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Build It and They Won’t Come

VP Strategy

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Healthcare audiences now expect dynamic, personalized content to come to them. Has your brand website evolved from an owned destination to a distributed experience? Find out how...

Odds are, you didn’t read a newspaper today. And you probably didn’t visit a newspaper’s home page. But you likely read lots of news. Maybe on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or a news app such as Flipboard. Likely on a mobile device. And almost certainly personalized based on your explicit interests and implicit behaviors.

In fact, nearly half of web users get political news from Facebook alone—which is more than CNN. Facebook will soon make this even more attractive, incorporating “instant articles” from publishers so you can read them within Facebook. Other tech leaders, such as Apple with Apple News, are similarly planning to aggregate content. Meanwhile, Google increasingly serves direct answers in search results—one analysis found that nearly 20% of Google searches now yield an answer box above search results, and estimates it will be 40% by year’s end.

Put it together, and here’s the trend: personalized content distributed through a few dominant platforms, giving users little reason to go anywhere else—including your brand’s website. It may be a great user experience. But brands that don’t get ahead of the trend could suffer from decreased organic traffic to their websites, due to platform lock-in, and decreased paid traffic, due to increasing competition for paid clicks as organic clicks decline.

Fortunately, the publishers threatened by this trend are showing the way forward. Instead of driving people to their content, they’re bringing their content to the people. It’s time for brands to follow suit. Forget about “destinations.” Let’s make your brand a pervasive presence.


Publishers leading the way—as APIs

Two forward-thinking organizations are particularly attuned to these trends. Quartz and BuzzFeed are rethinking what it means to be a publisher if nobody were to visit their website. Media analysts have referred to their approach as similar to an Application Programming Interface (API). An API allows developers to share data and functionality between applications. For example, the FDA provides an API, openFDA, that lets anyone request data about drugs, including adverse event reports. This data can be incorporated into reports, websites, emails, apps or pretty much anything else a developer can imagine. Similarly, for publishers to survive, they are making their content attractive, consumable and profitable even when rendered entirely outside of owned properties such as their websites.

This trend is equally apparent in healthcare. Ben Greenberg, Vice President, Product Management & User Experience at WebMD, made the point well at a recent conference. Trying to get doctors to use your brand’s websites or apps is the equivalent, he noted, of making online shoppers visit different websites to buy all of their products. They don’t; they go to Amazon, or a similar product aggregator. Just as doctors go to their EHRs and portals (such as Medscape) that aggregate tools and resources.

So how do you distribute your brand into such destinations to reach patients and prescribers?


From “hub and spoke” to “smart dust”

I propose an approach we could call “smart dust,” versus the “hub and spoke” model typical to digital marketing today. This model prioritizes multiple pervasive and personalized interactions with your brand wherever your audience resides—rather than a few major interactions on your brand’s website. It involves the following steps:

  1. Commit to put your audience at the center, and to reaching them on their turf rather than driving them to yours. “Hub and spoke” models of digital marketing put your brand’s website at the center (the hub) and encourage driving traffic to it from external properties such as social media websites (the spokes). This made intuitive sense when websites were the dominant destination for consuming detailed information about products and services, and when measurement of engagement outside a website was difficult. With the increasing consolidation of people’s attention around a few platforms of choice, and the increasing ability to measure interaction and its impact beyond websites, we should question this approach. Rather than putting your brand’s website at the center, you should put your audience at the center and ensure they can access key messages, information and tools your brand provides wherever they might be. For some, this may be your website; for others, it may be social media, apps, email, SMS, health portals, EHRs or a combination thereof. You should be channel agnostic but audience-centric.
  1. Maximize creation of portable content and functionality. While it isn’t easy, given regulatory constraints, creating content that’s channel agnostic is critical to the “smart dust” approach. The precedent for creating this content is display advertising, which can be approved to run on multiple websites without each individual placement needing approval. In a similar way, you should rethink how you create marketing assets to be reused in multiple places—many of which you may not know when you initially create the content.
  1. Aim for a single view of your customer and your content. If “smart dust” sounds fragmented and hard to manage, it’s because it is—without the right tools. With the right tools, you can unify your data, defragment your customer insights, consolidate your content stores and unleash an ability to personalize distributed content. Having a single view of your customers is key. Brands often have fragmented views of customer interactions spread across email databases, sales force CRM platforms, savings card vendors, ad servers, social media monitoring tools, web analytics and more. A unified customer engagement platform can pull this data together and provide a clearer picture of customer engagement with your brand no matter where this engagement might happen.
  1. Measure and personalize. Once you commit to reaching your audience everywhere, create content and functionality to do it, and distribute that content with the help of a unified engagement platform, the next step is to measure and personalize. The ability to measure down to the individual level is one area where brands will likely face challenges and confrontations with platforms to which they distribute content (who want to keep that data to themselves), but at worst brands should be measuring interactions at the aggregate level (such as engagement rates on Facebook).

A real-world example

What would this look like in practice? Here’s a real-world example.

A brand wanted to make formulary information available to prescribers, so they could easily look up coverage for a product. A “hub and spoke” approach might see the brand put their website at the center, and therefore add a formulary lookup tool on their website. They might then promote the tool through paid media to drive traffic to their site.

A “smart dust” approach, on the other hand, would address the increasing challenge of driving audiences to a website. First, we would recognize that our target audience might want formulary information in multiple places—an EHR, an interactive sales aid, a medical reference site, a search engine, an email, maybe even a display ad. Second, rather than creating a single formulary lookup on a website, we would create a channel-agnostic formulary lookup API that we could access from wherever our audience might be—then build assets for these locations and perhaps even make the API available to third-parties to incorporate into their own products. Third, to ensure we knew which prescribers were looking up information we would, where possible, send identifying information about whoever conducted a lookup into our customer engagement platform, allowing the platform to personalize the results for the end user (for example: personalizing information to the region where the prescriber practices rather than the region where they were when they made the lookup request). Fourth, we would measure interactions and record requests across all channels to understand utilization and impact, and optimize accordingly.

At Klick we have already begun rolling out such solutions, including by adding live formulary lookups to interactive sales aids, tapping the same underlying data for coverage-related emails personalized to prescribers, and allowing lookups from properties including brand websites. The approach not only increases engagement, it becomes increasingly more cost-effective over time as a single underlying solution can be amortized across an increasing number of assets that add value for customers.

Such an approach doesn’t rely on a website or any other single destination. So when you’re next reading an “instant article” on Facebook, news item in Apple News or “direct answer” in Google search results, you may want to question why all your brand’s best content is still confined to a website.

More About the Author

Simon Smith

Simon is an original dot-com veteran who's passionate about creating scalable solutions to meaningful problems. A health and technology junky, he's known to read ISIs and program apps in his spare time, when he's not planning strategies to drive our clients' digital success.

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