Do you struggle to craft successful healthcare information technology (HIT) marketing campaigns? You're not alone. The healthcare market has stymied even the most weathered marketing experts.
On the surface, many of the general principles of marketing hold true in HIT. Successful marketing involves demonstrating true value, earning consumer trust as a thought leader, insightful content and more. Companies that foster credibility and build relationships perform well. Thoughtful content marketing and nurture campaigns result in increased mindshare over time — an invaluable resource in every industry. All of these factors will sound familiar to experienced marketers.
So why can healthcare information technology feel like an enigma? The difference lies in buyer dynamics unique to the healthcare market.
Certainly, the buyer's journey differs across every industry. But healthcare IT takes its uniqueness up a notch: the complex processes of HIT buyers can perplex even the most experienced marketers. Any marketer entering HIT should be cognisant of the challenges and needs unique to both the marketplace and its buyers.
Let's dig into the subtle yet crucial differences that distinguish healthcare buyer personas from buyers in other industries.
Healthcare Buying: A Complex Operation
Fractured and Far-Flung
In HIT, you can never assume that all stakeholders operate within the same facility — or even that they're in communication with each other.
Distributed infrastructure can be fairly common, even within one branch of a business. It's not uncommon to work with an IT specialist in an onsite facility, then find yourself turning to someone in a different state entirely because the enterprise is cloud-supported and its resources are scattered. Medical professionals and technical support can often be even further divorced from other arms of the same operation.
Buyer capabilities also depend heavily on the scale of a business. Smaller or rural operations might offer more of a "one-stop-shop" experience, but that consolidation of resources inevitably means that those people will be less specialized -- wearers of many hats vs. wearing any one hat exceptionally well. As such, your message may need to be tailored to someone with broader information on macro-level topics, rather than a deeper focus on micro-level specificities.
This fractured buyer pool is further hindered by a lack of communication among the various parties. Because each stakeholder operates within a very different field and may overlap with others infrequently, there may be little incentive for them to collaborate.
This creates a unique challenge for healthcare marketers: beyond expressing the value of your product, you may also often need to convince stakeholders to connect. In other words, you prescribe and promote the communication you need, as well as your product itself. When crafting a campaign, consider how you can incentivize and enable collaboration to guide decision makers toward a common goal.
There is rarely a single message that will resonate will this highly individualized buyer collective. Instead, the strongest campaigns reach each stakeholder on their own terms.
More Pressure, Less Time
Healthcare is a fast-paced, high-stakes industry. Buyers are conscious that their decisions impact the health and lives of those they serve. At the same time, medical processes always take precedence over being engaged in the buying process. Time is limited and dearly bought.
As marketers, this means that our messages need to be honed, impactful and concise. They also need to have the highest possible chance of success; when your audience's time is so precious, there are few second chances.
You might also find that your messaging is intercepted by third parties: some HIT stakeholders outsource their purchasing decisions to consultant firms to save time and release medical professionals from the responsibility.
Complicated Buyer Roles
All of these factors culminate in buyer roles that are hard to pin down. The interwoven threads of involvement, responsibility, time, scale, communication and incentives weave a tapestry of complex buying processes.
In other industries, group dynamics certainly come into play. In HIT, however, the impact of individual healthcare buyer personas is far less consistent or clear. Executives delegate high-stakes decisions to specialists or employ consultants; external peers are brought in to add their perspectives; researchers investigate and champion ideas to budget holders. Suddenly, the buyer collective consists of stakeholders outside the target organization or even target industry. Your message must adapt, and yet must still take into account the cases where medical professionals weigh in on or make purchasing decisions themselves.
You don't exactly get a cheat sheet to help you navigate these situations. There is research on common HIT buyer trends, but these buyer roles often manifest behind the scenes. Enterprises don't announce who you should approach. Decision-making power can shift. Without consistent data tracking, HIT marketers can stumble blindly through the dark, unaware of the ties that may or may not connect the people receiving their message and those making purchases.
Without that knowledge, you can't know who to target, how to tailor your message, when to capitalize on an opportunity. You can't decide whether to map into an enterprise with a bottom-up, top-down or even branching approach, because you don't know how decisions are made.
You need to keep all of these factors in mind when digging into why and how your healthcare buyer personas operate within the healthcare market. After all, your audience will vary widely, and most of them can't afford to be distracted.
Understanding Your Buyers
With the context of the HIT industry in mind, you now need to arm yourself with insights about your healthcare buyer personas themselves. Much like marketing tactics, data tracking in HIT is similar to other markets, but different in significant ways.
You still need to track performance metrics that lead to a desired outcome. You need to produce content and follow its impact and lifecycle. You need to gather information on those you're reaching to understand who isn't hearing you.
But you also need to go further. If your content is oriented for decision makers, your touchpoints should help you understand whether or not it's reaching that audience. It's likely that your data might show groups of unusual content consumers, but in HIT, these people might be researching on behalf of a stakeholder. With thorough data tracking, you should be able to trace who these key players are and how they are connected. Keep in mind that this might vary wildly from one organization to the next.
Progress markers must similarly adapt. Trigger points and useful insights aren't always the same in the healthcare industry as in other markets. You might find that "vanity metrics" such as site visits and time-on-site say one thing, but your broader data indicates that your target personas aren't engaging with you.
Any data you collect must give appropriate insight for the goal you set. Don't be distracted by surface indicators if they don't track toward a desired outcome. Over time, your data will help you start to understand buyer roles, the impact of different stakeholders, how your target organizations differ from one another, and ultimately, how to successfully market to those people.
An Ongoing Battle
There is a significant asterisk to place next to this process: there is no end point. You never fully crack the code. It's not a "set it and forget it" situation. You must always be motivated to keep tracking and digging into your data.
HIT buying patterns can change quickly and are constantly evolving. You are bound to see more insights, gain more pattern recognition and hone your sense of how buyers are changing over time. Without constant feelers in the market, you'll struggle to retain customers or tailor your message as relationships evolve. The needs and risks of the market will also change, and buyers will respond to those shifts.
Your marketing will find the most success in the healthcare industry when it is driven by data and insights. The silver lining is that as you continue to collect data, your knowledge of the market will compound over time, and you'll be poised for long-term success.
Making an Impact with the Right Audience
With all the convoluted ins and outs of HIT, it's important to keep the bigger picture in mind. Though understanding who your buyers are and how they operate is an uphill climb, the reward is worth the effort. This is marketing with an impact. When you bring a powerful new idea or product to the table, you're providing important value to an industry that makes positive changes in people's lives. Learning to navigate healthcare buying roles means you are empowered to get a solution in place that will help people. For all its complex facets, HIT is an essential industry, and learning how to market to healthcare buyer personas is worth the extra effort.
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