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Connecting the 5 Spheres of People-Based Marketing


From persistent identity to cloud marketing driven by AI, managing holistic experience is now the hallmark of brand leadership. Croom Lawrence and Kent Groves explains how people-based marketing plays a key role.

People-based marketing (PBM) is the gold standard in marketing today particularly in healthcare. While pharma brands are ramping up marketing maturity to better meet individual needs, their ability to influence the numerous health stakeholders that surround each patient still presents a significant challenge. Five people-focused domains must be mastered in order to measure and manage individual relationships, better align influencer programs, and optimize the overall cumulative impact on behavior. These domains, or “spheres,” encompass not only traditional digital and offline engagements, but also personalized experiences and orchestrated campaigns built on today’s cloud marketing platforms.

From persistent identity to cloud marketing driven by artificial intelligence (AI), managing holistic experience is now the hallmark of brand leadership, regardless of category. Here’s how PBM plays a key role:

• Influencing individual patients requires understanding how they seek to engage within the complexity of their healthcare-based ecosystems.

• Rather than targeting content experiences and ads to “anonymous” prospects based on cookies (which has numerous downsides), marketers can now reach known customers individually, across the linked devices they use, at every stage of the customer journey. 

• Automation platforms can now be rationalized and connected to inform decisioning and next best action.

• Multiple programs are now more easily coordinated, measured, and managed to fuel more intelligent attribution models. Individual experiences and co-existing campaigns can now be more easily aligned within the same ecosystem.

Behavior change requires supporting content initiatives that spark trust, validate decisions, and guide customers through the next gate. This is where mastery of the five spheres of PBM comes in.

Succeeding in today’s complex ecosystem

To execute programs in this environment, marketers must run more people-based programs at more varied levels of maturity than ever before. Despite this, in 2017, pharma still spent $6.1 billion on direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertising.[1]  Total ecosystem influence through interruption, repetition, and message ubiquity cannot be expected to maximize influence as the bar for customer experience is raised. Influencer relationships also require distinct approaches. The more brands know about individual patients or health professionals and their behaviors, the more they can craft customized marketing experiences that resonate as authentic and genuinely relevant for them. 

There are five spheres that are required to execute people-based marketing, resulting in the ability to measure and manage individual relationships at population-level scale. These five domains encompass not only traditional and new media types, but also key organizational and technology considerations that must all be advanced at the same time. Success in one area cannot be accomplished without success in the other critical domains.   

1. The psychological sphere. Keep the best parts of the heritage of advertising, while improving targeting and addressability to increase personal relevance. Embed the brand positioning and affect behavior change across audiences by inserting key health terms, phrases, or emotions into the ecosystem’s consideration and evaluative processes. Ads and content still serve as shorthand for complex concepts, inspiring action or triggering positive feelings in individuals and within the community.

2. The public sphere. Use data to identify concentrations of the category’s most valuable targets. Drive cross-channel plans with sequential messaging that engages patients, physicians, and other stakeholders during moments when they’re moving between touchpoints or activities. These points in time are when they have focus and capacity for new inputs.

3. The social sphere. Help people forge new connections or enrich existing ones within their community. While raising the bar with privacy and permission-based programs, ensure social programs are relevant in context and channel, align with social goals, address a social need, and facilitate health community interaction in innovative ways.

4. The personalization sphere. Why capture data if you’re not going to use it? All personalization programs are founded on knowing the individual and showing it in the right way. Namely, within the funnel of care, establish a treatment protocol that is more personally relevant to the patient’s specific situation or health condition, and show how your unique kind of care is better for the healthcare consumer than the alternatives.     

5. The brand utility sphere. Use data in unique ways to differentiate care. Solve health information-seeking concerns; give people their lives and time back. It becomes less about information as noise, and more about information to help people solve life’s biggest challenges.

Measuring and managing relationships in the people-based marketing ecosystem

To have a holistic impact on customer behavior and value, marketers must rethink advertising strategy and execution, expanding their definition of “health advertising” to encompass the five key spheres. This requires capturing critical engagement data to better understand how the patient responds and how the overall ecosystem is influencing the individual. Consider a new oncology patient. She is subject to many influencers across her care journey, including her own care partner, her PCP, her oncology surgeon, online consumer and scientific opinion leaders, post-treatment oncology outpatient facilities, and countless other resources. She will have to decide between invasive surgeries or medications balanced with treatment goals, combined with her own sense of wellbeing. As she engages with her unique influencer ecosystem, marketers and care managers alike need to know what is actually shaping her opinions and beliefs, as well as the relative role of each of the five spheres.

Streaming intelligence

To find the answers, intelligent lead scoring, powered by predictive models, will be required. Complex influencer ecosystems can be managed and measured with affinity scoring. Affinity measures the combination of three patient factors: their financial value, their level of engagement with ecosystem actors, and their level of emotional commitment to the brand. Affinity scores change over time and are recalculated at regular intervals using a real-time flow of inbound marketing data from influencer programs. This provides the marketer with the opportunity to reinforce messaging in “at risk” areas, while minimizing impact in areas of progress or success.

Leveraging this approach and model, you can now better predict customer behavior as defined by response engagement and associated metrics. The use of persistent identity improves streaming response data from the five core spheres to deliver timely insight (intelligence). With the help of real-time data feeds and a healthy dose of AI and machine learning, you will be able to craft more valuable content and leverage more relevant channels.

This approach will help marketers in all areas of the health marketing ecosystem create better care journeys and help patients and HCPs more quickly agree on the best course of treatment.

Plan for customer relationship and enterprise-level benefits

As digital marketing, health technologies, and ad/martech platforms evolve, the number-one opportunity that has emerged is the ability to target individuals, as opposed to cookie pools or proxies. Even with the challenges of privacy, HIPAA, and information overload, the healthcare industry is progressively moving toward personalization, targeting individuals with unique needs and wants. This fulfills the mission of using data and technology to improve health for more people. But, as the bar of customer centricity continues to rise, it quickly becomes even more urgent to execute.

Marketing teams must track decisioning across the five spheres of influence, while taking into consideration traditional, digital, and human-to human-interactions. This will provide marketing teams with the data and insights they need to improve the underlying drivers of the affinity score and track progress toward individual and ecosystem management goals. This approach is transformative in several ways. It re-defines cross-organizational-level KPIs that transcend department-level boundaries; it spans from strategic planning to inter-departmental currencies; and it allows the customer to engage more personally and seamlessly across their interactions with the organization.

Croom Lawrence is VP, Customer Strategy and Kent Groves is Vice President, Strategy, Health, both at Merkle.


[1] Entis, Laura. DTC Pharma Ad Spending Slipped 4.6% in 2017: Kantar. Medical Marketing and Media, March 12, 2018.

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