Marketing to Doctors, Part 3: Content Marketing
Updated January 2020 with the latest statistics.
For others in the series click here.
You’ve steeled yourself to the uphill battle of getting the attention of the medical community and figuring out which specialists, practice size/type, and geographies that you want to target with your oh-so-wired-message…the next step is actually going to market.
Want all the details on how to market to doctors?
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Marketing to Doctors: A How-To Guide for Marketing Executives of All Levels
But FIRST…. What’s your CTA?
It’s amazing to me how little time many B2B marketers spend thinking about their calls-to-action.
Let’s go back in time and imagine we’re all doing consumer direct mail again (or for the first time, whatever, I said imagine). Ok, what’s the cardinal rule? It’s all about the offer.
Okay, we’re back to marketing really expensive stuff to doctors. What’s the cardinal rule? It’s still all about the offer. Yeah, I know it’s basic. But if you’re struggling with conversion rates maybe you should reconsider your central call-to-action– especially if it’s some variant of buy our stuff, or get more info, or get a demo.
Here’s the thing: No one wants to buy your stuff, get more info, or get a demo. At least not at first. You’re not selling $50 impulse buys (or if you are you’re reading the wrong blog). You’re selling stuff that sells for a couple thousand dollars to several million dollars. Or saves lives. Or maybe both. So you need to let your prospects get to know you a little.
We have found that, in marketing to doctors, Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs) cost about 3-10X more with a “Get a demo” CTA compared to a CTA featuring educational assets. That’s the difference between $75 and $750 for a valid lead.
Of course, a “Get a Demo” MQL may be further down the decision making funnel than an educational MQL, so it might be worth more. But if you’re struggling with lead volume—consider putting more emphasis on educational calls to action rather than the hard sell. Yes, that’s right, we think content marketing is a really good way to reach physicians for complex sales.
How about something educational, doc?
Doctors went to school. For, like, forever. They subscribe to journals. They attend conferences. They like facts. And statistics. They like learning stuff. So figure out what you have to teach them. Doctors make great students. You just need to be a great teacher.
“But the stuff I sell is boring. No one wants to learn about it and there’s nothing to say anyway.”
This is the single most common lament I hear from marketers. It’s also total bullshit.
After all, doctors subscribe to The Journal of Medical Toxicology and their practice managers pour over the latest rulings from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS)…. I challenge you to put out something more boring than that stuff.
I speak from experience. Our agency’s entire focus is on marketing products and services that make lousy cocktail chatter. We’ve written eBooks about everything from how to tell a patient’s family that you might have accidentally killed their mother to increasing your Medicare reimbursements by a few basis points. Doctors & their practice managers do care about and download this stuff.
I’m convinced that we can write about pretty much any complex product or service and make it of interest to and applicable to physicians or healthcare executives.(1) You can too.
The key is to get really specific. For instance, this blog post is about “Developing content for marketing non-pharmaceutical products and services to doctors.” Unlikely to shoot to the top of the NY Times bestseller list perhaps– but of great professional interest to our target audience.
Need some inspiration? Here’s some generic subject matter that will fill up your first 18 months of editorial calendar. They are listed in roughly the order you’ll probably want to create them.
1. What your industry sector does for a specific target segment.
Go into detail. Tell them how you make the sausage. Note that you’ll find higher conversion rates (both to download and sales conversations) if you don’t make this specifically about your company. Keep it generic and cover the different ways one can solve your prospects’ high-level problem. Don’t be afraid to editorialize on why you think your take on a solution is the best way to approach it for a given market segment but resist the temptation to claim that you’re the “best”. Instead, explain what features people should be looking for to find the “best” product/solution for them. It’s better if they come to the realization that it’s your product that offers all of those things on their own.
Think that you have no competition? Usually that means you’re not thinking about the problem broadly enough (for instance prospects can almost always “do nothing”) but even if your offering is truly unique, you should still present your solution as generic. You gain the credibility jump of not “selling”… and if you’re really the only game in town, your prospects will figure that out and act accordingly.
Favorite medium: eBooks
2. Your secret sauce.
Okay, now it’s time to “sell”. What makes your solution unique? Go into detail. Cite studies and statistics if you have them. Is there a shocking secret that the industry would prefer customers not know? Write a book about it. Heck, write a secret sauce eBook aimed at every one of your market segments. It’s OK if they are kind of repetitive, your prospects won’t read all of them.
