and the huge opportunity that awaits

Retailers, e-commerce leaders and digital marketers are often the most experienced when it comes to knowing how to target, connect and engage with consumers digitally. Today, shopping online is a common activity for everyday items like diapers, books, electronics, clothing and cosmetics. Ten or so years ago, this wasnt the case.

At that time, when I was just getting into e-commerce as a marketer and e-commerce director (a lady never tells her age), retailers had no choice but to figure out how to engage consumers digitally because bricks-and-mortar store sales were flat to declining and all of the growth was in e-commerce. It was Innovate or Die time for retail, or at least, Innovate or Stall Out.

So retailers and manufacturers got good at e-commerce. Good at understanding their now-digital customers, how to be relevant to them, and how to get the response and engagement that they needed to sell, sell, sell (and in some cases, stay alive).

So, what does this have to do with digital healthcare marketing? Well, at this very moment, not much.

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Thats exactly the opportunity.

And its a huge opportunity. The healthcare industry could learn from the hard-won lessons digital marketers have mastered in business-to-consumer e-commerce. As I take the consumer perspective, here are three reasons why the time might, more than ever, be now:

  1. Consumers have smart watches, fitness tracking and diet apps and devices to monitor and motivate their healthy habits. These devices are part of everyday life for many consumers, and soon, the consumer will expect that their data gives them some digital currency, some credit that helps with the rate consumers pay for building and maintaining their healthy digital profiles.
  2. Large potential consumer segments (Millennials, Hispanic and Latino consumers of all ages, to name a few) use their smart phones for nearly everythingto communicate, interact and accomplish daily tasks. And not for a voice call, and they may never (or rarely) use a desktop or laptop.
  3. Healthcare consumers have more choice and control than before. With the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, also known as Obamacare, and health insurance exchanges, healthcare consumers are getting and expecting more transparency and control in researching and buying health insurance online.

The three conditions above make the customer ready. The choice, control and the transparency the internet provides put the consumer in the driver seat on healthcare insurance choices and will naturally raise the bar on competition.

Here are a few examples of other unrelated industries that were revolutionized due to the transparency, choice, and control that digital experiences give consumers:

  • Real EstateZillow, Trulia, DocuSign for realtors, as well as StreetEasy in New York. Its no longer a mystery what property costs, its tax value, what it was listed for, etc. Consumers drive the buying and selling process more than ever before.
  • Car Buying TrueCar, com, Autotrader, same as above.
  • TravelThis is the most obvious corollary. Just as travel agents were the go-to for booking a vacation, digital paved the way for Expedia, Travelocity, Priceline, Orbitz and Kayak

The healthcare industry may just be ripe for the taking.

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Going digital to market consumer healthcare is a shift to be sure Healthcare insurance purchases have traditionally been a business-to-business marketing exercise, involving targeting corporate clients through offline channels and a long buying process with heavy personal interaction.

Digital tactics can be learned, just as coding, analytics, multi-touch attribution or hopscotch, for that matter. The magic of connecting with consumers digitally requires understanding what your consumers want and need (in their language) and how they use the internet to get to what they need, so you can be there and be relevant.

Any marketingANY marketinggains its power and effectiveness from knowing your customer. This is primarily what successful retailers, e-commerce and digital marketers have mastered, along with the technological nuances of channels like paid search, search engine optimization, affiliate, remarketing, e-mail, content, social media, marketplaces and display advertising. However, you can execute crap well, and you still havecrap. You can take magic and execute poorly, and have, wellless than magic, but definitely not crap.

What do I mean by this? Or perhaps I am being obtuse (it happens, just ask my husband, he will attest readily).

If you buy that the healthcare industry will become more web- and consumer-driven over time, then healthcare marketers should take strides to understand B2C digital marketing channels, and do the hard work needed to deeply understand their consumers, their language, and their needs and pain points vs. those of the B2B model (their constituents and corporate clients). Their needs and consumer insights will most assuredly be different.

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The healthcare industry is very seasoned in speaking in healthcare industry terminology (for example, provider instead of doctor). The retail industry has had no choice but to become good at providing consumers what they need and want digitally.

Here is an example to illustrate my point (notwithstanding any prior references to crap and magic).

A simple question: What are the most important things that consumers need and want in terms of choice, convenience and value?

Here is how the consumer is currently offered choice of plans in healthcare from a Cigna enrollment form for North Carolina

I would bet that these names dont mean much to the average consumer. Often even after reading an employer-provided description for these plans, a consumer will likely say that they are unsure of what healthcare will cost them annually with these plans, for going to their doctors and for their conditions.

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How can the consumer then make an informed choice? How can the consumer feel like they can confidently make the best choice for them?

Cost, value, service are key foundational decision points for any purchase decision. Sounds pedantic, but true. These are hard dimensions for a consumer to wrap his or her arms around today.

This is a huge opportunity for the insurance provider (you like that word provider, so I didnt want to miss an opportunity to speak to you in your language here). The companies that provide what the consumer wants, on their terms, in their language (while in a profitable manner), will win. And win every time.

What did retailers do when faced with the Innovate or Die challenge I mentioned earlier? To offer choice meant that they provided many, differentiated products at different price points, with thorough and detailed product descriptions, specs, customer reviews. To offer convenience and transparency meant providing a choice of delivery speed and its associated delivery cost. Take a look at the retail behemoth winning big right now, Amazon, and youll see how they do all of the above in a way that is seamless, intuitive and easy.

While knowing your customer is a trite and overused marketing clich to many, it really drives to the root of what makes the winners come out on top.

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The magic I mentioned earlier is not the Disney kind where music plays and birds sweetly chirp around my head like in Snow White (although that does sound pleasant). It is the magic that happens where listening to your customer and digital excellence intersect. Consumer research or even just speaking to your friends and relatives who are healthcare consumers can be the critical act that gets digital marketers the key consumer insights needed to deliver to the digital healthcare consumer what they need and want.

Cue those chirping birds.

Amy Madonia is a New York e-commerce consultant, marketer, blogger and a frequent speaker at digital marketing events. She has served as the e-commerce executive in charge of marketing and business operations at multiple consumer brands including Wrangler, New York & Co., Nautica and Hanes.

 

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