Between HIPAA regulations and high (often life-and-death) stakes, healthcare marketing can seem like a field far removed from other kinds of marketing.

The special circumstances healthcare marketers often find themselves in force them to innovate in ways unfamiliar to those in other fields, forging new paths and developing creative solutions to unique marketing challenges.

But as the Futurescan 2016-2021 report makes clear, healthcare increasingly resembles a retail industry: That is, consumers shop for medical services and choose insurance plans. A central aspect of what they are looking for is a clear understanding of the patient experience. In other words, what can they expect if they choose to become a patient?

The ongoing changes in healthcare marketing have much in common with the shift B2B marketers across industries have experienced in recent years, with the customer journey growing to include rigorous online research in which potential buyers explore a variety of options, partly to determine what their experience with each provider might be like.

With that in mind, there's plenty for B2B marketers in other industries to learn from the world of healthcare marketing. Read on to better understand the shift in behavior healthcare marketers are facing—and how they are confronting it.

Reviews and testimonials take center stage

According to Pew Research Center, even in 2013 72% of Internet users reported looking online for health information within the previous year. Consumers are embracing the vast amount of information available online, from pricing to patient reviews, and using it to inform medical decisions, including provider selection.

With so many options for consumers to get health information (both credible and questionable), it's key for healthcare marketers to prove to potential patients that they are trustworthy.

"Futurescan" specifically notes the importance of ratings by patients, and suggests emphasizing positive patient experiences to these online "shoppers." The authors encourage healthcare marketers to "embrace this new age of transparency, understanding that the complete and honest reporting of patient experience data is paramount to meeting patient needs."

Though B2B marketers may be dealing with less intimate aspects of consumers' lives, it's still key to make the customer experience central to marketing efforts. Similarly, customer reviews and testimonials are important tools for converting leads to prospects, and they should be used in content throughout the marketing funnel.

The growth of mobile can't be ignored

Considering this trend toward an online retail model of healthcare decision-making, no healthcare marketer can neglect the rise of mobile devices, which allow patients to literally take their health into their own hands. It's often the first place they turn for research.

To keep up with this trend, healthcare marketers are prioritizing mobile marketing. Although typical mobile tactics are certainly being used by healthcare marketers—mobile-optimized emails and websites, for example—the real changes are coming in their creative partnerships to create mobile content that's engaging.

As reported by Modern Healthcare, Astellas Pharma US sponsored the RunPee app, which identifies times within movies when you can take a bathroom break without missing key plot points. For Astellas, the maker of a drug for overactive bladders, the partnership was a way to engage potential patients, associate itself with a fun game, and get in prospective customers' pockets—all at once.

B2B marketers need to be thinking of similarly creative ways to engage prospects on mobile. With a growing number of B2B decision-makers researching and even purchasing on mobile devices, as Google's research has shown, you must cater to a mobile audience in your marketing.

Think about it: What app or content could attract your audience's attention and keep your name top-of-mind? The experiences your prospects have with your brand during their research informs them what long-term work with your organization could be like, so crafting a positive experience is critical.

Don't neglect marketing to influencers

A doctor may be the one prescribing and advocating various medications, but if a patient has significant knowledge about a specific drug, she'll be more likely to ultimately take the doctor's recommendation for that one, or even to ask about it in the first place.

With the growth of digital healthcare research, online influencers also become a factor in these doctor-patient conversations, and they can make a real impact in the options patients ask about.

For B2B marketers, online influencers can play a role in the technologies and services that employees bring up to their bosses. Mentions from influencers can even influence what clients of other B2B companies expect them to use in their operations.

To work with the influencers who will have the most impact, think of quality over quantity. When you conduct audience research, look for niche publications and sites that reach your core audience, and seek ways to partner with influencers there rather than simply looking for the people with the most followers.

* * *

Though healthcare marketing can often seem like an entirely separate discipline from all other types of marketing, your own work will benefit from more attention to these trends and how they develop over time.

By developing valuable content for increasingly informed audiences, prioritizing mobile, and investing in influencer marketing, marketers in any field can set themselves up for success.

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The Future of Healthcare Marketing: Lessons for All Marketers

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image of Bob Murphy

Bob Murphy is a managing partner at Movéo, which partners with category-leading brands to craft strategies and build tactics that engage audiences and drive business growth. Bob manages the Data & Insights group and the Strategy & Planning team at Movéo.

LinkedIn: Bob Murphy