Digital marketing in healthcare: Strategies for success

Create a comprehensive digital marketing strtegy

Healthcare digital marketing uses a range of online tools, technologies, and strategies to engage patients, stakeholders, and other core audiences. Digital marketing encompasses a huge range of channels, including your website, social media, digital advertising (PPC), website optimisation (SEO), and more. Healthcare organisations increasingly combine digital marketing with traditional marketing when promoting digital services. 

In this guide, 42group’s expert healthcare digital marketing team have shared their insights into how to build a digital marketing campaign, the channels you can use, the power of content, and why you shouldn’t ignore traditional marketing. Let’s start at the very beginning by defining what digital marketing is…

(Before you start reading, this is a basic guide to healthcare digital marketing. If you’re an expert and want detailed insights, check out our Answers page as you’ll probably already know all this.)

What is digital marketing in healthcare?

Traditional marketing is based on eliciting an action. For example, you see an advert for a product, and go out and you buy it. The relationship between advertising (and investment) is linear.

Digital marketing is all about building relationships.

Let’s illustrate this with an example. A recent Drum article (the bible for marketers) explains how Airbnb has ditched its direct approach to selling breaks and instead focused on brand building. At the core of this shift is an understanding that we, as consumers, don’t want to be sold to – we want to build relationships with businesses, brands, and organisations. 

All sounds good. But does it work? The new approach saw Airbnb increase revenue by 24% in a cutthroat market.

The lesson from Airbnb is that brand-building with your audience is highly effective. The brand used multiple channels to improve brand perception, providing valuable content and building a favourable impression of the brand through its advertising. 

Healthcare organisations aren’t selling holidays, but they are focused on improving health – and for that, you need to build relationships. 

Digital marketing uses online channels, including your website, social media platforms, digital advertising, and more, to build what 42group calls “human connections”.

When we talk to clients and customers about digital marketing, we’re not talking about a single channel or one-off activity but a comprehensive and integrated range of online activities.

Traditional marketing impact is calculated using basic metrics like sales and profit. Digital marketing channels, in contrast, produce a huge amount of data – on customer preferences, campaign success, actions, and impact – that can be used to optimise campaigns. 

Digital marketing is much more responsive, enabling marketers (and their clients) to analyse the impact of campaigns (sometimes in real-time) and optimise them. Over time, this means your digital marketing efforts are more effective at building relationships and driving action.

Technology has enabled more sophisticated marketing strategies that deliver personalisation and efficiency. CRM systems, for example, can help in managing patient relationships more effectively. Combining that with data provided by digital platforms can provide insights into patient behaviours and preferences. Marketers can create content and craft messages that create personal connections. It’s the ultimate aim of all marketing. 

We’re 100% convinced that every healthcare organisation can benefit from digital marketing to boost their business and brand. But they must approach it strategically, analysing their audience, identifying the best channels, creating content, publishing it, analysing impact, and optimising the campaign.

This is a really basic explainer about what digital marketing is and how it works. Don’t worry if you have questions; we’re going to answer those below… 

The patient journey in the digital age

Most healthcare organisations, pharmaceutical businesses, and medical device companies aren’t motivated to sell to patients (at least in the UK). Instead, they want to build relationships with patients that last.

The digital revolution has transformed the patient journey. The modern patient journey isn’t linear but is a multi-channel experience. Patients engage with healthcare providers, pharma companies and medical brands through a variety of touchpoints, including online, through social media interactions, and digital health tools.

We can see from our own experience that digital technologies have transformed patient engagement, expectations, and awareness. Healthcare information is more accessible than ever. 

Studies have found that 58% of us will Google our symptoms before an appointment, and 62% of us will check after. The same study found that users found it hard to discern between trustworthy information and sources of misinformation.

On the one hand, access to information enables patients to make informed decisions about their care. However, there’s a growing risk of misinformation online, the dangers of self-diagnosis, and the risk of patients becoming overwhelmed.

