3 Steps to Adapting Your Digital Marketing as Telehealth Adoption Grows

By Brittney Monroe, associate director of client strategy at Coegi

Before COVID-19, carrying out digital marketing for pharmaceutical companies was fairly straightforward. You could reach providers across all devices when not using the more traditional tactics of in-person meetings, live panels, and events. Patients were a slightly different story, with pharmaceutical companies employing medical marketing strategies such as SEO and print ads or turning the focus toward online user experience and education resources. With either strategy, though, you could still get the message out.

All that changed in March 2020, when lockdowns modified the behaviors of providers and patients alike. No longer would the same creative capture people’s attention. Targeting in and of itself became a bit of a question mark, and many healthcare organizations’ messaging shifted toward safety and employee stories rather than specific treatment expertise.

Patient marketing posed an even bigger problem as the pandemic changed both consumer behavior and mindsets. A Harris Poll study found that only 9% of patients believe pharmaceutical companies put consumers before profits, and a late September Gallup poll found just 50% of consumers would be willing to get a COVID vaccine when available — down from 66% back in July. That’s quite a dip.

Some of this hesitation is likely the result of an aversion to entering medical facilities during the pandemic, choosing instead to use drive-thru or virtual options. While virtual may be the answer, it will require more innovative digital marketing strategies from pharmaceutical companies to ensure that patients opt in.

The Meteoric Adoption of Telehealth (and What It Could Mean for the Pharmaceutical Industry)

Although just under half (46%) of consumers currently use online care, more than three-quarters (76%) are interested. This growing interest in and adoption of telehealth offer an opportunity to rethink digital marketing strategies for pharmaceuticals going forward. Rather than providing in-office samples or educational materials, comparable offerings can be developed for virtual office settings. Now’s the time for pharmaceutical marketers to start experimenting with these options.

Brittney Monroe, associate director of client strategy at Coegi

However, this won’t be an easy road. Although many telehealth platforms are open to the idea of collaboration with pharmaceutical companies, others have no interest in working with the sector. This is at least partly due to regulatory and legal restrictions often accompanying it. In the near future, it will be catch-as-catch-can with this potential medical marketing channel.

A New Era of Digital Marketing for Pharmaceutical Companies

As telehealth adoption continues to grow and opinions around new medicines run the gamut from unquestioning trust to downright skepticism, almost any digital marketing strategy for pharmaceuticals must shift with these changes. Even if you choose not to explore telehealth channels, old marketing tactics aren’t resonating as strongly as they once did. The following areas are where you’ll want to focus your attention:

1. Employ empathy first. Everyone is navigating this “new normal,” so keep in mind your choice of channels and the type of messaging used in a pharmaceutical marketing campaign. Consider the last time you were faced with a medical decision and how emotions likely played a role in the choice of treatment. That’s why empathy is especially important right now. Listen to patients, monitor how they use your website, and rely on an empathy-first approach when shaping both your messaging and digital channel selection.

2. Develop consumer journey maps. Patient journey maps put marketers in a patient’s position, which can help to better shape and coordinate digital marketing efforts for pharmaceutical companies. Lay out the basics of a journey, from awareness and research to consideration and scheduling. In your quest to build more empathetic pharmaceutical marketing campaigns, decide what information patients might need and take into account how they might be feeling during each step (and be sure to do so in the context of rising telehealth use).

Now, do the same for the provider. Oftentimes, medical marketing focuses so much on how patients become aware of prescription drugs that not enough attention is placed on providers’ experiences. The goal here should be to inform both parties in order to have an educated conversation at the point of care.

3. Explore all potential marketing channels. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, people aren’t just embracing online care — they’re also reaching out to build online communities on social media and spending more time in front of the television. With this, it would benefit a pharmaceutical marketing campaign if you ventured into advertising on not only traditional channels, but also channels such as connected TV, where you can educate both patients and caregivers about prescriptions and care options that could change their lives.

No one knows what the future holds, but this pandemic has changed consumer behavior now and forever. Pharmaceutical companies’ digital marketing must follow suit, and exploring the potential of telehealth as a medical marketing channel is just one option. As with anything in marketing, it all comes down to reaching the target audience in precisely the right ways.


About the author

Brittney Monroe is an associate director of client strategy at Coegi, an all-in-one premium marketing partner for media professionals seeking a streamlined way to leverage programmatic and social solutions. Coegi enables marketers to become digital heroes among co-workers and clients by empowering them with best-in-class strategies, technologies, and expertise through simplified partnerships. Brittney holds a bachelor’s degree in communication and international studies and a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri, Columbia.