What do the survey results tell you about the state of the union, so to speak, for healthcare marketing?

The stars are shining brightly in the healthcare marketing universe. Advances in science and medicine and the growing connectivity between patients and providers is remaking healthcare. In concert, healthcare marketing is moving toward far more personalized narratives that speak directly to each audience’s unique needs. We’re helping more people feel acknowledged, understood, and included when it comes to matters of health.

What do the survey data tell you about the industry’s continuing evolution?

We’re at the beginning of a monumental pivot, one in which we put human experience at the center of everything we do. In marketing, we’re turning data and platforms and untested abstractions into resonant content and brand engagement. That’s a real shift from where we’ve been in the past two decades — mass messaging, spray-and-pray, armies of sales reps beating down doctors’ doors.

This year’s exuberant survey results show the continued move to digital dominance, which is no surprise, with patient engagement and social media leading the way in channel growth and tactics such as marketing analytics and marketing AI posting some of the biggest percent increases. Some of the other building blocks of this pivot, such as big data, connecting the top, middle, and lower marketing funnels, and collaborations with health-tech entrants, still remain squarely in the challenge and opportunity space.

Are healthcare marketers embracing this evolution?

Yes, without a doubt. The goal is to create precision marketing ecosystems that can intelligently respond across the health journey to needs through sensing with data-rich insights, agile creative, and automated platforms working in concert to deliver resonant content and personalized experiences, with predictive analytics, machine learning and AI optimizing it all.

Marketers’ optimism and ambition and the growing embrace of new approaches, along with increased budgets, are the proverbial rising tide that lifts all boats, right? For consultancies especially, it’s driven by the desire to shake up existing thinking and teams, with a major focus on marketing tech, data science, and machine learning.

For the moment, the survey data suggest marketers seem to be generally satisfied with their partners. But the trajectory we’re seeing has the potential to upend those traditional client/agency relationships. The sophistication of clients and teams on the marketing side is beginning to exceed some agencies’ capability to serve them. A real divergence is starting to happen. We started by talking about shining stars, but even those can run out of fuel and burn out.

Do the data point to any other potential areas of concern?

I’m a pretty optimistic guy. I don’t spend a lot of time worrying about change and dynamism in the marketplace because that’s been our reality for some time now. But one thing I have been thinking about is the moves in DC to end the tax deduction for DTC advertising, which would fundamentally change commercial economics.

If companies cannot deduct marketing expenses for DTC — not just TV, but print and social media and everything else — that changes the overall financial equation in big ways. Marketers will have to think differently about how they spend money. It will become a very different calculation for them. Then there will be the trickle down to agencies and their holding companies, who may find themselves in a challenging situation. It’s like a whack-a-mole — the issue seems to keep resurfacing and it’s hard to ignore the momentum.

Were there any surprises among the survey data?

AR and VR aren’t growing at the rate I expected. I was also taken by what seems to be a moderate decline in content marketing. Frankly, I wonder if brands and companies are using content marketing the right way.

As expectations grow and omnichannel experiences have become table stakes, content strategy is key to so many fundamental marketing concepts. In order to continue to meet and exceed service expectations and differentiate with creative and content across all channels and customer segments, cohesive content strategy is essential.

The key is identifying areas of white space where companies and brands can address unmet customer needs alongside baseline informational needs and to track with those needs over time — so when we personalize, we can address where in the journey a person is and serve the right content at the right time. Smart content marketing and related personalization schema are often the unseen engines behind successful platforms and campaigns.

So are pharma and healthcare marketers ready for what comes next?

I’ve been beating the pharma-marketers-are-laggards drum for my entire career, but our clients have improved the quality of their marketing. There’s been lots of turnover of chief marketing officers and chief digital officers, and they’ve been replaced with people from outside the industry. The caliber of people is profoundly different, and higher, than it was a few years ago.

There’s plenty to be encouraged by. Larger-scale bets are being made around marketing automation and training, and they’re going to pay off in spades. The general vibe is one of ambition. We’re at the beginning of a real generational shift. And those stars that burn out, well, their remnants shine on and seed future generations of stars, don’t they?

To read the complete MM&M/Deloitte Healthcare Marketers Trend Report 2019, click here.