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Perspectives on Influencer Marketing in Healthcare

Posted by Matt Breese on May 24, 2016

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Influencer marketing may be relatively new terminology, but the practice has been around for hundreds of years. In all practicality, there wouldn’t have been a Boston Tea Party and the East India Company wouldn’t have suffered a financial loss if it hadn’t been for influencer marketing by a few patriots.

Influencer marketing, which some call “word of mouth,” is a key strategy for many businesses. Rather than only spending marketing resources on advertising that targets a specific audience or class of consumer, businesses now enlist — both officially and unofficially — the help of influential individuals who speak on behalf of their brand. In this case, “speak” may be a bit of a misnomer because, in commerce, influencer marketing might include a celebrity spokesperson, but it could also be positioning a product in a top-rated movie or arranging to have a well-known actor wear or use a particular product.

The advent of social media creates a much broader definition and a wider reach of influencer marketing. Today, influencer marketing can be a planned strategy, but it can just as likely happen by chance thanks to Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.

Influencers, whether in person or online, have the power to affect purchases because of their:

  • Knowledge
  • Authority
  • Position
  • Relationship
  • Experience

Influencers may be trendsetters, activists or experts in their field of interest. Unfortunately, one individual with a large online following can also be a powerful influencer without having accurate knowledge and little or no experience, authority or position.

Influencer Marketing in Healthcare

In today’s high-risk, low-reimbursement healthcare environment, providers, payers and pharma must embrace best practices just like any other business. They must engage patients, promote profitable services, grow patient populations and communicate effectively, all of which can be accomplished to a certain degree through influencer marketing.

Historically, patients obtained most of their healthcare information from their personal providers. Today, the Internet has opened up a wealth of healthcare information for patients. They are able to research diagnoses, treatments and outcomes, and to seek information from people living anywhere in the world who may have common maladies or experiences. Because of the perception of online anonymity, patients are often more open about their personal health than they would be in face-to-face conversations. Sharing personal experiences transforms these patients from casual Internet users into marketing influencers.

Recently, a survey by IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics found:

  • 70-75 percent of Internet users go online for treatment options and information about side effects
  • 42 percent use social media to learn about healthcare issues
  • 25 percent discussed a health related issue online
  • 20 percent joined an online community or forum

Although access to online information and social media engages the public and empowers them to be active partners in their healthcare, it can also be challenging for their providers. Because healthcare is personal and the Internet is a bit like the Wild West, information may not be accurate or pertinent. Nevertheless, patients with a little online knowledge develop “on-demand” expectations. Kristen Hambelton, chief marketing officer from Evariant, calls this the “Amazon Effect” — an approach to healthcare services in which patients determine what they want and when they want it based on influencers of their own choosing. These patients also often suggest that if they can’t get it, they will see someone else. Providers must work harder and communicate better to maintain their role as primary influencers, especially if what the patient is demanding is not appropriate or in the patient’s best interest.

An Opportunity for Pharma

Providers, payers and pharma can participate in and benefit from influencer marketing. Providers have earned credentials and reputations that give them the credibility, expertise and authority to be natural influencers in healthcare marketing. The public sees them as subject matter experts and educators — two characteristics that patients seek through their online research. Providers are also influencers of their peers through professional presentations, peer-reviewed journal articles, consultations and social media.

Patients are, by nature, influencers. A mother influences her family’s healthcare decisions. A cancer survivor’s poignant story influences other cancer patients. A patient with a positive hospital experience influences friends and neighbors.

With preliminary research to identify the most effective influencers and to ensure compliance with industry regulations, pharma can expand its marketing strategies and:

  • Capitalize on the expertise and relationships of others
  • Engage consumers (patients, providers and payers)
  • Develop trust through accurate, credible information
  • Advance and gain support for innovative new therapies

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Topics: Industry Trends, Market Access, Branding & Marketing