Solving Healthcare’s Top 10 Digital Marketing Challenges
Updated: Mar 12
Digital marketing revolutionized marketing in many ways. But while it's a powerful tool for regulated industries, such as healthcare, it's not without its obstacles. Unlike with most other industries, healthcare companies must work around highly sensitive subject matter and with stricter regulations. While these difficulties are always present, these unique challenges, when overcome, can produce great results.
This list is a compilation of the biggest challenges I’ve seen both B2C and B2B healthcare businesses struggle with. For each of these challenges, I’ve also included highly-effective solutions to inspire your marketing team.
Solving these challenges can be the difference between a successful marketing program that generates strong ROI vs. one that wastes time, budget and, perhaps worst of all, opportunity.
1. Lack of Cohesive Strategy
It’s important to have a well-developed strategy in place from the start. But many healthcare brands make the same key mistakes:
A strategy not based on research and reliable data
A strategy that doesn’t account for the buyer’s journey; an incomplete funnel
A strategy that doesn’t account for the specific goals of each department
Problems often result from a lack of cross-departmental alignment between the business’s goals and campaign scope. For example, “lead gen” and “sales” are always important goals, but how many leads and sales do you need? From which segments do you need them? What products and services are you going to prioritize?
The solution is a process of research on your customers and competitors. These tasks are now more efficient than ever with the help of market research tools and third-party vendors. You can also use survey tools to efficiently gather data from your existing customers. There are many tools like these ones for every research task, so it pays to experiment with different strategies and see what works and what doesn’t.
Consider each stage of the buyer’s journey so you can find out what is needed for each of your audience segments, at each stage. Blend offerings and content that helps potential customers move down the funnel.
Lastly, alignment with micro and macro goals for each month, quarter, and year, is necessary to keep your overall strategy cohesive. To make this easier, try working backward from your goals to connect them with your tactics and KPIs. This helps you identify everything you need to keep your strategy focused. This can include a number of specific goals such as:
● Improving SERPs performance
● Increasing social media followers
● Addressing the unique challenges of social media in healthcare
● Encouraging positive reviews
● Refining your email marketing
2. Difficulty Targeting Relevant udience
Healthcare digital marketers often struggle to connect the right message with the right audience. This makes it harder to reach out to high-quality leads in both a B2B and B2C context. When targeting is done wrong, you end up wasting time, money, and energy, with little ROI to show for it.
Data is at the center of digital marketing challenges like this. Adequate data collection enables marketers to construct realistic customer personas. Whether B2C or B2B, understanding the unique challenges and pain points allows your marketing teams to develop strategies around them.
Some methods that help with this process include:
● Surveys and polls
● Buying market research reports
● Advanced data analytics platforms
● Third-party services
● Interviews with existing customers
* Create buyer personas and research to best reach your target audiences. Different customers may be more responsive to email or social media versus other marketing channels.
3. Fragmented Data Sources
The modern digital world is stuffed with data. This is a catch-22 for marketers, offering a lot of valuable resources, but presenting a new challenge. The overabundance of data causes fragmentation: siloed or disorganized data. In its worst form, this problem causes “paralysis by analysis”. An inability to navigate our data-rich but data-unorganized world destroys the benefits of the abundance of data.
Holistic data management can help with data management so that marketing professionals gain valuable insights. This enables them to craft more effective marketing campaigns that hit the audience more directly.
Combining multiple data sources into a single unified system better empowers marketers to use their larger pools of data to improve performances across all channels. The best way to do this is to utilize secure cloud solutions. Then, restructure the data to organize it around customer experiences. Measure each interaction and analyze each step of the buyer’s journey. When you do this, you are unlocking a roadmap to creating better, more dynamic, and more effective customer experiences.
4. Inability to Measure ROI
Of all the marketing metrics (there are plenty!), ROI matters most. It explains whether your marketing team is a profit center or a cost center. If you cannot employ ROI metrics and interpret them, you will never know.
Much of the time, the problem isn’t a failure to deliver a good ROI. It’s that the marketing team has failed to measure it and communicate it properly. The rapid growth of online channels and the complexity that accompanies the demands it places on digital marketing strategy makes assessing ROI more difficult.
One of the most common problems is a reliance on what marketing professionals call “vanity metrics.” These are metrics that look good and give you a warm feeling of success but aren’t proven to be aligned with your ROI goals.
Several different data points must be tracked and analyzed to accurately determine your ROI. The first key is understanding which KPIs are the most relevant. Tools and data from past campaigns will normally provide your benchmarks after you’ve gotten started. You can use them to create performance forecasts.
A shift from any existing defunct or vanity metrics is the other part of the solution. Focus first on the KPIs most closely associated with ROI:
● ROAS (return on ad spend)
● CPA (cost per acquisition)
● AOV (average order value)
● Lead-to-close ratio
● Other metrics linked directly to ROI
A good reference here is having S.M.A.R.T. expectations regarding your KPIs:
Improving the way you measure ROI translates into better budget/resource allocation.