Favorite media: eBooks, blog posts, webinars, videos
3. Third-Party Validation.
Depending on your solution, this may be a third party analyst report, a published product showdown, or the published results of a clinical study. Whatever the case, resist the urge to prominently put your logo on the cover or all over the landing page that you’re gating the information with. Remember, you’re paying for third-party credibility. Don’t blow it by making it look bought and paid for… especially if it is. The primary branding should be the third-party who created the validation piece… your brand is secondary. There will be plenty of time to do branding and selling later. Get the contact information first.
Favorite media: white papers, analyst reports, clinical trial results
4. Case Studies or Genericized Use Cases.
What can I say? People love glancing at a case study about someone who reminds them of themselves in some capacity. It’s a testimonial and a tutorial on how to use the solution in their setting… all in one neat 2-page package. So case studies are great if you have them. However, we often find that our clients struggle to get their clients to go on record talking about their experience. Or they won’t talk specifically enough about results to make it a useful case study. Or there is a regulatory issue around releasing clinical data. That’s OK. Just talk generically about how your brand helps a particular specialty or use case and cite a range of results. If you can go back and pepper in some more specific “mini-case studies” all the better. Keep in mind that doing somewhat repetitive pieces for each major segment is useful because prospects will only read the ones that apply to them… so don’t worry if all your case studies seem a little repetitive to you.
Favorite media: Case study PDFs, subsections in eBooks, blog posts
5. What’s in the news?
The first four topics on this list tend to produce evergreen assets that you can leverage over the course of years with occasional updates. Jumping on more topical subjects can result in assets that have a relatively short shelf-life but that can produce outstanding results nonetheless.
Some of the lowest-cost MQLs that we have seen in recent years were garnered using hot-button topics like tax law changes, reimbursement changes, ICD-10, HIPAA, ransomware, and similar issues that impact prospects in ways they can’t avoid.
Low cost per MQL is the upside to a great topical subject. The downside is that if the subject is only peripheral to your core business (i.e. tax law changes for a medical waste disposal company) then while you may get the opportunity to add to your inhouse database for a relatively low cost, the doctors haven’t really signaled any intentionality about a desire for your product or service by giving you their contact information. So the conversion from marketing qualified to sales qualified leads may be very slow.
Favorite media: webinars, eBooks
6. Answer the questions that you get from prospects.
Prospective customers often ask questions like: How much does it cost? Who are your main competitors? Who are you best suited for? How long does it take to deploy? Will it work with ABC corporation’s widget? How does X feature work? What do you mean by <industry buzzword>? These make great SEO-focused blog posts. Think there’s not enough to talk about in your field? One of the most famous guys in content marketing got his start by writing about above-ground swimming pools. How much is there to say about this subject. As it turns out: a lot.
Favorite media: blog posts, sales PDFs, FAQ sections on your corporate website
What format/media should I create my content in?
This is a trick question. The answer is obviously: all of them.
A better question is:
What format should I first use to create my content?
Our opinion is that you should start with the most expansive format that you can. Then utilize that base content to develop shorter and more focused pieces in every format that appeals to your audience and that your resources allow for.
For many of our clients, this ends up being an eBook. Each eBook then contains the ingredients for dozens of blog posts, a few videos, sell sheets, infographics, etc. The time that we, and the brand’s management spend learning and refining the message to build this “hero” piece is well spent. These strategic messages get regurgitated endlessly over the next months and years and the eBook can be further mined as source material for future sales and marketing projects.
However, for many more topical or in-depth discussions of subject matter that are adjacent to the core value proposition of our clients (think of a tax law discussion for a practice management software company), it often makes more sense to have the initial “hero” piece a webinar. This webinar is often a cooperative venture between the client’s operational or research team and a 3rd party expert. The marketing team’s role is mainly one of facilitation. The resulting in-depth webinar can then provide the information for follow-on content like blog posts (which promote a gated recording of the webinar using SEO) and eBooks.
What content should I gate for leads?
