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May 28

Marketing guru, Seth Godin, recently wrote a post titled, “On Becoming a Household Name.” He comments on the amount of advertising out there that doesn’t even offer basic features and benefits, but rather just puts the brand name out there.  He says “it’s completely irrational” but brand recognition alone works wonders. He writes:

Being a familiar name takes you miles closer to closing a sale. People like to buy from companies they’ve heard of.

“Awareness” has long been recognized as the first step in a long prodding sales cycle. What Seth doesn’t write, but I strongly believe is that while advertising without benefits to me is irrational, it works over time because it builds trust.

Awareness helps to build trust, and trust is the single most important attribute related to sales success.

Now there are many different ways to increase trust, but familiarity is a basic one. Someone approaches you the first time you won’t trust them (kids, don’t talk to strangers!); if you see them around the neighborhood all the time you’re more likely to trust them. If you drive by a company down the street repeatedly for ten years, it’s likely you can trust that they’ll still be there next year. If you see a company’s ad on TV over and over again, at least you can trust they are big enough to afford TV ads!

So what does this mean for healthcare marketers? Consider these scenarios:

  • You take your 12-year old daughter to the doctor to talk about getting an HPV vaccine; would you ask about the vaccine you never heard of, or the one you know because you are one of 100,000 fans on their Facebook page?
  • You are pregnant and there are three hospitals within a short drive away; would you choose one you have little familiarity with, or the one whose tweets you’ve been following have addressed prenatal care, new parent workshops, and baby name contests?

Seth’s simple statement has big implications for the use of social media for healthcare marketers. Awareness is the first step to building trust and brings “you miles closer to closing a sale.

Research clearly shows that healthcare consumerism is a reality. Physicians’ choice of medications can be influenced by the patients’ brand request. Women choose which hospital to deliver their babies in. Many choose where to go for their orthopedic surgery, colonoscopy, and cancer therapy.

Is your brand a household name?


May 26

The real value of social media is that it gives you the ability to listen,” one consultant offered.

Another panelist suggested, “I think Twitter and blogs should be used more for corporate communications and PR than for brand promotion.”

The Professor tried to tackle the big issue, “You can’t really measure ROI of social media, but if you look at a traditional marketing model, and assume social media leads to even a 1% increase in awareness, that should lead to big gains in sales and profits.

I heard these comments from distinguished panelists at recent forum on the pharmaceutical industry’s use of social media. Each comment was offered in response to a question from the audience, and each comment on its own is very valid.

But what wasn’t addressed was that these comments taken all together raise an even larger issue: What is the purpose of social media, and is the return on investment (ROI) question even valid?roi1

The dreaded ROI question seems to come from those who aren’t themselves familiar with social media; many skeptical marketers ask, “What’s the ROI of Twitter or YouTube?

If social media should be used to LISTEN, then the dreaded ROI question can be batted away with the comparison, “What’s the ROI of focus groups?“  Clearly marketers use focus groups to gain insights all the time and don’t ever pause to calculate its ROI.

If social media is to be used for PUBLICITY, then the ROI question is easily handled with the counter, “What’s the ROI of press releases?”  Press releases are still the bread and butter of PR firms and corporate communication departments and nobody ever asks to see the link between a press release and an increase in market share.

If social media is to be used to increase sales, and I think it can (I can hear the gasps already!), then you can track ROI the same way you would track your other online media campaigns. Like other e-marketing campaigns your call to action can be tracked in total clickthroughs and conversions on specific landing pages.

And all of this is part of the problem, and power, of social media. It can be used for all three purposes: Listen, Promote, Sell.  And it gets confusing to talk about social media when you aren’t clear about what the intent is. Focus groups and surveys give you market intelligence, but they don’t actually promote. Press releases and media tours are great to build awareness, but you don’t learn much about the market. And direct sales efforts drive sales, but isn’t optimal for listening or awareness building.

Social media lets you listen, promote, and sell. And that makes it great, and that can make it confusing.

So what do you use it for? What ROI are you expecting?


May 19

The chatter among healthcare marketers with regard to social media often seems to be stuck on the moscdct basic of questions (e.g., What is it? Why should we do it? What about adverse event reporting? How do we start?). Yet, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) has quietly been doing best-in-class new media marketing and education for some time.

The most recent example of this has been the rapid, comprehensive roll-out of H1N1 (swine flu) information.  While the main CDC flu website and their social media tools site aren’t very pretty to look at, they cover all the most important online media tactics.

  1. Homepage—their main H1N1 webpage serves as a hub for information clear navigation is matched with robust features including subscribe via RSS or email, links to Twitter, and a strong search function.
  2. Search Engine Optimization—SEO is clearly not a priority at the CDC; their main flu site doesn’t even populate the keywords metatags. But being the CDC means you probably don’t have to. Their standard text page, rich in content, indexes well with Google and the number of inbound links to the CDC in general guarantees good ranking results. They are currently #2 behind Wikipedia for “H1N1 flu” and #1 for “swine flu” on Google.
  3. YouTube—YouTube now gets more search traffic than any other site except Google (source: ComScore) and delivers over 100 million (yes, 100 million) videos per month. The CDC YouTube channel has 46 different videos with an H1N1 video getting almost a million views in the last two weeks alone.
  4. Twitter—the CDC maintains four different Twitter accounts including 2 different ones for the flu, which is a bit confusing. Their main account @CDCemergency has an impressive 170,000 followers.
  5. Facebook & MySpace—the CDC fan page on Facebook currently has 6,300 “fans” and their MySpace has 900 “friends”.
  6. Mobile—keenly aware of just how many people are now surfing the web from their phones, CDC also provides content optimized for mobile delivery at
  7. Flickr—the most widely used photo-sharing site, the CDC has uploaded 15 flu related images to Flickr which garnered over 2,200 views in less than 3 weeks.
  8. Podcasts—over 12 audio and video podcasts, in English and Spanish, can be found on iTunes.
  9. Widgets—the most innovative e-health marketing tactic the CDC uses is widgets which syndicates content across other websites. Currently you can paste the widget code into your own webpage or blog to offer a real-time map of confirmed cases in the USA, real-time pandemic flu news, and H1N1 tips.

