A Balancing Act: Programmatic Advertising Vs. Content Marketing In Consumer Media

With new programmatic solutions cropping every day, everyone — agencies, publishers and clients alike — is asking the question: how much of our digital spending should be shifting to programmatic buying models? The efficiency story has been a media headline for years, and programmatic media is certainly a solution. But, is it effective?

I always say that media for healthcare is different than for other industries. Of course, there are similarities and parallels, but health is a personal and involved experience, with a decision-making process that has different individual expectations, considerations, and even stakeholders than truly any other industry. Consider the context. 

From general well-being and symptoms to struggles and a new diagnosis to maintenance and management, a consumer makes active decisions about their healthcare multiple times per day. They decide what foods to eat, they choose between going for a run or watching television, they choose which doctor to see, how often to see them, and how deep they want their conversations to be, and when given a care recommendation from their physician, they decide how much value to place on that recommendation. This leads to a series of new decisions as to how each consumer manages from that point on. The decisions are all based on personal motivation. And each individual’s motivation is unique to their experience. 



So how can marketers support the decision-making process? Programmatic media is rooted in the ability to leverage better data, to find more people with similar needs, in a more efficient manner. And when we find them, we serve them an advertisement. It could be a banner or a video. It’s consistent with the historical role of media to a marketer’s success. Build reach and frequency of message exposure and deliver the right creative message to the right people. Brand recognition and awareness plus a strong call to action will drive behavior, which ultimately leads to building business. 

Will repeated exposure to simple creative messaging in healthcare drive the necessary motivation to inspire behavior change? Perhaps. But consider the complexity of the action we’re helping people to take. We could be introducing a new class of drugs to an already treating population. Or, are we offering the first prescription product to treat a condition that’s never been treated with a prescription before? Are we trying to improve compliance measures for a diet and exercise regimen to avoid medication altogether? All of these examples indicate the need to drive behavior change. 

It would seem that content marketing is much better equipped to aid in true behavior change and education than simple advertising. But realistically, there’s no perfect way to achieve that at scale. 

So we’re back to the right mix. The profile of programmatic, and the ability to use interesting data sets to reach more of the right people with messaging is certainly compelling. The question becomes whether it can truly replace the dynamics afforded in digital content with credible third parties. 

As with most marketing questions, there are a million variables that influence the answer. The complexity of the message and the desired outcome is front and center to that paradigm, but truly, the most effective campaigns will come from striking that balance. 

Content will do more of the heavy lifting to impart storytelling, consideration, and intent. In combination, programmatic, much like TV, can successfully support recognition, awareness, and reminder needs. Approaching campaign planning within the context of the business challenges should help us illuminate that proper balance between the two.

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