Marketers often agonize over this question, so I think the easiest way to think about this question is to simply put yourself in the prospect’s seat and ask yourself: If I have to “pay” for this content with my contact information, am I going to be satisfied with the value that I’m getting? To my mind this makes the answer pretty simple: gate the content that is meaty, more or less objective, and well-researched. Don’t gate anything that is sales-y, really short (unless it’s original research or similar), otherwise will leave your prospect feeling “duped” for giving up their contact info.
eBooks / white paper
We love eBooks as a prospecting tool when trolling for initial contact with physicians of virtually any specialty. Keep in mind that our tagline includes the phrase “marketing hard-to-describe products” so our experience with complex sales no doubt creates some bias toward this format. However, my belief is that any big-ticket item will benefit from the validation and explanation afforded by a solid eBook.
A great eBook makes fantastic bait for net new prospects. But that’s not all. Here are a few other ways they come in handy:
- They can (and should) be chopped into stand-alone and multi-part blog posts.
- They are a good inspiration for datasheets, case studies, and other collateral.
- Your sales team will thank you for the additional fodder that they can email/mail to hot prospects
eBooks and whitepapers are best suited for generic sector benefit books, brand-specific secret sauce and similar pieces, and of course general education content and collections of case studies.
DON’T SKIMP on writing a great authoritative eBook. Once you get a prospect’s contact information, you’re still going to need to convert them from an MQL into an SQL. And throughout that process, the prospects will be in charge. Gated content like an eBook is often the very first chance you have to make a good impression on those prospects. So don’t blow it.
The research, writing, and overall quality of your content must be the highest quality that you can muster.
eBooks vs white papers
The only real difference between white papers and eBooks is that white papers have more footnotes and follow a more formal faux-academic style. eBooks are more flexible in that you can make them as visual or text-heavy as you like. People differ, but I generally prefer the more visual and skim-able style of an eBook versus a white paper unless we really need to go for that academic vibe.
But will prospects read my 16-page eBook on the legal risks presented by malware?
Seriously, who cares? You’re not a poet who wants the world to know your innermost thoughts—you’re a marketer trying to make an impression and help sales make successful contact.
The point is that the prospect gave you their contact details, downloaded your eBook, gave it a glance, was impressed with the high quality and thought that went into it, and with luck even printed it out so that it’s taking up desk space somewhere. What more can you ask for?
As it turns out, you do get an additional bonus. Doctors are diligent workers, and when your sales team calls they will feel guilty that they haven’t read your eBook. No, seriously. It happens. Then your sales team gets a chance to give them the executive summary. Everybody ends up happy. Especially you.
At the end of the day, a surprisingly large number of prospects read (or at least credibly skim) even really long eBooks.
I’d also like to point out that you have somehow already made it through ~2,500 words about marketing to doctors… and I dare say that if you have gotten this far then you will ultimately download our eBook which includes valuable bonus material and give us your sweet, sweet contact information for the privilege. Hopefully, even if you’re just skimming, we’ve also left you with the impression that we know a thing or two about content marketing in healthcare.
The first thing you have to accept is that, unless you have a wildly hot product, no one wants to come to your “learn more about our product or service” webinar. Literally no one. Not even your mom. So pick a topic (and make the actual content) more broadly interesting. How you can solve or measure a common problem with tool-agnostic techniques for instance. Or in-depth information on a hot topical issue. It’s OK to talk about your brand’s special sauce at the end but keep it short and relevant to the topic. Remember, no one signed up for a sales pitch.
The second thing you should accept is that attendance numbers do not equate with success. It’s easy to get lots of registrants for the topic-du-jour but unless the attendees are in a position to buy or influence the purchase of your product or service, you’re wasting your time. On the other hand, if you have just one qualified prospect attend your super-focused webinar, it’s worth your team’s time. After all, if you met this prospect in the hotel lobby of a trade show, and they were actively interested in what you had to say, you’d talk to them, right?
Finally, even if nobody shows up for your webinar that’s still okay. Remember, you’re recording it and offering it on-demand. People are busy. Showing up at 10:45 AM EDT is hard. Doctors are busy. Prospects might watch (or skim) it at 11 PM six weeks later. That’s fine.
The most successful webinar topics combine a topicality that gives them urgency to get registrants to actually register with some sort of relevance to your brand. It’s OK for your team to just host and talk to a subject expert if the topic is slightly adjacent to your core brand focus.
