Marketing to Doctors, Part 4: Lead Generation
Updated January 2023 with the latest statistics.
For others in the series click here.
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, there are just over 1 million active physicians in the United States and they are nearly evenly divided between specialists and primary care providers. The population of the US is ~335 million, so one of the biggest challenges in marketing to physicians is finding and impacting the small sliver of the population that can respond to your message. Here’s how to do it.
Define Your Universe.
You could write an entire 2,000-word blog post on segmentation. In fact, I already have. Start there if you haven’t already. Figure out your primary audiences (not forgetting staff) and how you want to slice and dice them accordingly to specialty, geography, practice size, demographics, etc. Ideally, you should have a pretty specific set (or sets) of criteria at the end of this exercise.
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Marketing to Doctors: A How-To Guide for Marketing Executives of All Levels
Buy Yourself a List
One of the neat things about marketing to doctors is that it’s almost always a small enough audience that it’s practical to actually go out and purchase a list of all the doctors that fit your criteria.
There are a number of sources for this information including both specialty list brokers like SK&A or MMS and general list brokers like Caldwell or ExactData. Not surprisingly, specialty list brokers charge much more for their information and typically do a better job of keeping it clean and up-to-date. How important this is depends on what you do with it.
Wondering if you should pay a big premium for the list of doctors that you want to target? We’ll be sending out some original research on this very subject… but only if you sign up for the eBook that collects all of these blog posts.
“Okay, I bought my list, I’m ready to send out my email blast, right?”
Whoa. Hold on there! Whatever you do with that list, don’t use it to send emails!
Even though list brokers often try to spin bought or rented lists as “permission-based” – those doctors have not given you permission to email them. If you do, it’s spam. Here’s what happens when you send spam:
- Essentially no one will open your email or click on it other than to complain about spam. Spam filters are amazingly good these days. Both AI-based and human-based. When’s the last time you bought something that was triggered by a spam email?
- Future emails (even truly opt-in ones) will suffer. Send out spam once and, even if you don’t get black-listed, future deliverability will suffer.
- Your email provider will hate you. The stats on this email “blast” will all be bad enough to clearly flag to your email provider (MailChimp, Pardot, etc) that you just imported and emailed a bought list. Expect to get a warning and/or banned if you do it twice.
- The few people you reached now have a bad impression of you. C’mon we all know what we think when someone sends us an email we didn’t ask for. It’s not positive.
Your list is simply the universe of people whose permission you need to effectively market to them. There are lots of things you can do with a list but one of them isn’t to email them.
Getting grief from your boss who thinks there’s nothing to lose by sending out a “blast”? Send ‘em here.
Here are some of the most effective platforms that we’ve found for advertising to physicians. They’re listed in no particular order—your media mix is dependent on your CTAs, service/product, budget, etc.
Any of these platforms can be effective in reaching doctors—but we’ve also seen each of them fail spectacularly. Our advice is to go with as a wide an initial media mix as possible and measure what works. Don’t assume that your “go-to” platform at your last company will also be the star performer for your new one!
When you’re getting started, try a mix of platforms to see what works and what doesn’t.
Most people think of retargeting as simply hitting website visitors with banners after they have already visited your website. This is the traditional use of retargeting technology and it’s most often seen with web retailers trying to get you to come back and buy that pair of shoes you were looking at. It’s a useful technique to reinforce your brand with existing visitors but it won’t create net new visitors. This makes retargeting returning visitors a very inexpensive but low impact exercise for many companies.
Traditional retargeting is great but will not increase your universe of prospects.
Here’s how you can turbo-charge your “retargeting” efforts to find new prospects.
One of the most cost-effective ways to get in front of new doctors is to partner up with adjacent, but non-competitive, companies. The opportunities for cooperation are numerous but one of the lesser-known ones allows you to “retarget” your partners’ website visitors just as if they had been on your own website. SharpSpring (previously known as Perfect Audience) has a great tool for doing this. When done with an appropriate partner, it allows for highly targeted banners at a cost of $4-5 CPM versus $70-100 CPMs that are common in specialized journals.
Another great use of “retargeting” technology is to target members of a list. You upload your list of prospect emails (remember I told you that you’d get to use a bought list for something!) and you can then target those people with banners just as if they had visited your website. This will introduce your brand to new prospects in a highly targeted way. It’s like buying a billboard that only (for instance) OB/GYNs can see!
List retargeting is where you can utilize that email list you purchased – without worrying about unsubscribes or getting flagged as a spammer.
This is one of my favorite techniques because it both results in a measurable impact on revenue and it gets the marketing and sales teams working together. Most retargeting platforms will allow you to target a super-granular list. Usually with a minimum of 100 names. Yes, this is really just a subset of List Retargeting but you can do really cool things with it… like supporting your sales team to close a big sale.
