Healthcare Marketing: Now & Next

By Graham Johnson, Chief Product Officer, FCB Health

“There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen.” This was the case with healthcare this past year. The 2021 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is a prime example. Health has always had a presence at CES, but this year, nearly a quarter of all exhibitors identified in the digital health space. It showed how the pandemic fueled the rise of digital health and brought digital diagnostics, telemedicine, connected care and digital therapeutics to the main stage. 

The COVID-19 pandemic altered the trajectory of healthcare, but what about healthcare marketing? As part of our Next series, IPG Health brought together experts from across our network and the industry to talk about the emerging trends and technologies that are accelerating innovation in health. Here are a few key trends that marketers should pay attention to as we look toward the future.

The rise of digital health speaks to the growth of self-directed learning. Many patients had trouble or were fearful of accessing healthcare and found new ways to fill those gaps. YouTube saw explosive growth of watch time in videos centered around mental and physical health, access to care, and new ways to stay healthy. Consumers sought answers in common media platforms, which created new opportunities for brands to connect and reinforced that health learning design should be integrated into all marketing communications.

Conversational AI will become the dominant form of human-computer interaction, replacing the mouse and touch screen. Health systems faced a deluge of questions around COVID-19 during the pandemic — from understanding symptoms to getting tested to finding out when vaccines would become available. Conversational AI, often characterized by smart assistants like Amazon Alexa, were increasingly used on websites and apps to lessen the strain on overburdened systems. Chatbots were able to triage questions and either answer them outright or direct users to the appropriate resources. Conversational AI graduated from an emerging technology to a foundational one. Brands are increasingly attaching conversational AI to websites to find new ways to interact with patients, but each interaction serves as a mini-focus group, revealing the patients’ direct needs in moments.

We learned just how much words matter. In our conversations with patients and healthcare professionals, it’s never been more important to understand context and to deliver personalized communications. This is referred to by a variety of terms including omnichannel marketing, connected intelligence and dynamic content optimization (DCO). Whatever you call it, marketers have had access to data, analytics and technology for years, but due to the complexity surrounding integration, those aspirations haven’t been fully realized. In order to realize the promise of omnichannel marketing, marketers must act with a renewed sense of purpose and embrace new, integrated solutions that are moving closer to 1:1 marketing.

The era of virtual production is upon us. Hyperpersonalized content will require a lot of versioning, and the pandemic placed significant demands on traditional means of content creation, adding complexity and pushing up budgets. In response, we are increasingly working with virtual backdrops and virtual humans. Companies like Soul Machines are even combining virtual humans with conversational AI, which will usher in the ultimate integrated campaigns. Imagine a future that features a virtual human in television commercials and print ads that drive to digital experiences (e.g., websites, apps, convention panels) where patients and healthcare professionals interact directly with them. Brands should understand the possibilities and limitations of virtual production as they move into a truly omnichannel world.

The best campaigns provide real solutions. In the face of all of these remarkable advancements in marketing technology, we were reminded how breakthrough creative transcends catchy taglines and stunning visuals to solve real problems. For instance, AREA 23 created SICK BEATS, which is the world’s first music-powered airway clearance vest for cystic fibrosis patients, using the clinically proven modality of sound wave therapy to merge the music kids love with the daily treatment they need, all on the Spotify platform.

Graham Johnson

I started my marketing career during the dot-com boom of the nineties and have seen numerous inflection points, including the rise of the internet and the adoption of smartphones, and I have never been more excited to be in marketing. There have never been more new and promising ways to tell stories and to connect with patients and healthcare professionals, all in service of a greater purpose.