Healthcare Marketing: A New Media Model

Kent Groves

Chief Global Strategy Officer, dentsu Health

According to the latest dentsu Global Ad Spend Forecasts, advertising investment in the pharmaceutical industry is expected to grow by 7.4% in 2024 – making it one of the fastest growing industries. Amid new consumer expectations and a fast-changing landscape, pharmaceutical companies must evolve how they communicate by maximizing the potential of media.

The evolution of healthcare marketing

The pharmaceutical industry is experiencing two transformative trends that will continue in 2024.

The first trend is centered around consumers. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, people have taken a more active role in their own health and wellness. They are paying more attention to the way their daily activities impact their mental and physical health, from how they sleep to how they eat, to how they sit at work and interact with others. People are more aware of how these factors influence their long-term health and that of their family, and are better equipped to monitor them themselves through wearable devices and self-monitoring.

The second trend relates to the types of drugs on the market. We see blockbuster drugs fading under the pressure of cheaper generics widely available to patients. Conversely, we see drugs targeting rare diseases[i] rising as pharmaceutical companies look for new ways to improve people’s health and new avenues for growth. As they focus on rare diseases, researchers now start with the patient condition to develop a new drug for that condition, rather than looking for concrete applications of a molecule after its discovery as they did previously.

The need for a new media model

These transformations in the healthcare landscape shift how pharmaceutical companies must communicate in 2024.

The traditional model heavily relies on leveraging healthcare care professionals (HCPs) as intermediaries. For instance, a pharmaceutical company with a new drug targeting a lung disease can look at prescription data from pulmonologists for that specific disease. The company can then target product specific communications toward HCPs who have patients with that condition and will likely be interested in the new drug.

The new model does not negate the role of HCPs but accounts for the increasing influence and autonomy of consumers in making health decisions by using media in smarter ways to reach audiences more effectively.

Balancing personalization and mass reach

As consumers increasingly engage with health matters through hyper-personalized environments such as the slick interface of an Apple Watch or the convenient Amazon Pharmacy service, health brands must up their game in how they connect with consumers to preserve their relevance.

They should harness data about consumers and their behaviors – not only as patients – to build comprehensive identity graphs. By managing audience information in privacy-safe clean rooms, pharmaceutical companies can then more effectively target the right audience with either relevant branded messages (in markets such as the US and New Zealand) or unbranded disease state awareness campaigns while complying with privacy regulations. This capacity to leverage zero-party and first-party data will be increasingly important for health brands as third-party cookies are set to be deprecated in Google Chrome in 2024.

Yet, the rise of personalized media engagements does not mean traditional channels such as television are no longer relevant for pharmaceutical companies.

Traditional channels act as inflection points in the customer experience and lead toward human interaction. A TV commercial is not going to be seen only by potential consumers, but also by their HCPs. As such, TV commercials can deliver messages consistent and relevant to both parties to support the HCP/patient conversation.

These channels can also help anchor the societal role of the pharmaceutical industry. Trust is central to healthcare more than in any other industry. Although most recognize the critical role pharmaceutical companies played during the COVID-19 pandemic, some consumers are still cynical about the industry.

A good role model from another industry is the outdoor clothing brand Patagonia. People admire Patagonia as much for its ethical stance as for its technical clothing. This should be a source of inspiration for the healthcare industry that could – and should – do better in 2024 to raise its profile by showing how it elevates quality of life. Media channels like television have a key role to play to help pharmaceutical companies constantly reposition and reinforce their roles in the public’s eyes.

2024 will be a year of opportunity for pharmaceutical companies, with big advertising moments to take advantage of. Download the latest dentsu Global Ad Spend Forecasts to better understand and navigate the changing media landscape.

[i] While the specific definition of a rare disease varies across the world (e.g., affecting <200,000 people in the US, no more than 1 person in 2,000 in the EU), these diseases affect small fractions of the population relative to widespread conditions such as diabetes.