Patients expect healthcare providers and medical organisations to have a presence across various digital touchpoints. The most successful are proactive, developing materials and campaigns, and accessing channels to meet patients where they are. This can include educational blog posts, apps, social media platforms, and even online patient portals.

Healthcare organisations need to adopt a multi-channel marketing approach, ensuring that patients receive consistent messaging and support throughout their healthcare journey. By using different channels, healthcare providers can cater to the preferences of a diverse patient population. It’s true that the more channels you use the more choice you offer patients. 

Brands that want to connect with patients must build a digital marketing strategy. Here are some of the things you should consider when creating yours:

  • Content marketing
  • Social media
  • Healthcare SEO
  • Email marketing
  • Pay-per-click and paid-for social campaigns
  • Campaign analytics and optimisation

Don’t want to go it alone? 42group is a specialist digital marketing agency that works with healthcare companies like yours. Learn here why you should work with a dedicated healthcare digital marketing agency (and get in touch!)

Content marketing – educating, engaging & inspiring

Content marketing in healthcare isn’t about promoting your product or service it’s primarily used as a tool to educate patients and build trust. When done well, content marketing can establish your business, band, or organisation as the leading voice or authority in any area. How? Through high-quality content that’s 100% focussed on your audience and their needs. 

Healthcare content can take many forms. Educational content, for example, can range from blog posts explaining health conditions to videos demonstrating medical procedures. Medical device companies producing content that directly answers patient questions can reduce the burden on customer service teams. Healthcare providers offering advice on available services and how to access them can ensure patients access the right treatment at the right time. Healthtech companies that gamify the experience of learning how to use an app can reduce the number of users that drop out.

In all these examples, content is being used to support individuals through their healthcare journey. It can ensure your product is used correctly and safely. It can establish service expectations and help patients understand outcomes. 

Most importantly, it builds a human connection between the person and your brand.

Lesson #1: Understand your audience

Content marketing only works if you understand your audience. 

We’re not going to go into detail here, but you need to invest time and resource into building a pictureof the people you want to communicate with. This can include creating patient personas, mapping the patient journey, social listening, keyword analysis, and quantitative research.

The purpose of this is to ensure you are developing content that addresses the concerns and questions of each persona – and using the channels they use.

Healthcare content can take many forms, but we primarily focus on:

  • Websites
  • Blogs
  • Patient communications materials, including leaflets
  • Whitepapers
  • Animations
  • Videos
  • Podcasts

Driving everything should be your healthcare content marketing strategy. Read more in our guide to writing a healthcare content marketing strategy.

Creating great content is the beginning, but you must ensure it reaches your audience. This involves SEO, sharing content across social media platforms, and using direct channels to engage patients. (We cover all this and more below…)

In addition to channels you own, you should also consider working with healthcare partners, collaborating with influencers, and investing in good old-fashioned healthcare PR to extend your reach and amplify your impact

Want to know more? Read our detailed guide to healthcare content marketing.

Building communities with healthcare social media

Social media is a powerful platform for every healthcare organisation to build communities, share information, and directly engage patients. By actively participating – and in some cases, leading discussions on social platforms, healthcare providers can support patients, answer their questions, and increase brand awareness and perception. support, 

Social media can also be a valuable source of emotional support for patients. Brands can create social media campaigns that become an opportunity to share experiences and build empathy.

Crafting a social media strategy 

Social media marketing is complex and can cover multiple channels, including:

  • Facebook
  • X (formerly Twitter)
  • Instagram
  • TikTok
  • LinkedIn

Each channel has a specific audience and its strengths and weaknesses. At 42group, we regularly create content for social media, but we’re not social media strategists – that’s a job for a specialist. 

Social media strategists will take information about your audience (demographics, behaviour, preferences, etc) and select a mixture of appropriate channels to target them. They’ll work with you (or with us) to create a social media campaign that helps you build an online presence, establish a community, and create connections. 

Social media can be highly powerful and effective, but too many healthcare businesses make common mistakes. We’ve created a detailed guide packed full of examples of successful healthcare social media campaigns to illustrate what works and why. 

