Many healthcare startups find that recruiting doctors is a good way to drive more patients and digital marketing to doctors tends to be a more affordable way to attract them than with traditional media.
In this article, we’ll look at the benefits and downsides of digital marketing to doctors. In my research, I’ve found that there’s lots of information about the benefits so I’ll take a deeper look at the cons so you can get a more balanced view of whether digital marketing to doctors is worth it for you to pursue. We’ll also look at specific ideas for attracting doctors with digital marketing.
First, let’s make sure that we are on the same page with these three popular questions.
Can doctors do digital marketing?
Doctors can do digital marketing but often don’t have the time to prioritize learning a new set of skills in this field, as it makes sense for them to dive deeper into their medical expertise.
Why do doctors need digital marketing?
They don’t necessarily need digital marketing but there are major benefits to using it to drive patients as it tends to be more affordable than traditional media channels. Especially, search engine marketing often works well for doctors looking for new patients.
What is medical digital marketing?
Medical digital marketing is digital marketing in the medical field as the naming suggests. It’s one of the more challenging industries to build good marketing performance in as there are an extra set of terms we are required to fulfill in our marketing compared to the standard set of regulations for other types of companies.
The (honest) pros and cons of digital marketing to doctors
We marketers love to share the benefits of digital marketing to doctors. All the obvious things like how it can help magically produce new patients for the business but without all the unhandy downsides that make it more challenging to sell to healthcare startups.
In this chapter, we’ll dive into examples of the (honest) pros and cons of digital marketing to doctors, especially compared to other options like traditional media.
- It’s often among the most affordable marketing channels considering the reach and targeting options
- Prices are often self-serve and auction based, meaning that you can choose to use any budget you want (even $100)
- LOTS of free tutorials to learn from online if you prefer to learn yourself
- You can track the results
- Takes extra time away from your other work
- There is new stuff to learn and some of it can feel highly technical
- Tracking can be a big timewaster
Let’s first dig into the pros.
The perhaps biggest benefit of digital media is the way it has opened up for small businesses to distribute their ads. We can spend as much or as little as we want to, meaning that we can dump $1000 on one channel and $1000 on another, compare their performance and spend the rest of our budget on the winner.
We are able to do that because of the perhaps biggest development in advertising in a long time: tracking. We are able to follow the behavior of large groups of people against our marketing to determine how it performs. Before we had to rely on experience and that’s where the old adage “Half of my advertising budget is wasted but I don’t know which half” came from. That has created what we refer to as performance marketing (more on that in a minute).
However, that brings one major problem or misunderstanding with it. We are not as good at tracking things as we’d like to be and on top of that, there are ongoing challenges with the balance of tracking and privacy.
For example, we know that patients often refer other patients that are closely related to them but there is no meaningful, yet automatic way to track that digitally because we can barely track that in real life. We might ask a patient when they come into the clinic how they heard about us and they might say from speaking with a friend or searching online but forgetting that they actually did both and what got them to book in the system online was an ad on Facebook.
That brings us to the cons.
If we move to the other side of the table, to the digital marketing team of the business, we’ll see in our systems that we got a booking from a Facebook ad, think that it works well and throw more money at it. We’ll feel confused when it doesn’t continue to perform in a predictable manner like before but the reality is that we looked at a narrow sample of reality and didn’t have all the facts.
In fact, it’s so challenging to do correct tracking digitally because it’s hard to follow the thread in the real world first. We have different ways of attributing performance to different channels, like Last-Click, but none of them are really that great except in certain situations that sometimes are true and sometimes not. My point is that we often spend too much energy making decisions based on tracking that appears to show the truth but doesn’t really.
The one place where it works wonders is with direct response performance marketing on one marketing channel. Launch an ad and get a booking, that’s direct response marketing (and the opposite of branding). It’s the simplest form of performance marketing but as soon as we introduce complex campaigns with multiple channels and flows, we have our work cut out for us because Google will tell us the performance is one thing, Facebook another and we end up as the loser who can’t get the facts as the big marketing channels battle it out for the sale.