5. Limited marketing budgets
Of all the challenges of marketing in the healthcare industry, this one can be one of the biggest hurdles. How do you know your marketing budget is too small? An undersized budget restricts everything your marketing staff can do. The typical problem is that not enough money is allocated to marketing, causing restrictive, unreasonable, and often-impractical expectations. This is every marketer’s greatest fear.
Talented marketers often tell me that this is why they choose to only work with big companies with big budgets. But where’s the fun in that? Marketers are supposed to be creative and strive to maximize ROIs with creativity, which requires money. Small budgets and big goals naturally collide in a way that ruins their efforts.
Precision is the key to this problem as well. Focus your resources on what moves the needle (read: maximizes ROI). Double-down on everything that is cost-efficient and produces ROI!
One perfect example is a shift to focusing on content marketing and SEO. Both of these approaches do not incur expenses beyond labor and possibly inexpensive tools. But there are plenty of free tools that enable you to measure the efficacy of your content.
This path leads to you only needing to pay for labor while leveraging free or inexpensive tools that get you high-quality results. 49% of marketers cite organic search as providing the highest ROI.
6. Lack of Synergy Between Marketing and Sales
Digital marketing and sales are both about sparking customer interest and turning that interest into actual sales. Many digital marketing challenges in the healthcare industry stem from too little communication and collaboration between the two departments. In some cases, this causes critical missteps that cost companies revenue.
Improve synergy between sales and marketing. This is a challenge deeply connected to the first item on this list. From the start, this synergy must be included in the overall strategy.
Integrated tools like CRM and marketing automation software can offer pre-packaged, easy-to-use solutions. They also normally offer comprehensive tracking throughout entire sales funnels.
Crucially, at the ground level, managers from your marketing and sales teams should be working closely together on:
● Determining KPIs
● Setting realistic mutual expectations
● Taking all necessary steps to implement
● Ultimately, maximizing ROI
7. Making the Complex Compelling
Healthcare is a serious and complex subject. Understandably, marketing something that is serious, often mundane, and complicated is no easy feat.
Knowing your audience and how to address them is the only way around this challenge. That means comprehensive buyer personas that you can speak to “in their own language”.
Making the complex compelling is about being relatable and easily understood. The timeless methods that will help you achieve this are visual aids, interactive content, storytelling, and constantly working to make your content more accessible to your audience.
8. HIPAA Restrictions
Healthcare companies must always comply with the Healthcare Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Working around its constraints can produce limits, but marketers must work within its parameters.
There are a few great ways to help your teams efficiently produce HIPAA compliant marketing material:
● Using HIPAA compliant tools such as ESPs, automation platforms, and CRMs
● Creating and enforcing HIPAA guidelines for every marketing channel
● Regular vetting for HIPAA compliance with an internal task force
9. Ineffective Use of Marketing Technology and Tools
According to the latest State of Marketing Report by Salesforce, the top challenge for healthcare digital marketers in 2023 is the ineffective use of technology and tools. Specifically, the expense and time required to learn and incorporate these tools is a serious challenge.
The solution is to vet your current marketing apparatus and determine what is delivering value. The tools that are inefficient or fail to deliver value need to be removed.
An easier approach to this is centralized marketing tools. For example, HubSpot and Salesforce offer entire suites of tools that are all available from a central interface. They are easier on the wallet and on your time. Most of them also offer self-guided tours for how to use their features effectively, though sometimes bringing in a consultant to help your teams adopt them can be called for.
From these platforms, your staff can more easily collaborate and access important data. Just make sure that if you use digital marketing suites like these, you have them incorporated into your larger strategy.
10. Poor Online Sentiment
Bad reviews and a seemingly poor reputation can damage digital marketing efforts. Among healthcare companies, B2C brands can easily struggle to adequately deal with the frustrations of patients, who have their own stresses.
This requires a comprehensive approach. B2C healthcare brands should employ online moderation task forces for reputation management. Frustrated patients who are suffering will inevitably voice their frustrations somewhere. A lack of an online response to these complaints’ risks appearing as though you don’t care, which should be avoided.
You cannot delete negative reviews, but what you can do is:
● Not avoid the problem until after the damage is already done
● Make an ongoing online moderation plan (to listen to patients and engage with them)
● Either form a task force or employ a third party to handle it
● Create a plan for capturing, escalating, and responding to reviews across the web
● Create a plan for engaging with and amplifying the most positive feedback
Deleting bad reviews/negative sentiment is not an option (rightfully so), so the goal here is to listen to your patients and customers, engage with them and aim to counterbalance the negative with the positive.
Improving online sentiment is not an overnight process. Marketers should collaborate with HR and customer support to develop a comprehensive online moderation program and actively track results.
Challenge is a Good Thing
The healthcare industry faces many challenges when it comes to digital marketing. But challenge is a good thing. Afterall, us marketers love to investigate, experimenting and get creative - it's what makes our line of work so exciting!
If your marketing team is faced with one (or more) of these 10 challenges, you're not alone. Start testing out some of the solutions that we've provided, figure out what works and build upon it.