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The Pulse of the Pharmaceutical Industry

What Healthcare Marketers Can Learn from Netflix

Written by: | | Dated: Thursday, July 13th, 2017


By Robert Palmer, Chief Innovation Officer, HCB Health


A recent article in the New York Times, headlined Netflix Lets Viewers Pick the Plot, tells how the video streaming behemoth is creating content with an interactive twist. Aimed at children, the animated show The Adventures of Puss in Boots prompts users to choose which plot scenario the show should follow. Each decision sends the story in a different direction. For example, at one point viewers must decide whether Puss will have to deal with nice bears or angry bears. Pressing the finger on a touch screen starts the action.

What’s this have to do with healthcare marketing, or marketing in general? It represents a giant next step towards bringing interactive video to a new level – and to a much broader audience. By introducing a mass audience to a new plot choice every two to four minutes, Netflix is using a high frequency of interaction to implement a story-gaming strategy that ensures focus and much deeper involvement. And if Netflix can do it, so can any marketer who has a complex story to tell – or complex information to impart. It takes video viewing from an impassive experience to an immersive experience, expanding the way we best learn and retain information – through visual imagery.

Netflix is motivated by the fact that they’re locked in a market-share battle with other streaming video services, including Amazon and Hulu, not to mention the looming threat of YouTube. Hulu isn’t standing idly by as Netflix ventures into new territory; it has a virtual reality project in development that is aimed at adults, a choose-your-own-adventure show centered around a high school class reunion. Even PBS is planning digital interactive games that will be paired with children’s programming to extend the learning experience offered through their standard video content.

Interactive video and the challenges of healthcare marketing

Healthcare marketers face their own challenges of breaking through a crowded competitive field. It is a digital truism that the best experience a user has becomes his or her minimal expectation. As the web becomes glutted with video content, the most engaging and immersive experiences will win. That said, the idea of interactive video isn’t new to pharma. Almost ten years ago the Robert Woods Johnson Institute offered $2 million in grants for interactive video games that could help people cope with chronic disease. The Institute’s Health Games Research program sought to use interactive gaming techniques to modify behaviors and improve outcomes. In 2012, Boehringer-Ingelheim’s global digital innovation team launched a game called Syrum. It worked much the way the Farmville game does: Farmville makes a competition out of planting crops, harvesting them and bringing them to market. Inspired by Farmville, Syrum swapped farms and crops for laboratories and molecules. And today, agencies, including HCB Health, offer their clients’ interactive gaming applications to improve adherence and to track and reward healthy behaviors. But observing and understanding innovative, immersive video experiences developed by market pioneers such as Netflix can inspire and motivate a new wave of video innovation in healthcare. Based on gamification principles and employing interactive algorithms, healthcare brands can convey highly effective messaging while requiring minimal user effort to access and enjoy the experience.

There are, of course, some regulatory considerations; interactive video that tells a multi-faceted story includes – by definition – a series of user choices and interactions. The good news is that, unlike social media platforms that use unstructured interactions to encourage involvement, interactive video schemas can be mapped out and carefully structured in matrixes that can overcome regulatory concerns. If a brand segments its users by personas – patient types, for example – multiple choices can be offered that take a segment’s user down several alternative behavior paths. What happens if “Patient Type A” is adherent, versus that same patient skipping his or her medication, or taking it incorrectly? And once several journey-mapping scenarios are identified, a patient can literally choose a path along that journey and quickly discover the consequences of his or her behavior. Those interactions within a video experience can be clearly mapped out, with the decision tree following a brand’s regulatory mandates.

How much do people like video – and why?

The logic behind developing interactive video tools and resources is compelling. In 2017, YouTube is the third most visited website in the world, with 300 hours of video uploaded every minute and 30 million unique visitors per day. People clearly like watching short-form video; they’re used to the experience.

YouTube is also a powerful and sophisticated search engine that can be optimized to attract very specific audiences. Add to that the fact that video is the media of choice on mobile, the most-used channel for viewership. An American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) research project found that video is a preferred and appealing format for learning on mobile devices. Whereas the abandonment rate with most non-entertainment video is rapid and high, whether on mobile of other devices, when an interactive element is added to the experience studies show that it can significantly lengthen viewer time by deepening involvement and engagement.

How effective is video as a learning tool? A Brandon Hall research poll of 300 training professionals found that video is used for training specifically because training professionals report a high level of engagement. If that’s true of “standard” video, it is only logical that the involvement mechanisms found in interactive video heightens its usefulness.

Non-interactive videos offer an essentially passive experience – a limiting factor that Netflix and its competitors have recognized and are addressing. No matter how engaging or interesting the content – and even with the highest production values – “traditional” video doesn’t allow the viewer to participate or interact. It is equivalent to the lecture model of learning. Interactive video has been proven to extend the time the medium is watched, increasing recall, attention, satisfaction, and – most important – engagement.

Tools are available to develop immersive interactive video experiences

A growing array of story-gaming software products serve as platforms to enhance and facilitate interactive video experiences. One of the most popular and useful platforms is Conductrr ( which makes the development, deployment and management of complex immersive learning experiences relatively fast and easy. Much more than a video player, it fuses several product types into a single, seamless cloud-based service: a content management system; a story and gaming engine; an audience relationship management system; and real-time analytics and reporting. It allows marketers to create multi-platform campaigns that can integrate with web and mobile apps and games. Branded interactive video campaigns can deliver data and metrics on demand, responding to user behavior and offering the possibility of rapid optimization.

An accomplished creative team and skilled video editors – available through a full-service integrated agency – can provide the horsepower to drive a compelling interactive video experience that will increase user involvement and drive engagement. Entertainment venues such as Netflix are helping to pave the way to popularize interactive video. Proactive healthcare marketers can take advantage of these pioneering efforts to spur what we all want: better outcomes through deeper engagement.

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