As with all digital marketing campaigns, you’ll be able to track the success of campaigns through data. You can analyse various metrics, such as engagement rates, follower growth, and the sentiment of the discussions. You don’t need to do this alone; agencies like 42group have access to advanced tools and analytics platforms to provide these insights. When you have them, you can use this information to refine strategies to deliver successful campaigns.

Note: Does 42group provide social media strategies?

Social media marketing is an increasingly important part of every patient engagement and healthcare marketing strategy. At 42group, we’re primarily focused on creating content. We work with expert social strategists (either freelancers or agencies) to create a campaign structure that’s effective for the long term and built around your audience. 

Why? Social media is a rapidly changing sector and demands specialist skills that we don’t have in-house. Recognising our skillset and partnering with others gives us scale and enables us to do more for our clients. 

The full-service agency model is dead. Instead, marketers and leaders should create a blended team of agencies and in-house specialists to deliver all projects. 

Healthcare SEO: Smashing search engine results

Creating healthcare content is critical, but without an audience, it’s a wasted effort. Search engine optimisation (SEO) is critical for healthcare providers to ensure content, products, services, and solutions are visible to patients when they search for them. 

If we experience a healthcare problem, many of us will type the symptoms into Google before calling a medical professional. (For some people, this can become a compulsion, causing a condition termed cyberchondria.) 

Simply put, appearing on page #1 of Google is critical for directing traffic to your website, and SEO is how you achieve it.

SEO best practices for healthcare websites

Healthcare SEO involves improving both the on-page and off-page experience. What does that mean in terms that we can all understand?

On-page improvements are things you can do to improve your website (making it run faster, improving accessibility, publishing quality content, etc). Off-page improvements include link building, content sharing, and social media promotion to improve the visibility of your site and boost its external validation.  

Let’s start with the basics. Google is trying to show users the best result for any search. It analyses your website and grades it according to its speed, accessibility, and the overall quality of your content. It uses various signals (both on your website and off it) when deciding how relevant it is to a search. 

At 42group, we take a content-first approach to SEO. We use various tools to understand the keywords you want to target (delving deep into the data to identify opportunities to grab audience share). Once we’ve identified relevant keywords, we’ll optimise existing content, updating meta tags and descriptions and rewriting content. 

Google – and your audience – wants a steady stream of content that provides value and answers questions. We develop a schedule to regularly publish high-quality content that’s focused on your audience. 

Of course, the quality of your content is irrelevant if your website user experience is poor. Technical SEO includes ensuring the site functions correctly, it’s fast and is easy to navigate. Your site must function flawlessly on mobile (and yes, Google checks this!). Behind the scenes, technical SEO experts will work through any problems (dead links, 404s, etc) to ensure Google builds the best picture of your site.

SEO is a full-time job, and is a vital part of any digital marketing strategy for any healthcare organisation.

Search engine algorithms are constantly changing, and it’s critical that you – or your agency partner –  stay aware of any updates to safeguard your position. Algorithm changes can have a huge impact on ranking like the most recent update did in October 2023.

Email Marketing – Personalising the patient experience

Direct marketing is dead, right? Wrong. Healthcare providers engage with an audience for whom direct marketing remains an effective channel. We know that email marketing is a powerful tool for personalising the experience and maintaining ongoing patient relationships. Email marketing can include personalised and targeted emails throughout the patient journey, sharing relevant content through newsletters, building an online community – or all three.

  • Email platforms: Email marketing platforms (like MailChimp or Hubspot) enable businesses to create beautiful branded emails for every user. You can create generic content (like a regular newsletter, for example) that goes out to everyone on a list, or schedule communication to go out at timed intervals to support the patient onboarding experience. Email platforms are powerful, safe, and secure – and identifyig the right one is your first task.
  • Strategies to personalise email campaigns: Personalisation can range from addressing patients by name (at the start of a newsletter email, for example) to providing information relevant to their conditions or treatments. To achiee this, you’ll need to use your email platform to segment your audience, tailoring content to meet the specific needs of different patient groups and patients
  • Analyzing and Improving email marketing performance: Email platforms provide data which enables you to track the success of email marketing campaigns. You’ll be able to assess open rates, click-through rates, and conversion rates. Healthcare marketers can and should use these metrics to fine-tune email strategies, testing different subject lines, content formats, and calls to action to discover what’s most effective.

