Shopping Is Not Solving

Shopping and solving are two different things.

Those of us who work in healthcare marketing often say “healthcare is different” from other categories. Often, this notion is tied to the nuances associated with marketing in this sector. From the restrictions of med legal to the understanding of the complexities of the products and services that we represent, it is unique. However, with everyone talking about the “new era” customer-centric marketing, I argue that this idea is far more relevant in health and wellness than any other category.

There is a fundamental difference when a consumer wants a new pair of shoes versus walking out of their physician’s office just being told they have breast cancer. Sure, the severity of the two instances is drastically different. However, the key difference is that, in other categories, consumers are shopping, while in health and wellness they are solving. How do we navigate the nuances? There are three key areas to understand and address.



1. The social aspect. Outside of health, consumers have their “go to” experts in their social sphere. The friend that is a fashionista, the co-worker who has traveled all over the world, or the cousin who is the ultimate foodie; they know who to reach out to for information. In health and wellness, consumers are joining a community where they don’t have that expert, but, more importantly, they have not chosen to be part of this group. They didn’t want to be told they have cancer; they didn’t want to hear that their child has diabetes. The desire to connect is strong. However, they don’t know where to start. Understanding how to help consumers connect and navigate the social arena is a white space for pharma marketers. Stop starting with building your Facebook page for your brand, and start by helping potential patients realize they are not alone. This leads to the second point.

2. Search is a lifeline when it comes to health. Sure, “I Googled it” has been come a household phrase. Today, there is no question left unanswered. However, better leveraging search to help consumers navigate a path towards what is sometimes the unknown is an area that marketers can improve upon. Often, the search strategy has the end goal of nicely clicking a potential patient down an easy path to purchase. 

Again, healthcare is different. The end goal is not a new pair of sneakers in a week. Identify the needs at different stages of the disease state continuum and helping to serve those needs is an area that few pharma marketers are engaging in today. Often, a brand’s search strategy is all about symptoms and treatment. How about acting more as a concierge to patients? Connecting them with other patients to learn how to tell your kids that mommy has breast cancer. Or helping them identify the best resources, which may not be on the for living with the disease. Even with chronic conditions, a person doesn’t want to be defined by their disease. Leveraging search insights can help identify their needs, and, as marketers, it is time for us to help them, not simply sell to them.

3. It’s not only about the product. If a person walked into a room and saw a pair of the latest sneakers or the hottest handbag, they would grab it. We fundamentally know what these products do and what they deliver. In health, this is not the case. There is confusion around the products. More importantly, there is a reminder that “something is wrong with me” when a person ingest these products. 

Again, health is different. Pharma brands today need partners to truly engage with consumers as people, not as people living with disease. Forging relationships with credible third parties that help provide value and service is critical for success in today’s consumer-centric world. For examples, partnering with a popular chef to create diabetes-friendly recipes or a famous travel site to coordinate vacations for a child living with cancer. Just as a patient can’t do it alone, neither can brands.

3 comments about "Shopping Is Not Solving".
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  1. Kelley Connors from KC Healthcare Communications LLC, February 8, 2013 at 12:33 p.m.

    Thanks for this passionate and detailed article. I started my consulting firm to address exactly the points you make here, and focus on women particularly, the key health influencers. Most women, according to Boston Consulting Group research, don't believe healthcare marketers even understand them and women are key health influencers. My firm ( is all about empowering women to be their own best health and wellness advocates, and this is a brand-building strategy marketers should consider as vital to nurturing a trust-worthy healthcare or health and wellness brand.

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, February 8, 2013 at 3:28 p.m.

    You are right. Health issues are not the same as anything else. Privacy and protection of information of the searchers must be foremost because health issues can loose/prevent a job for a person and then lose insurance. Information is precious. FB and other such forums can be poisonous.

  3. David Kopp from Healthline Networks, February 27, 2013 at 12:39 p.m.

    Great piece, Matt. The episodic nature and complexity of health issues really does change so much for both marketers and publishers. Certainly 'answer discovery' changes (search and social, as you point out), but so does the importance of 'answer trustworthiness.' I think you hint at this (suggesting partnership with 'credible third parties'), but I think this point bears some emphasis. While you can touch and feel that new pair of shoes and innately understand quality and do you achieve the same confidence with a piece of advice, a pill or a recipe which has impact on your health?

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