By Dedef Kayrouz, group marketing director, Accumed
Marketing is essential in supporting the healthcare industry to communicate and provide value to consumers. Whether an established healthcare provider is trying to build brand equity to raise funding from investors or a health technology company trying to generate brand awareness and leads for a proprietary service, modern strategies are needed to adapt to consumer preferences. Various studies have shown that customers now prefer to receive personalised marketing content as it is more convenient for decision-making and reduces information overload. Similar to other industries, the healthcare industry, has shifted towards more customised approaches and sustainable relationships to build loyalty and encourage repeat purchases from the same supplier.
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So why are customised marketing strategies essential to the success of Healthcare in the Middle East?
Traditional Marketing vs. Conventional Marketing
Although traditional mass-market marketing methods are commonly employed in healthcare, digital marketing is taking a more prominent role since the COVID-19 pandemic. According to a report on key social media trends in the region, social media users in MEA (the Middle East and Africa) spend the most time on social networks, averaging over 3.5 hours per day as compared to the global average of 2.5 hours. Additionally, a report by the GSM Association that unites over 750 mobile operators globally mentioned that “The number of mobile internet users in MENA exceeded 300 million in 2021, with penetration due to reach 50 per cent of the population by the end of 2022.” These findings identify Middle Eastern consumers as becoming more tech-savvy and spending more time consuming digital content.
Hence, digital strategies are preferred as marketers can efficiently target users based on their detailed demographics and user activity to generate more engagement, a powerful advantage unavailable in traditional marketing. Moreover, digital marketing allows for both inbound ‘pull’ marketing by distributing content that draws visitors to digital profiles and outbound ‘push’ strategies which proactively reaches out to consumers. Mass media is mostly suited for the latter. Consequently, this has influenced increases in SEO (Search Engine Optimisation, SEM (Search Engine Marketing) social media, influencer marketing, email marketing and related channels.
The importance of Brand Reputation
Brand reputation is crucial in the Middle Eastern market as it has the power to uplift sales and develop a sustained competitive advantage. According to a report on corporate reputation by global public relations specialists Hill+Knowlton Strategies, “Nearly four out of five senior executives across the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Qatar consider their company’s corporate reputation as ‘extremely important.’ Healthcare services are generally seen as a necessity which directly impacts lives, meaning consumers are more likely to consider the reputation of a healthcare facility or product before purchasing. With intensive digitisation in the healthcare industry, reputation and trust are also heavily affected by online reviews, social media presence, and search engine rankings as customers seek the most relevant services quickly and expect to be informed about services clearly in a presentable manner. Therefore, Healthcare marketing has mainly focused on promoting personalised customer care, quality and value of services, ethics and transparency, impacts on society and expert advice.
The Potential of Marketing Healthcare experts
Marketing key opinion leaders and healthcare professionals such as specialist doctors and executive management can have a lasting impact on brand image and indirectly influence sales. With increased digitisation, consumers are developing their perception of healthcare brands and obtaining contact information through easily accessible channels online. Displaying experts of the organisation directly to consumers through these channels not only improves brand reach but also gives potential patients or consumers a unique chance to build credibility and trust with the expert and hence with the brand they represent. Doctors and Senior Management reflect the organisation’s culture and thought leadership and are therefore likely to influence the customer’s perception of the company’s reputation and quality of service/product.
Marketing Budget Allocations
Although the Middle East is advancing digitally with E-magazines and E-newspapers, other traditional channels such as radio have experienced increases in consumption and are viewed with more credibility. Similarly, healthcare magazines, newspapers, reports and physical events tend to be viewed as more trustworthy and attract industry professionals making them good options for B2B marketing. On the other hand, social media, digital content and influencer marketing tend to be effective channels for targeting a wider audience and communicating directly with consumers, making it practical for B2C marketing. Nevertheless, a mix of traditional and contemporary media is always advised depending on the marketing objectives. For example, a new hospital marketing its patient-centric facilities to increase footfall might utilise a mix of social media influencers and ads depicting customer testimonials and radio campaigns. However, if its goal was to attract talent, it could engage in advertisements in industry magazines and social media job advertisements showcasing its organisational culture coupled with an internal marketing strategy focused on keeping employees consistently engaged through regular training and growth opportunities.