With all the free tutorials and amazing targeting options we have for digital marketing, it’s absolutely worth it to experiment just don’t take the tracking too seriously since it’s a never ending problem that hasn’t been solved yet.
Even though the benefits are obvious and tracking can be a bitch, it can be a headache to dive into digital marketing at first since there’s a lot to learn and a lot of it is technical.
Using the search channel tends to be important for healthcare businesses. SEO (search engine optimization) can sometimes feel a bit ridiculous and like the search engines focus more on ranking content that is technically optimized to a certain outline rather than the best content with the highest quality. Whereas before, marketing was all about understanding the consumer, their problems, dreams and how to tap into that to build a bridge between how they felt and your promotion, it is now all that plus the technical aspects like loading speed and robots.txt.
My point is that digital marketing is very competitive compared to offline media and we can target the perfect patient precisely and at a fraction of the cost. But that doesn’t mean it’s a magic bullet–it requires consistent experimentation as our opinion on what works matters less and less the more data we get.
The bottleneck that many physicians encounter with their business is that they don’t feel as if they have enough time to dive into that with all their other responsibilities, and rightly so. Considering that a lot of the marketing work these days is a commodity with what feels like a million healthcare marketing consultants and agencies working remotely, you can often get a lot of bang for your buck by working with them rather than learning (and mastering) everything on your own.
Reaching doctors with digital marketing
If you work for a healthcare startup, you might want to recruit physicians to the team either to write about their expertise, deliver social proof to medical content, or bring them onto the medical team to perform examinations and consultations for patients.
In a past project I worked on, we hired physicians for that. Normally, someone would use their network to get in touch with the doctors, use headhunters or try to reach them in person when they are at work.
Digital marketing to doctors makes it easier to reach them when it’s a good time for them since it can be a sensitive conversation to have especially if they are at work when you meet them. To reach them online we have a few options:
- Send them a personal message on LinkedIn (or pay for ads) since you can see their job title and the company they work for if they have entered it into their profile
- Buy Facebook ads and target to reach people in your local area who has also entered into their Facebook profile that they work as a physician
- Buy search ads (or write organic content for ongoing results) for keywords related to physician jobs (but be aware that you’ll be competing with recruitment websites)
Those are the most common ways to get quick results since we are paying to show up. We could do content marketing and drive organic traffic over time if recruiting physicians is an ongoing project. We are unlikely to see any results from our efforts for the first six months if we go the organic route. Of course, we can also post on social media but that is unlikely to drive any meaningful results unless you already have physicians following your social media account.
The first thing I’d consider is setting up a referral program or bonus, so when you do recruit doctors from your ads, they will be incentivized to reach out to their colleagues as well.
If you are hiring specifically for medical content writing, you might benefit from working with medical students and junior physicians for the writing and a senior physician for the final editing since that tends to be more affordable if you are looking to produce massive amounts of content.
If you don’t know where to start, I’d consider Facebook ads as it tends to be the most affordable. LinkedIn is usually the most expensive (except if you reach out to physicians with a private message, which is free, of course) because the targeting configurations are more relevant for campaigns related to career and employees tend to keep their work profile more updated than the equivalent on Facebook.
Search ads tend to fall on the more expensive side as well since we can reach physicians looking for a job right now. We can for example place our ad for a keyword like “physician jobs” which, at the time of writing, has 2,800 searches every month.
Across all platforms, the pricing can be optimized over time by experimenting with different ad creatives and targeting configurations as the digital ad platforms often work on a self-serve basis and by auction. Instead of pricing being the only thing that matters like in a traditional auction, here it’s also our ad content as we are often rewarded the more users interact with it because the platforms feel as if that means it must be highly relevant for the users, and that in turn creates a good experience for them.
- Tracking in digital marketing is important but attributing conversions can be a headache as the big marketing platforms fight to attribute your bookings to their platform
- Using Facebook ads to reach physicians can be a great choice as it’s often more affordable than other channels and has the scale to work in the long term. Search marketing is often a good choice too, although often more expensive, since we can target people that specifically search for terms like ‘physician jobs’ right now