Whether it’s connected TV, AI or COVID-19 – the healthcare marketing industry is rarely short on so-called “disruptors.” 

However, marketers are already turning their attention to emerging trends and new disruptors that they expect to roll out – and create a potentially big impact – in 2024.

At Digital Pharma East 2023, Publicis Health Media president Andrea Palmer led a panel outlining the five biggest disruptors she expects to play out heading into next year – and opened up a conversation on how healthcare marketers can work to match them and tackle the challenges.

MM+M spoke with Palmer after her panel Wednesday, to dig in a little deeper on some of her insights about the next biggest disruptors.

This interview has been edited lightly for length and clarity.

MM+M: You’ve been tracking the biggest trends and disruptors in healthcare marketing on an annual basis for some time now. What makes this year different from years past?

I always say, ‘I have the best job in the world’ because it’s never the same any year, or any month for that matter. There’s always something new, whether a challenge or opportunity. The whole industry is disruptive.

What’s unique about this industry is that media, technology, channels and consumption – and the way people view and understand content – changes so quickly.

So does the healthcare industry – it moves fast. What people expect of their healthcare, how they expect to receive care, how they expect to understand, how much of an active role versus the passive role they want to play in those things changes. 

How this year is a little different from years past is that we’re starting to see some of the big media trends lean into some of the things that pharma has been involved in for a long time.

MM+M: What are the five biggest trends or disruptors you foresee having an impact on healthcare marketing in 2024?

1. The writer’s strike. When I talk to clients every day, they’re all asking, ‘What are we going to do about the writers’ strike? What does that do to the way that we run our programming?’ 

We’ve relied on things like late-night shows or things like primetime for such a long time. If that is taking a little bit of a hiatus, what does that mean for us? That’s something we have to figure out and have a new approach for going into this new year.

2. Social. Social media has been something that pharma has been leaning into over the past couple of years, but every time something changes, it becomes a panic moment of, ‘What now? What should we do? What’s safe?’

We’ve finally gotten to a place as an industry where social media has been an acceptable, safe and effective channel. Still, when everything shifts and changes, and you don’t have the same expectations or you don’t know exactly what to expect, it causes anxiety around what that means for brands.

3. Data. I bet if I were to turn around here and talk to any of the people in the room, they’re all going to try to sell me their data and it’s all incredibly valuable. 

But how much is too much? What is the right stuff to buy? How do you make sense of it all? What’s a need to have versus a nice to have? Where do I even start? There’s so much of it out there and it’s hard to make sense of what to do with it all.

For the past couple of years, it’s been on the rise. However, it’s reached such a fever pitch in terms of how much is available and how it’s being commercialized. I think this is the year that it becomes a truly disruptive force. 

4. Sports. I noted a number on the panel – that 100 out of 116 television programs are sports-related. It makes all the sense in the world. You used to be able to go to the major sports networks and channels to capture those eyeballs, but now Amazon’s in the game. You have different streaming services in the game. One of our disruptors last year was about how you make sense of all the different streaming channels: connected TV, linear TV, addressable TV, all the different ways to buy the content.

Sports was one of the few areas that was live-tuned in and viewership-oriented. What’s that going to mean and how is that going to fragment audiences? It’s a ripe time to talk about that for healthcare.

5. Retail. The “retail-ization” of healthcare has seen a ton of movement over the past couple of years. However, as we go into 2024, what that means continues to evolve into change. 

We’ve seen a ton of interest and a ton of different big box names, with big brands taking an active stance in the retail-ization of healthcare. We’re excited to look at how that plays a role in new channels, activations and strategies in the way consumers experience healthcare. 

MM+M: When you mention there are always changes happening in social media – what role do new platforms like TikTok or Threads emerging play in some of those constant changes?

Palmer: TikTok was once a small platform and then look how fast it became a must-have on every single person’s phone. Also, Elon Musk purchased X (formerly Twitter) and that went from a platform that we were actively engaged in for both healthcare professionals and for consumers – to something that was basically a nonstarter for some time.

Those types of changes are massive when platforms become a mainstay in different marketing mixes, and then all of the sudden something dramatically shifts. We have to figure out what to do with new emerging formats as well. When TikTok started, it became clear that the format was different. The way to engage in social channels is about the reach and how many people are tuned in, but it’s also about what they’re doing there.

All of these different platforms and social channels are also replicating each other’s products. You have TikTok and now you have Instagram reels, you have Twitter and now you have Threads. It becomes a similar format on a different channel, but you can’t just run the same ad. You have to think about the usage, the expectations and lean into building the right ecosystem. 

MM+M: Is the impact of the writers’ strike on healthcare or healthcare marketers fully clear yet? Do you expect that impact to be felt throughout next year?

Palmer: That’s obviously not specific to just healthcare. 

However, when we’re talking to our clients, they want to understand the impact of the strikes on them. Those clients do a lot of premium programming through Prime and late-night in news. Some of it continues as business as usual and some of it doesn’t. This goes without saying, but pharma is a huge player in that whole space, from a dollars perspective.

It changes the way we have to be prepared. We’re still figuring it out. I’m thinking about the last time something like this happened – which was when reality TV took the front seat. All of a sudden we went from having a couple of reality shows to reality and unscripted programming being huge. 

So the question becomes – and this is why it’s a disruptor – what’s going to be the next reality boom or a different boom? It’s not like people are going to go do things that don’t involve content – they’re just going to have to go find content differently. So the trend becomes a disruptor because we have to figure out: What’s the new thing to consume, and where and how do we make sure that we’re there in a meaningful way?

MM+M: Do you have any words of advice or thoughts on how healthcare marketers can prepare for some of these disruptors heading into 2024?Palmer: Prepare to not be prepared. Prepare for what you can prepare for, but there’s going to be a lot of things that we have to be willing to make quick decisions on and figure out how to do some pilots, get comfortable and expand quickly. As an industry, it’s hard to do that – so we have to figure out how to do that safely and then figure out how to scale. That’s where brands are going to be able to win, by starting early and being early adopters of some of the trends.

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