By Tanya Shepley

When Jimmy Kimmel delivered an emotional monologue on national television about his son’s health issues and his perception of the healthcare system, he highlighted a fundamental disconnect between companies and consumers: Healthcare brands often fail to address patients’ emotional journeys.

This disconnect is essentially a marketing problem because healthcare brands tend to focus their messaging on efficacy, product functionality and attributes, and benefits-at-use. Even examples from the healthcare industry that do address patient journeys fall into patient support categories that revolve around chronic disease areas, such as multiple sclerosis, cystic fibrosis, lupus, or rheumatoid arthritis. While aspects like functionality are important, they aren’t what create brand value.

From the earliest stages of consideration to eventual purchase, a patient’s experience with a brand shapes how she perceives its value. That’s why healthcare marketing is much more powerful when addressing the scope of patient emotions, experiences, and hurdles. In this way, brands ultimately create an experience that fosters engagement and delivers value much earlier in the patient journey.

Understanding How Consumers Engage in Healthcare

Often, healthcare choices are made on emotional instincts, especially when patients are confronted with two products that seem very similar. Thus, brands should look deeper into the patient journey to identify the moments that matter most and to better understand what translates as value. By providing important services or other tangible benefits during these moments, they can further shape patient perception.

Still, brands that want to employ this strategy often encounter challenges in identifying those salient moments. They’re forced to wade through sparse qualitative insights and quantitative patient-engagement data from market research that stems from underdeveloped and underoptimized content. With brands focusing on brand awareness instead of value, efforts to untangle the patient journey inevitably garner less attention.

Focus on the Patient Journey

Defining and understanding the critical moments along the patient journey is just the first step in creating greater brand value, though. While these moments illuminate the place brands should focus on, they don’t provide a frame of reference for what patients need and, therefore, what they find most valuable to the brand experience.

Essentially, the goal should be to provide well-timed content, information, and resources that grab patients’ attention at the necessary moments and create a holistic experience exemplifying brand value. Then, brands can use patient insights to learn what is and isn’t working. A lack of clicks or signups could mean a brand is disseminating the wrong messaging or perhaps maybe the right messaging but to the wrong channel. And a lack of patient retention, even with initial engagement, indicates brands aren’t meeting the expectations that customers have come to expect in today’s marketplace.

By measuring interactions across multiple channels, for example, Kaiser Permanente and Humana can gauge the efficacy of their content and more effectively engage patients. For this reason, they consistently achieve top ratings in customer experience by the Temkin Group. Ultimately, brands that want to cultivate the patient’s perception of value along the patient journey and hone their marketing strategies to promote a more comprehensive experience should look to “the five C’s”:

1. Connection
Demonstrate that you know the patient and his circumstances, preferences, and needs. Most importantly, acknowledge how his stage of the journey at this point is different from where he has been and where he is going, because information must evolve from initial disease awareness to diagnosis and beyond. Using focus groups and other survey methods is a great way to acquire this understanding and shape content strategies. By leveraging patient feedback, you allow patients to essentially co-create with your marketing team and work toward building a more personalized experience.

2. Control
Empower patients by helping them facilitate their own paths to wellness or disease management. Focus on developing integrated systems that both allow patient participation and continually adjust content on the basis of that feedback. Marketing automation tools should be used to personalize patient requests and respond faster to them by offering dynamic user-requested content. While broad-based website content may be more general in nature (and thus easier to produce), one-to-one communications should be dynamic to support evolving patient needs.

3. Choice
Help patients understand and navigate their options. Each therapeutic category has its own nuances that patients need to understand, and gain support for, in order to stay informed on treatment decisions. As opposed to focusing solely on generalized disease symptoms or treatment, you should create a thoughtful, responsive system that illustrates to patients the present and future value of their choices through concrete steps, stages, and action items. These can make daunting aspects of decision-making more manageable.

4. Conviction
Help patients understand how they can make any necessary changes to behavior, lifestyle, or routine. While the manifestation of this support can take many forms, it should fundamentally do two things: It should be built into a brand’s foundation, and it should ensure that the tone and tenor of all communications emanate from a place of patient support. By encompassing aspects of patients’ health that may impact the treatment journey, you sync your brand with their overall lives and offer greater and more pervasive brand value.

5. Community
Connect patients with other patients, resources, support groups, and advocates. While social media and other forums offer patients broader opportunities to share their stories, make connections, and learn from others, greater value can be created by brands that acknowledge the important role communities play and then enhance the community experience. Thus, you should help patients know they aren’t alone by building a system that allows them to connect with your brand and, most importantly, gives them an outlet for the personal and emotional impact of the ailments they’re dealing with.

By considering the five C’s for every piece of marketing you put out, you can start to identify the moments that resonate most and then merge personalization with these dynamic experiences. Healthcare is a personal and emotional experience for everyone, and marketing teams that embrace this idiosyncrasy will render more successful and more engaging strategies that ultimately create greater brand value.


About the author

For 14 years, Tanya Shepley has directed integrated advertising campaigns for pharmaceutical clients in a global capacity. She is SVP, Healthcare NA at RAPP.