HealthJuly 17, 2023

The three levels of media control when marketing to healthcare professionals

Explore an overview of how marketers can effectively target healthcare professionals through content and media by understanding the three levels of control available through each channel and the right tactics to employ along the marketing funnel.

Reaching HCPs is an uphill battle for many marketers. In a recent survey completed by Wolters Kluwer, 60% of HCPs claim that industry-sponsored messaging has no impact on their practice*. With their patient care and professional reputations at stake, they won’t trust brands if they don't feel they don’t have their best interests in mind.

Fortunately, HCPs turn to a wide variety of resources that can be assets to marketers identifying the three levels of control when using media which are: “controlled,” “possibly controlled,” and “uncontrollable.” Tactics with these qualities have different roles throughout the marketing funnel, which marketers can employ to drive engagement and results.

What are the three levels of media control?

The concept of "control" in media applies to a marketers’ ability to influence representations, discussions, and perceptions of their products and brands. We can group all media tactics into one or more levels of control, which are:

  1. Tactics that marketers can control, such as paid sponsorships and direct advertising
  2. Tactics that marketers can possibly control, such as interactions on social media
  3. Tactics that are uncontrollable, such as CMEs or the influence of HCPs’ colleagues

As indicated, different channels or means of engagement — tactics such as advertising, sponsoring live events, or posting on social media — facilitate one or more levels of control. For example, advertising is a one-way channel and easier to control, and social media provides limited control because it gives both marketers and the public a voice.

Understandably, the less control marketers have over the buzz around their brands, the greater the risk or potential rewards. A referral from a colleague is often more powerful than an advertisement, whereas an advertisement may not sway an HCP whose colleague dissuades them from adopting a product.

Control at each stage of the marketing funnel

Marketers who understand these three levels of control can plan their tactics accordingly. They will understand when to deploy tactics throughout the marketing funnel — that is, brand awareness, discovery, consideration, and conversion, followed by loyalty and advocacy. Here we consider the tactics marketers should employ at each junction.

Building brand awareness requires control

To begin, marketers should engage HCPs through paid channels such as sponsorships and direct advertising, which are within their control. They can participate in social media through formal announcements and content pieces while also limiting their participation in direct conversations.

Other tactics at the “awareness” stage can help them expand their reach. Preferred channels that enable controlled means of engagement include:

  • Professional portals
  • Reference publications
  • Newsletters
  • Convention sponsorships
  • Sales representatives
  • Mobile advertisements
  • Their own product website

Expand the conversation for discovery and consideration

Once marketers have created awareness of their product, they can employ tactics that influence conversations around that brand. Tactics marketers can control or possibly control include conference exhibit booths and the preliminary conversations that happen there. Affiliated key opinion leaders (KOLs) — reputable figures in their respectable fields — are more likely to provide an objective, genuine voice that can resonate with HCPs. Marketers can also educate those individuals about their projects.

Marketers are right to be cautious in professional social media channels where conversations around their brand can be difficult to control. But starting these conversations in a strategic way can help.

For example, nurses, physicians, and other healthcare professionals are most likely to find credibility and value in industry-sponsored messages that have independent peer-reviewed research to support or substantiate their claims or that have clinical data citations in the messaging. Starting conversations around these or other findings rather than the brand itself can drive healthier discussions rather than reactions to subjective ads.

Monitor and respond to uncontrollable elements

Marketers have now reached the conversion stage, where interested HCPs will have acquired enough information to consider adopting the product for their practice. Marketers will observe that conversations around their brand are occurring without their direct influence. Although this is an excellent outcome from their early marketing efforts, marketers are also at the mercy of nonaffiliated KOLs, media coverage, and independent conversations among colleagues in person, via direct message, or on social media.

Although it's impossible to control these conversations, it's important for marketers to monitor and respond to them where possible. This means keeping track of industry-related news stories online. It also means listening to what thought leaders in target fields are saying during live and online events.

Critically, marketers must also study their direct competitors, if any. And they should double down on objective sources of information and data, such as peer-reviewed research, clinical studies, or expert commentary. Each of these can provide encouraging, objective information marketers can leverage in press releases, within nonaffiliated social media environments, and in response to public challenges in person or online.

Marketers must also ensure they have knowledgeable customer care and sales representatives available to interested parties. Marketers can’t influence who will proactively engage their brand and when they will do so. But preparing internal teams to respond to unexpected questions from practitioners may make the difference between consideration and conversion.

Adopt controlled tactics to drive loyalty and advocacy

Once HCPs have adopted a product, marketers can build on those relationships in proactive, unique, and engaging contexts. Controlled tactics that facilitate these experiences include:

  • Proactive conversations that begin with sales representatives
  • Value-adding resources centers with advocacy-focused calls to action
  • Event-based activities that support advocacy and engagement
  • Product-specific programs focused on peer-to-peer sharing and referrals

Critically, marketers must focus on cultivating meaningful relationships. They may wish to adopt tactics they can only potentially control or cannot control, such as allowing nonaffiliated subject matter experts to lead product-focused discussions or encouraging objective third-party analysts to study the products’ outcomes. Each of these tactics involves the participation of existing customers and can contribute to greater advocacy among HCPs.

Above all, align tactics with medical progress

It's easy for marketers to lose track of their real purpose, which is driving positive outcomes for patients. Marketers should focus on the experiences and priorities of their target specialist with this in mind.

HCPs have their own desired journey from awareness to conversion and loyalty. Tactics that contribute to better education and decision-making — no matter marketers’ level of control — will drive the best outcomes for all parties involved.

*Source: Wolters Kluwer Content Consumption Study, June 2023

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