By Brad Rosenhouse, Group Vice President, Programmatic Publicis Health Media



We healthcare marketers have this grand vision of reaching the right patient/caregiver/healthcare professional (HCP) with the right message, at the right time, in the right context. It’s woven into our strategies, patient journeys, CRM campaigns, and of course programmatic media. Every aspect of the campaign from whitelist creation to bid strategy is unique to the target universe size and customized for each brand or effort. We are further challenged with opportunities to activate niche data sets of high value, each with methodologies that must be crafted to be HIPAA compliant.

The reality is that we are all a part of an Audience Economy, where our anonymized digital fingerprint is bought and sold so that brands can better communicate with us.  This economy enables marketers to move from strategies that reach the most eyeballs, to those that reach the right eyeballs.  It’s enabling any media vehicle to play an important part in delivering a tailored message. The goal being a consistent strategy that ties back to the patient journey, controlling the brand message and cadence across all media outlets.  Understanding the value of an audience irrespective of the value of the media space is critical.  It’s a compelling proposition for all marketers, but even more so when your target population sizes are relatively small as in healthcare.

In the broader media industry, we have been quick to embrace both technology and change as a means of staying ahead of our competition.  The holding companies brought in industry leaders to bridge the data and technology gap, and invested in infrastructure to capture rich data on every ad delivered.  This allowed the Trading desks’ move to the center of strategy and activation within the agencies, enabling The Audience Economy to be the new norm, and clients are embracing it (even in the healthcare sector).  It has enabled 1:1 targeting and closed loop measurement, however challenges unique to healthcare do still exist:

  • The supply/demand ratio dynamics that are the inverse of most verticals
  • Publishers (and even agencies) having separate teams (‘traditional’ + programmatic)
  • MLR (medical legal review) team requirements/perspectives and education needs
  • Interpretations of governing principals that simply leave much to be desired
  • Importance of share of voice and contextual ownership within brand strategies
  • Limited target population sizes and limited scale data sets               

Programmatic media is able to address all of the challenges above while bridging the physical world with our campaign efforts, connecting devices to an individual/home/office, and enabling rules based buying to occur in real time. However, publishers are accustomed to having full control over their inventory, audiences, and pricing.  Unfortunately, this means that even in today’s environment, publishers and platforms are still creating walled gardens, blending data with inventory, and not providing a level of transparency needed for brand marketers to take full control of their investments.  The Audience Economy leads to legitimate concerns regarding their margins, onsite privacy policies, and even guaranteed commitments; especially in an environment when brands and agencies are demanding higher and higher viewability thresholds.

Our industry is very good at making the impossible sound easy, but the reality is that Healthcare is different. In healthcare, marketing is about precision and storytelling rather than scale.  Aligning across the programmatic ecosystem (buy side and sell side) to meet the various needs of each client effort is always going to require a greater personal touch than is needed in other sectors.   

As some brands outpace others, we are at a critical point where we can shape the rules of road for healthcare brands ahead.  Today, strong marketplace relationships are required to rally data distributors, supply sources, and buying platforms to enable these relatively small data sets, because these entities are largely compensated based on scaled solutions.  Partnerships between publishers and agencies, data providers and distribution marketplaces, and clients with technology platforms are all taking place to enable smarter audience based marketing. While some are still not able or willing to separate audience data from inventory today, our trusted media partners understand this and are adapting to this new approach as quickly as they can.    

An opportunity for marketers and governing bodies to come together to fill the void that currently exists between the types of targeting that are deemed appropriate — for everything  from Oncology and Allergies — should be achievable.  Balancing the requirements in healthcare for 100% transparency (costs, fees, data methodologies, and inventory) with the capabilities of the audience economy, along with the governing regulations, requires people with specialized skill sets, and a desire to reshape an industry on both sides of the buy.  The Programmatic Health Council has been established for this specific purpose.

In conclusion, the ability to deliver a unique brand experience to each person is at our fingertips.  The Audience Economy is enabling for smarter and more effective marketing and is measureable all the way through to business outcomes.  As more emerging channels like OOH, Audio, and TV become integrated into the programmatic ecosystem, our capabilities to truly deliver a timely and appropriate message in the right context will be realized.