Building brand loyalty

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In the delicate courtship between brand and consumer, how do you make love bloom? For Dante Gaudio, SVP of health publisher Healthline, it's about moving beyond the initial attraction. “Our ultimate goal is to get a second date,” he told the audience at the company's “Leveraging influencers, social, and mobile” presentation at ePharma in March.  

“First you have to get the hello, or get the consumer to the site,” Gaudio said. “When we were honest with ourselves as a company, we were pretty good at getting the hello, but when it came to getting people to commit to us, we were lacking. So we decided to challenge ourselves to get that ‘second date' with our core audience.” 

To achieve Healthline's mission “to be your most trusted ally in the pursuit of health and well-being,” the benefit to the user is in the eye of the beholder, Gaudio explained. “How do we get a consumer to really pay attention to us? And what is a utility point that we can deliver against that's really going to engage and get that consumer's attention?”

“There is so much out there competing for people's attention,” he continued. “We have to look at our audience less like readers and more like health consumers who have the opportunity to be hundreds of other places besides our site when looking for answers or information. If their attention is not held or they are not captivated they will simply move on to the next thing, and that is something we are always conscious of.” 

After an in-depth analysis of searches on its site, Healthline's team found that chronic condition patients are a key audience. These patients clearly had a need for rapid responses to pressing medical questions, so they would prove to be a valuable focus group for the brand in testing the site's ability to deliver on that demand.   

The team conducted extensive research into users' profiles and their navigation of the site. “We wanted to know who they were and what they were going through so we could do our best to provide them with what they needed,” Gaudio noted. 

He and his team found that regardless of condition, people with chronic conditions felt isolated and misunderstood. 

“We knew if we were going to reach that community of patients with chronic conditions we were going to have make our content as personal, real, and vulnerable as possible,” Gaudio said. “We wanted to humanize these conditions by allowing people to tell their stories.” 

He found a perfect vehicle for this approach in social media. “Nowadays people want things raw and real. For chronic condition patients in particular, that is so important because they look at things through a different lens as it relates to them personally, so they have a very high demand for authenticity, and their concept of health is constantly evolving.” 



Gaudio noted that while mobile drives 70% of the site's traffic, and engagement on the brand's social platforms is increasing exponentially, Healthline is focused on continuing to build a relationship with its users. “We've spent a lot of time trying to establish a deeper connection,” he said. “To get people to stick with you, you've got to give them a reason to connect, and social has been the main driver of a lot of our relationships.” 

Gaudio explained influencer marketing is driving the brand's engagement with the chronic patient audience, and that his team plans to continue to leverage social influencers relevant to that user base. “It's a humanizing element. We have a whole initiative around real health, real human. It just makes sense because there's a base there. This person has probably walked in their shoes.” 

When asked by audience members how his team targets influencers, Gaudio said they look for someone who genuinely connects with the audience and takes the time to engage with followers. Quoting a recent MuseFind influencer report, he noted 92% of consumers trust an influencer more than an advertisement or traditional celebrity endorsement. 

Gaudio also shared some of the company's best practices in working with influencers which include carefully vetting partnerships to increase credibility, keeping the partnership collaborative, investing in a holistic relationship, delivering authentic personal experiences, and encouraging direct, actionable, and influencer “expert” opinions. 

“We try not to make the relationships with our influencers purely transactional,” Gaudio noted. “We have an obligation to try to maintain an ongoing relationship with them to preserve authenticity, so whether it's writing multiple pieces on the site, asking for their input, or having them participate in some other way in the online community, we definitely try to keep that relationship going.” 

He said the brand has found success in aligning with mid-level influencers and shared a quote from Rebecca Suhrawardi, a fashion journalist and Forbes contributor, which he said best explained this approach: “More and more, brands are turning to people with far less numbers of followers, sometimes even as low as 8,000, to help share their messages. In return, a brand receives intangible benefits such as authenticity, a unique point of view, deeper storytelling, and the potential of reaching a more tailored audience.” 

“We don't take the influencer and try to mold them into Healthline, but at the same time, they have to be a good match for the brand,” he noted. “It has to be someone who can speak credibly, but is relatable at the same time.”

His advice to pharma marketers who want to engage influencers to drive awareness to their brands was to counsel them to determine what they want out of the relationship at the outset.

“You need to have clarity on what it is you want to achieve. The relationship has to make sense. You need to do your due diligence by looking back at what this person has said or shared in the past relating to the disease state, and make sure it's accurate and credible. You need to have a good sense of what they're about and how they're perceived by their audience.” 

Gaudio said that in working with influencers, the brand has been able to experiment with some initiatives not typically seen in the chronic disease space. For example, comedian Doug Ackerman, who has MS, wrote a series of comic strips for the brand that resonated with readers. 

“When we look to inject humor in some of the content we're producing it can be a little scary because you're never 100% sure what the reaction is going to be or whether it will be deemed inappropriate,” he explained. “But in order to continue to stay relevant, we have to be willing to take risks, and we're okay with that. We didn't become the second largest consumer health site in the world by playing it safe.” 


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