Sending the slide deck or bonus content like statistics or research that was quoted in the webinar makes for great follow-ups. And don’t feel like you have to put it all in one email. Keep sending useful follow-on updates with related breaking news as it becomes available, referencing the webinar so they know why you’re sending them this stuff, and you’ll continue to build the relationship.
We divide blog posts into three categories:
- News like product updates, press release rewrites, event info, etc.
- Thought leadership pieces that outline your management team’s philosophy.
- SEO optimized pieces that focus on non-branded keywords.
It’s important to think about each category separately.
News pieces are essentially aimed at your current customers, employees, partners, and competitors. Let’s face it, no one else is going to read your product release notes or that you’re attending HIMSS and are giving away sweat socks to everyone who stops by booth 325. That means you needn’t try and include product basics, try to sell, or have CTAs that focus on any of the above. Focus on building the brand, referrals, and if you feel the need to sell—upsell add-ons or new features instead.
Thought leadership pieces are the content marketing equivalent of putting all your money on 13 at the roulette table. There’s a possibility that you’ll hit a gold mine but more likely the post will sink into the web without a trace. Bolster your chances through smart paid and organic promotion but don’t be too disappointed if no one notices your CEO’s 5,000-word manifesto. The thinking that goes into an unnoticed thought leadership piece can be recycled and reused in other pieces. If you do have a hit, keep writing follow on pieces and start collecting email addresses by promising notifications of sequels, more data, or an eBook of collected thought pieces.
SEO optimized pieces
Each SEO-optimized piece should be focused on one or two sets of long-tail keyword phrases that are relevant to your audience and product. The focus is on visitors who are new to your brand and possibly to your solution. We’ll discuss SEO optimized pieces in-depth in our next post.
Yeah, I know, “interactive” is laughably broad but what works here is really dependent on what you’re selling, who you’re selling it to, and how they are interacting with your brand. However, I think that this can be an incredibly powerful opportunity to engage with prospects 24/7.
Some examples of good interactive “content”:
- AI-powered chatbots that can discuss FAQs and even pricing.
- Sandbox environments where doctors can try out your SaaS or software solution
- Fun “toys” that relate to your audience or product
- CME courses
Here’s the thing: getting doctors to watch a video is hard. They mostly aren’t sitting in front of a computer in a relatively quiet private environment where watching a video is simple. They’re mainly running around, reading stuff on their smartphones, sitting in crowded areas with little privacy, etc.
Videos require their viewers to focus both their eyes and ears on the message. And they’re relatively expensive to produce. What’s more, it’s really hard to successfully gate any videos other than CMEs and webinars.
Some subjects absolutely shine incredibly well in video format, but if you don’t need that, you may want to consider other formats first.
Podcasts are one of the great sleeper formats for hard-to-reach audiences. Creating a podcast audience from scratch is tricky and typically requires a lot of commitment but it’s potentially very high value. If you can commit to building an audience over the course of a year or two by putting out weekly or bi-weekly podcasts aimed at your physician audience, you have the opportunity to spend significant time with prospects in a format that they willingly engage in—and will even forward to their colleagues.
Infographics are great for lead nurture where you already have the prospect’s contact info but they pretty much suck as a prospecting tool. Marketers might give up their email for an infographic, but very few MDs will.
Going for the sale
One of the great rules of life is “don’t ask; don’t get”. So while we love to stock up on MQLs with content marketing CTAs, sometimes you just gotta go with the hard sell. The key here is to figure out what that first logical step is before making a purchase. Maybe it is “Get a Demo/Get a Quote/Free Trial/Buy Now” or maybe it’s a softer “Let’s talk/Contact us”.
Whatever hard-sell CTAs you settle on, it’s critical that you constantly tinker with them. Optimization is the name of the game for hard-sells. We’ll talk about hard-sells and optimization in more detail in our fifth (and final?) blog post in this series: Measuring and Optimizing results.
This is the third of a multi-part series on marketing to doctors. Others in the series:
Marketing to Doctors: A How-To Guide for Marketing Executives of All Levels
(1) Yes that’s a challenge. Contact us if you want to chat about how you could take your complex but really boring product and service and get prospects to download eBooks or watch webinars about it.… or, if you’re already overwhelmed with inbound leads, go back to where you were reading. But, before you go, notice how I managed to sneak in a direct “Contact Us” CTA in the middle of a nominally educational 3,700 word blog post.