while they’re on this hunt before your competitors do. There are two important aspects to achieving an inbound oriented state: getting leads to your site, and then keeping them there as long as you can.
To get leads to your website, it’s important that you’re present on the channels they’re using. Ask your buyers what online industry publications they read, the social networks they use and the search terms they type into Google so you can meet them where they are with content that brings them inbound to you. On your side of the fence, make sure your content employs the latest SEO best practices so it can be found by Google.
Now about keeping leads there. When we interview our healthcare clients’ buyers about how they learn about new solutions, word-of-mouth and industry events are at the top of the list. But you want your web real estate to be set up for receiving and converting these offline referrals, and to be optimized for capturing top-of-funnel leads who are Googling and perusing online channels that direct back to you.
Compelling, highly targeted, sticky user experiences can be created through dynamic personalization, a newer best practice that supports evolving customer engagement in healthcare organizations.
Dynamic website personalization changes how various elements are presented based on information about the user. These elements may include headlines and sub-headlines, language (ex. personalizing for one’s geography), and content offers served up on a page. For example, a healthcare-specific cloud compliance company serving payers, providers, life sciences, and technology organizations has to capture the attention of many different types of stakeholders that have unique challenges and vocabulary. With dynamic personalization, when a payer self-identifies through a progressive form completion, the page will serve up content that speaks to topics like improving member engagement. Meanwhile, a life sciences or healthcare technology user will see content on increasing speed to market, and a provider will see content on overcoming obstacles in value-based care. With this customized experience, inbound leads are more likely to engage and more inclined to convert.
Because healthcare buyers are evolving their expectations about how they’d like to engage with healthcare organizations faster than these organizations are meeting them, you must focus on evolving your own customer engagement to set you apart from your competition. When your marketing strategy begins to align with your buyers’ needs, they will take notice. The problem is, not all healthcare organizations have the internal expertise to achieve a strategic demand marketing state on their own. In fact, even marketing teams in the most innovative and forward-thinking industries can miss the mark when it comes to Strategic Demand Marketing. For a comprehensive view on the benefits of this approach and tips for achieving it with limited internal resources, read “Why Make the Critical Shift From Tactical to Strategic Demand.”
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