For Marketers, Complexity Is the New Normal

Marketers confront multiple challenges in the rapidly reforming healthcare eco-system.

Driven by the rapid adoption of digital media, social networks, and mobile computing, the complexity of marketing has increased dramatically. This heightened complexity is especially evident across the healthcare industry and its numerous markets.

Government reform, lack of prescription adherence, higher levels of financial market uncertainty, and the continuing emphasis on patient-centric strategies have combined to create a "perfect storm" of arduous challenges for healthcare marketers. The intensity of these challenges is likely to increase as more consumers push for higher levels of personalized healthcare treatments based on individual genetic mapping.

Fortunately, the prime determinants of success for complex marketing campaigns have not changed. Clean, complete data and robust analytic processes that derive customer insight are still basic requirements - without these prerequisites, campaigns are doomed to inadequacy.

That being said, these foundational capabilities are often lacking, creating a substantial gap between expectations and results in many healthcare marketing scenarios. This gap signifies more than a mere perceptual issue; it represents a true barrier to effective healthcare marketing.

Closing this gap is a challenge shared by large hospitals, pharmaceutical and biotech companies, healthcare insurance firms, pharmacy benefits managers, and healthcare data providers - many of which depend on complex, multichannel marketing strategies to grow and prosper.

Isn't it time to move beyond the mass marketing formula?

Despite all that has been written about the rising importance of increasingly granular, highly relevant one-to-one marketing strategies, the hard truth is that most healthcare marketing initiatives are conceived, developed, and executed as mass marketing campaigns. Although the healthcare market is clearly trending toward greater emphasis on individualized products, services, and treatments, most of the current healthcare marketing campaigns seem trapped in the 1980s.

The realities of today's healthcare markets, combined with the limited or incomplete analytic capabilities of many healthcare marketers, create operational misalignments that escalate costs and drive down efficiency across all marketing channels. In a turbulent and difficult economy, these kinds of inefficiencies can prove catastrophic.

Clearly, a new approach to healthcare marketing is required - an approach that is grounded firmly in superior data management techniques and practices. People, processes, and technologies must be aligned to ensure that accurate data and insight is delivered swiftly and securely to precisely where it is needed, at precisely the right time.

Shared goals and common needs

It is entirely fair to say that the nation's healthcare eco-system and physician delivery models are being transforming at an astonishing pace. New medical technologies, patient-centered treatment models, government health reform, health provider wellness programs, and the promise of empowered personalized medicine are all converging to create an exceptionally dynamic period.

Despite all of this complexity, many stakeholders share common goals and interests:

  • Pharmaceutical and biotechnology organizations seek higher efficacy; they want patients to comply with prescribed therapies for the entire prescribed cycle.
  • Health insurance providers desire a deeper understanding of their members in order to keep chronic conditions in decline and stabilize healthy members.
  • Government via Medicare focus is on efficiency and effectiveness of data transfer and the safety of personal health records. Reducing fraud, waste ,and abuse are seen as key to lowering per incident rates.

Struggling with the fundamentals

In highly complex environments such as healthcare marketing, the success or failure of multichannel initiatives depends to a large degree on the availability of clean, reliable customer data. Often it turns out that these marketers lack the fundamental knowledge and capabilities required to develop and execute data-driven campaigns.

By nature, mass marketing campaigns are less data-intensive than niche marketing or one-to-one marketing. That makes them seem like a relative bargain, but in reality, it is generally difficult to sell individualized products and services using traditional mass market techniques.

The growing recognition that individualized products and services require different marketing strategies than products and services that are aimed at mass markets has led marketers to reassess their basic needs. If you ask a healthcare marketer what he or she needs to develop and execute an effective campaign, the list of non-negotiable requirements will likely include

  • Data analytics and reporting
  • Multichannel campaign management
  • Media personalization and optimization
  • Database management

That's a very different list than you would have seen five years ago, or even two years ago - and it illustrates how dynamic the healthcare marketing landscape is today.

The net takeaway

The complexities of today's healthcare markets require marketing and communications strategies that are significantly more disciplined and more scientific than ever before. The "customer revolution" that began in the 1990s has caught up with the healthcare industry, forcing the industry to transform and modernize its customer-facing processes across all touchpoints and channels.

Mass marketing has its role, mostly as a small percentage of new market acquisition efforts, but our over-reliance on mass marketing should be slowed: Healthcare marketers must turn their attention to marketing tactics and strategies that are tailored, customized, personalized, and individualized.

To accomplish this, companies will need to develop new skills for collecting, managing, and drawing insight from sets of customer data - or they can partner with experts who already possess these capabilities. The benefits are greater efficiency, improved marketing results, and higher corporate profits; we also create healthy patients and members within our new healthcare ecosystem.

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About the Author: Cameron Thompson is group managing director of Acxiom's Healthcare Practice