In my previous career, I, like legions of my health public relations colleagues, lived in a very structured world that was dominated by traditional media. We knew the major paths of influence – from media to consumer. We also had well-established methods of working the system so our messages and content would reach (and potentially influence) the masses.
More than a decade later, technology has demolished this well-ordered landscape. Scores of highly qualified journalists have been laid off. Once powerful media have disappeared and some blog-fueled companies (and individual content producers) command outsized influence.
Today, health marketers are living in another seemingly semi-permanent environment. Content marketing is all the rage currently, but it is dominated by generic or high-level content destined for mass consumption. The content beast is never full, so we believe this state of affairs will likely last forever. We couldn’t be more wrong. There is an emerging trend and powerful digital technology that could leave unprepared health marketers pining away for the good old days and wondering why they are no longer relevant.
Consumers Crave Highly Personalized Health Content
In our research, we are very interested in understanding both how people consume digital health information and the types of content they crave. In September 2012, we asked a representative population of active digital health consumers to tell us how important it was for them to receive health information that’s personalized for themselves or their families, as opposed to general medical information. Among this digital health early adopter group, 34% said it was very important for them to receive this type of highly relevant content. It is important to note that the study population consists of people who regularly search the Web for health content for themselves or others. This suggests that many of the people who are most likely to consume health content online are least satisfied with what they are receiving because much of it is generic and targeted toward the mass market.
For many years, those seeking highly personalized health information had little hope of having their needs met. However, this situation is rapidly changing with the advent of a powerful technology that’s being integrated into smartphones and will appear in the next generation of wearable computing devices, such as Apple’s rumored iWatch. What is this new tech? Sensors. Sensors can provide ongoing, accurate information about a range of health status indicators, including blood pressure, exercise activity and more. In addition to being integrated into digital devices, companies like Proteus Digital Health are developing sensing pills that can be ingested and monitor vital signs and health status from within the body.
As outlined in a report published in early 2013 by the California HealthCare Foundation and written by noted economist Jane Sarasohn-Kahn, the most effective sensors will be passively collecting data from users and require little human input.
The Digital Health Content Marketing Future: Personalized, Automated and On-Demand
So what might sensor-powered digital health content production and delivery look like in the future? Imagine this scenario. An African American male with type II diabetes is taking medication for his condition. His pills feature embedded sensing devices, which not only monitor whether he is taking his medications, but tracks his A1C levels and other vital signs. This data is uploaded to the cloud and is combined with relevant clinical, psychographic and demographic data about him.
Automated programs driven by powerful algorithms harvest this data (which has been stripped of personally identifiable information), along with pre-developed templates populated with content related to new medications, health news and other highly relevant information. This content is delivered to our patient on a regular basis (via his Google-powered contact lenses), and serves to ensure he takes his medication, nudges him to eat better and exercises more. Minimal human intervention is required to develop and deliver this content.
While this scenario may seem highly futuristic, a range of start-ups and established firms are developing pieces of the data, device and information infrastructure required to operate this digital health content network today. When, and even before, this scenario comes fully to life, the health marketing industry may be profoundly disrupted, and unfortunately the unprepared may lose their jobs.
This disruptive scenario demonstrates why it is critical for health marketers and communicators to not only keep up with the latest digital health trends, but also understand what’s coming in the future. Your job security may depend on how well prepared you are to weather the technology-fueled upheavals coming to the market.
If you are interested in learning more about the technologies and trends that will shape the digital health future, I’m hosting a free Webinar on this subject on March 20. To register, please click here.