Why Should Healthcare and Pharma Seize Programmatic? (Podcast)

Our very own Director of Programmatic, Erica Hawthorne, recently joined Sascha Hoffman on the third episode of “Coffee chats with PulsePoint” to discuss programmatic trends for healthcare and pharma marketing. Listen to the podcast here and see the original article from PulsePoint below.


At the end of January, Erica urged the healthcare and pharma industries to embrace the programmatic trend. Her consideration of the pair’s slow adoption of programmatic underlined an ongoing concern: regulation. Unlike the retail or travel industries, health and pharma marketers’ efforts to effectively reach large numbers of patients and HCPs are constantly overshadowed by stringent regulation, keeping brands tip-toeing in the name of brand and consumer safety.

Now, the Coronavirus pandemic has changed everything.

People are at home more frequently and for longer periods of time, meaning marketers must seek out new methods of meeting them. One potential route? Connected TV (CTV), such as devices like Apple TV or Roku. With internet-enabled streaming, healthcare and pharma marketers are presented with a golden opportunity – if they are willing to navigate programmatic’s regulatory concerns.

What’s holding healthcare and pharma brands back?

Over the last 5 years, programmatic spending has been flat. This year, the numbers are beginning to trend upwards due to the consolidation of media into programmatic – but switching strategies is easier said than done. To understand why programmatic is being held back in these industries, it’s important to look at the larger body of concerns on top of regulation in health and pharma.

  • A New Channel: Because this is a new space, there is a lengthy process that includes plenty of paperwork, legal reviews, and creative budgeting to make the jump.

  • Adapting Creatively: With new forms of media in use – say, 30-second video clips – marketers also need to consider how to include necessary elements like important safety information (ISI).

  • State Data Privacy Regulations: It’s not just the federal regulations on healthcare and pharma in play – various states are rolling out their own regulations on data targeting and consumer privacy with which marketers need to contend.

How can we overcome these challenges?

Is a cookieless world possible? Erica believes that programmatic is the pathway to it, thanks to the abundance of opt-ins within the programmatic space. CTV, smart audio, email newsletters – all of these require users to log-in and opt-in to communications. Programmatic email newsletters, for example, are triple opt-in, as they ask users to sign up, verify that they signed up, and then opt-in to the ads.

Another valuable tool health and pharma marketers should utilize is first-party data. CRM systems and first-party data like NPI lists help brands to reach the right audiences.

Last but not least, contextual targeting especially for DTC advertising and even more sensitive conditions are not subject to the cookieless world rules, so that is a great place to start getting to know your audience. True contextualization can map the content to the patient journey. Let’s say a diabetes patient has been suffering from the disease for over 10 years. She’s not reading about symptoms or how-to live with diabetes anymore, however, she may be reading about new treatment options.

Where does programmatic go from here?

Programmatic spend is rebounding faster than in-person methods, so Erica sees it growing as the year closes out. Healthcare and pharma are also unique during this pandemic for continuing to advertise while other sectors decrease their spending to cope with the economic downswing. So, it’s about shifting into that space occupied by CTV, audio, and native where hypertargeting is available.

What can pharma learn from other industries?

“Test early and test often,” says Erica. Underscore works with many brands in the realm of rare medical conditions, where audience sizes are limited. There, they’ve learned that testing is king when it comes to finding the best ways to reach that audience.

Commoditized industries like travel and retail test heavily to break through on such a massive audience scale. In healthcare and pharma, using the testing data to understand script lift and brand recall is an area in which marketers can improve. At Underscore, for example, they are testing PMPs on endemic sites with high-quality data partners to target either HCPs or patients. With programmatic, there’s no reason to pick – marketers can try both and optimize based on the results.

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Erica Hawthorne, Director, Programmatic, has been working as a digital marketing professional for 18 years. She has experience creating and managing multi-channel marketing strategies, including creative & content development and media planning. Erica is effective at creating and facilitating marketing campaigns for multi-nationals with multiple brands and target markets.

About the Author:

Sascha Hoffmann - Sn Lifecycle Marketing Manager, PulsePoint - is a marketing professional with a deep understanding of marketing strategies to build awareness and consideration of B2B technologies in the media and health industries. He holds a Master's degree in International Marketing and is the host of PulsePoint's Coffee Chats Podcast.

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