While the H1N1 outbreak is a unique situation and the CDC brings unmatched credibility and authority as a source, there is no reason why any health marketer shouldn’t adopt these social media tactics. Whether you are selling a glucose meter, an RA drug, or promoting a hospital social media can be among the most cost-effective ways to connect with health consumers.

Where should you start? Make sure you have a strong website that is rich in content—content about health or your related disease state, NOT just about your product or service. Make sure you have a YouTube channel with appropriate videos, establish a Facebook page so fans can gather and keep in touch, and begin to participate in relevant communities and conversations on Twitter.

While there is no guarantee you’ll get a million views or 200,000 followers, you’ll certainly be reaching thousands of active health consumers and influencers in your market.


May 14

The annual Deloitte Survey of Health Care Consumers is must read research—along with the Manhattan Research Cybercitizen Survey and the Pew Internet Project—for those interested in the e-patient movement.

The overarching goal of the 2009 Deloitte survey is to understand whether or not Americans are behaving like traditional consumers when it comes to health care. Some of the key findings include:

  • 30% have compared doctors online in prior 12 months
  • 6 in 10 looked online for treatment information
  • 9% have a personal health record, 42% would want a PHR if their doctor’s office was linked to it too
  • Only 4 in 10 take medications as directed

We know from previous survey research that the vast majority of Americans now search online for health information.  Going further, Deloitte segments the population into six cohorts: Content & Compliant, Shop & Save, Out & About, Casual & Cautious, and most active as e-patients are the Online and Onboard and the Sick and Savvy, with a combined representation of 33.3%.


An analysis of e-patients as consumers will be critical to learning how to best connect, engage, and educate them. While marketers routinely profile doctors by product adoption behaviors (eg, innovative to conservative), patients are generally segmented by disease specifics. Thinking of patients as health consumers could lead to fresh marketing approaches. For example, the Online & Onboard and Sick & Savvy segments look suspiciously like Innovators and Early Adopters to use the Diffusion of Innovations theory of Everett Rogers.

The Deloitte survey covers a lot of ground but its number one finding is that healthcare is a consumer market. Not that it should be, or that it will become one. We are already acting as health consumers, and we will embrace that which adds to our care, convenience and control.

Deloitte raises key questions for the life science industry:

  • Can therapeutics makers assist consumers in medical adherence and healthier lifestyles?
  • How can drug and biotech companies create and sustain brand loyalty among users?
  • What innovative channels offer increased access to consumer markets?

I loved Deloitte’s conclusions as they support so much of the work I’m passionate about.

Consumerism in health care is not a threat to stakeholders that recognize the value of connecting with end users who ultimately drive demand…

The findings of this study suggest that growing numbers of consumers want to be actively engaged.

Consumerism is not a fad; it is a trend of enormous significance.

So what do you think? Is healthcare consumerism a fait accompli? Will healthcare marketing strategies have to be more focused on the consumer rather than the physician?


May 08

Even e-Patient Dave asked me, “What do you mean by e-patient?”

Dave deBronkart and I had just met each other at the Health 2.0 Meets Ix Conference and his question was prompted by my explanation that I was focused on understanding the best ways to reach, engage and educate today’s “e-patient.” Dave is known widely by his Twitter and Blogger handle of “e-patient Dave.”

And even before I could answer his question, e-Patient Judy Feder introduced herself to us both, and within a minute she asked the same question, “What do you mean by e-patient?”

This was a question I was asked about a dozen times while up at the Health 2.0 conference. The unplanned theme of the conference turned out to be the importance of participatory medicine, putting the patient at the center of care and at the center of the system. And yet over and over again people were asking me what I meant by “e-patient.”

Dave and Judy knew what I was referring to, but they were just checking my definition against theirs. Using the definition coined by the late Tom Ferguson, they consider an e-patient to be one that is equipped, enabled, empowered and engaged in their health care. In fact, you can read a white paper about the e-Patient Scholars Working Group.

I like that definition by I think we need to add a few more e’s to the mix: educated, expressive, expert, electronic—although one could argue that these words are implied in the original four.

e-patient defintion

e-patient defintion

But while Dave and Judy were just checking on me, many of the others who asked were uempowered patientnfamiliar with the term e-patient. Perhaps “empowered patient” is one that they could relate to? That term certainly has wide visibility thanks to CNN. Perhaps “digital health consumer” is more common?

I became curious about the usage of these different terms so I turned to Google to see how many hits it found for different terms.

I’m actually surprised that e-patient is found more frequently than empowered patient. Although it’s apparently used less often than e-patient, I would think that to the lay person “empowered patient” carries some immediate understanding.

I’d like to humbly suggest that we all make concerted effort to drive the use of “e-patient” in communications around health and healthcare. Having a word for something is of course critical to gaining an understanding for the thing. Maybe at the next Health 2.0 conference we will hear the term e-patient used dozens of time up on stage? Maybe between now and then the term will get blogged and tweeted a few thousand more times? And maybe, just maybe, we’ll have a news segment called “The e-Patient.”

So now it’s your turn…Is e-patient the right term? Is it a losing battle to try to get more people to adopt it?