Pay-per-click and paid-for social campaigns

Pay-per-click and paid-for social campaigns are a vital marketing channel to engage patients and the public. Google’s pay-per-click solution enables you to secure a position for your website at the top of every relevant search (if you’ve got the budget to pay for it). 

Google Shopping will provide a link to buy in a carousel when customers search for yours (or a competitors) product. 

Facebook, Instagram, X, and TikTok all have powerful advertising platforms that enable you to create campaigns to achieve your marketing objectives.

Add to that the power of retargeting (were ads effectively follow your audience across channels and platforms), and it becomes clear why PPC is so powerful.

PPC campaigns work on a simple concept: you pay for every time an interested customer clicks on your advert. Social media companies provide you with a price to target a specified number of people with specific demographics, characteristics, or behaviour (which you define).

The world of PPC and paid-for social advertising is complex, but it’s an essential marketing tool for healthcare organisations. 

PPC and paid-for social campaigns can be used for any purpose, including:

  • Awareness raising
  • Product promotion
  • Community building
  • Customer acquisition

One of the key strengths of PPC and paid social campaigns is the powerful systems that enable marketers to pinpoint with precision their audiences. Want to speak to 40 year old woman in Manchester? Google and Facebook can do that in about 8 clicks. 

There’s so much more we could (and will) write about PPC and paid-social campaigns, but if you’re not using them, you’re going to get left behind.

Analytics and Data-Driven Decision Making

Digital marketing creates data, and marketers must have the ability to use this to improve decision making and optimise campaign performance. As well as improving the day-to-daye performance of campaigns, it’s powerful in predicting future marketing trends and patient behaviours.

We don’t have the space or time to provide a step-by-step guide on using analytics, but here are the basics:

  • Establishing campaign marketing metrics: When creating your marketing campaigns, you must at the same time define the metrics to measure campaign success, impact, and return on investment. This could be as simple as a search engine ranking, or fiendishly complex. It really depends on how detailed you (or your agency) want to get. At 42group, we’re big fans of data dashboards, providing a simple way of capturing and communicating campaign performance which can be shared with all key stakeholders.
  • Tracking marketing campaign performance: Digital marketing can access various tools are available to track the performance of digital marketing campaigns. Google Analytics, for example, can provides valuable insights into website traffic and user behavior. CRM systems like Hubspot can help track patient engagements and conversions. 
  • Using data to drive your marketing strategies: Data must be used to drive action. Regularly reviewing campaign data and your dashboard enables healthcare marketers and key stakeholders to identify what’s working and what isn’t. This allows for agile adjustments to marketing strategies, investing in activities that are delivering results. This can include reallocating budget to high-performing channels or revising messaging to ensure it resonates with your audience.

Marketing is about creativity, but it’s increasingly being driven by data – and that’s a good thing. Data doesn’t lie, and provides a transparent analysis of the impact and effectiveness of every investment. As an agency partner to healthcare businesses, we welcome the scrutiny.

The future of healthcare digital marketing

We’re optimistic about the future for healthcare digital marketing and see an  increase in personalisation, data-driven decision-making, and patient-centric strategies. Digital marketing can increase patient education, engagement, and power personalised healthcare. 

Healthcare marketers need to adapt to understand the power and potential of digital marketing. By using the tools, techniques, and approached outlines in this guide, healthcare marketers can crea stronger connections with patients and professionals. The result is better health outcomes and a boost to the bottom line.

42group: Healthcare digital marketing expertise

Healthcare digital marketing is a rapidly changing, but highly rewarding area – and it’s something we love. If you’re searching for a digital marketing partner for 2024, then get in touch with us today.

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