The Health-Care Marketing Oath: Be ‘Patiently Aggressive’

Health-care marketers are encouraging consumers to make small, healthier choices each day that add up—but the payoff for those decisions doesn’t come for years down the road and may be hard to trace back to their original decisions.

The Health-Care Marketing Oath: Be ‘Patiently Aggressive’

by Jody Bilney

Posted on 07-22-2017

Do you remember every moment that has shaped your life? You can probably recall the big ones: choosing a college, a career, a spouse or a home, and becoming a parent, a caregiver, or a retiree.

But what about the choices you make every day? Do you buy a morning cup of coffee? Do you schedule time to work out? Do you call your mom?

Those small, individual decisions we make every day can add up to have a big impact.

It’s tricky for health-care marketers because we are encouraging consumers to make certain decisions—such as small, healthier choices each day that add up—but the payoff for those decisions doesn’t come for years down the road and may be hard to trace back to their original decisions.

In other categories, consumers get immediate gratification, but we don’t have the equivalent of that new car smell that reaffirms your good choice each day when you get in to drive. And we have the added challenge of convincing consumers that they arrived at those decisions on their own.

I’ve developed three strategies for doing exactly that.

Working Toward The Same Goal

In health-care marketing, campaigns have to be a collaborative process between the brand and the consumer. The good news is that health marketing is a win-win, which makes collaboration worth it for everyone. We all want the same thing: lifelong health and well-being.

It is important to actively engage consumers early and throughout the marketing process. Ongoing engagement is critical to influencing behavior over time, especially since the payoff is not immediate.

By leveraging advanced analytics and rigorous testing and learning, we can know whose health would benefit from which steps and programs. But people are only human, and creating sustained behavior change around health is not easy. Be honest: How many times have you rolled back over, telling yourself you’d exercise after work instead?

To influence something as important and personal as health, we must build trusted relationships with our consumers by learning what is most important to them. Then, continuously demonstrate to them that we care by putting easy-to-use tools and expert resources in place to help them reach small goals at first, then bigger milestones, and ultimately help them maintain new health habits and routines over the long term.

Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop **

** Most marketing campaigns have clearly defined, near-time goals based upon short-fused incentives like discounted prices, limited time offers, and the like.

In health care, long-term goals can be just as defined. Humana, for example, aims to improve the health of communities we serve 20% by the year 2020. But the short-term actions we ask consumers to take to get there are as varied as the individuals.

Consider how the definition of health varies from person to person. Not everyone wants to run a marathon. Some simply want to be able to walk to the store. One person may have an hour to walk, while another really needs that hour to meditate or sleep.

Our messages must also be sustained over time without becoming tedious or annoying. We might suggest consumers eat healthy foods and exercise. If a consumer takes one fitness class or stocks up on fruits and vegetables during one grocery trip, that’s encouraging, but having those choices persist as their new normal is the real win.

By putting ourselves in the mindset of our customers, we know we need to create a steady drumbeat—through paid and earned media, traditional and social platforms, direct mail, and purpose-built apps—until people feel empowered to make small, sustainable healthy choices every day.

Giving It Time **

** Most marketing campaigns are designed to produce results as quickly as possible. In health care, we must be patiently aggressive. We have to create engagement initiatives that promote frequent and repeated activity, and we have to realize that while we may see incremental progress in the short term, we won’t reach our goal immediately.

Smaller, repeatable actions create sustained changes. The only way we’ll achieve our long-term goals is to make health fun and easy so consumers make healthy choices over and over again.

We nudge them, but they make the choice.

As marketers, that may be the hardest part. We research, listen, analyze, create, and execute a campaign, and celebrate the positive results, but the consumer deserves all the credit.

In the end, individuals make their own decisions. We have to be OK with knowing they won’t think about us when they take that once-in-a-lifetime trip to scale a mountain or chase their grandkids around at age 86 because their success is our success.

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