Help Close that Big Sale
Here’s how retargeting can help close a mega-deal. Say you’re sitting in an executive meeting and the VP of Sales is talking about how he’s this close to closing a make-the-quarter sale to a large group of doctors. It’s between you and your largest competitor. But it’s slow going because selling to doctors is always slow. They need agreement from an executive committee of a dozen or more doctors/executive staff. Your company really excels on Feature A and your competitor doesn’t. You can support your company’s sales efforts with ads targeted just at those decision makers. Some examples of effective ideas to push that sale over the top:
- Ads touting the importance of Feature A
- Offering an eBook or a case study that shows the importance of Feature A.
- Branding banners that demonstrate how your organization specializes in organizations the exact size of your prospect or in their specialty or in their geographic region.
The prospects are not going to realize that these ads are tailored to them; instead, it will feel like your company is tailored to them. Track the engagement and be prepared to (quietly) brag about how the chief decision maker clicked on an ad and downloaded your eBook two days before signing the contract.
This can be launched in less than a day if you already have the assets and landing pages in place from other campaigns. Target everyone in their organization for which you have (or can guess) an email. Bulk up the list with your own team’s emails if you need to get it to the 100 email minimum.
Support your sales team’s effort by utilizing retargeting to stay at top of mind for soon-to-close sales.
Content syndication can be one of the greatest distribution channels for generating marketing qualified leads at a modest price if you have high-quality content assets. The most common way to do this is to work directly with a leading publication that your prospects read, such as Medical Economics, and have the publications promote your eBook or whitepaper (the most common content assets for syndication) to their audience.
Billing is typically done on a per-contact basis and you can usually add filters such as geography, practice size, and specialty. While some publications offer “per month” pricing, I suggest that advertisers push for at least a guaranteed minimum of leads in any contract. The publication knows their audience better than you do; if they’re unwilling to guarantee a certain number of leads based on their experience, that would make me wary.
The upsides of working directly with publications for syndication are high-quality leads and good brand association—the doctors know and trust these publications. Since most of the deals are done on a per-lead basis, you also have the security of known costs. The downsides are the relatively high costs per lead, delayed delivery of leads, and sometimes daunting minimum-buys.
White Label Syndication
One of the secrets that many publications don’t want advertisers to know (sorry guys) is that there exists a grey market of “remainder” content syndication. There are a number of intermediaries that traffic in leftover “inventory” from various publishers. The process is simple: upload your asset, specify your audiences, and the intermediaries put your content in front of qualifying prospects.
White label syndication allows you to target your audience using “leftover” ad space at a significantly lower price than purchasing the ad space outright.
The primary upside to white label syndication is a lower cost per qualified lead. Depending on the audience, you may also be able to get a real-time feed of leads so that the sales team can follow up immediately. The main downside to white label is that you have very little control over how or where your assets are presented. Many intermediaries also only work with agencies and not directly with brands in order to minimize the conflict for publishers.
Search is a great platform when you have a product that your prospects are aware of and actively look for. Paid search tends to produce leads that are further down the sales funnel than other platforms. It’s often the last thing a prospect does before purchase. So it’s important… but it can also be over-valued because the attribution is so easy to track.
Search isn’t a great platform when you have an emerging product that people don’t know exists. It’s also not as useful if you’re competing in a category with a really low churn rate. You need to get in front of prospects who might otherwise not be thinking about making a change in your category. Search generally isn’t very helpful for that.
A word of caution. You can waste a lot of money on Google Adwords. Google has done a great job in making the interface seem accessible and straightforward. But here’s the thing: people searching for stuff with your keywords aren’t always searching for your stuff. In fact, when marketing to doctors, we see the vast majority of search queries are actually coming from consumers consulting Dr. Google about their symptoms, trying to pay their medical bills, or looking to sue their doctors for malpractice. Combine a 90% false audience ratio with really expensive bids per click and you can use up a lot of your advertising budget really fast.
To effectively use Adwords, you really need someone who understands both the ins and outs of Adwords and the nuances of your product. Most paid search agencies are focused on high volume keywords… the techniques that work for consumer products and even most B2B campaigns will mostly result in wasted spend when used on doctors.
Advertisers need to comb through each search query, figure out the intent behind them, and come up with lots and lots of creative negative keywords, exact matches, etc. And yes, you still need to do this even if your ad copy is crystal clear that it is only aimed at doctors. People will click on anything without reading. (For instance, we regularly get million dollar RFPs on glass-paned canopies for railroad stations and office buildings.)
Pro-Tip: Search is more than just Google: You’ll notice that I didn’t label this section “Adwords”.
That’s because while Google does have, by far, the best product in this space it’s not the only player. Bing is increasingly useful and can often provide leads at 20% of the cost of Google. Bing also serves ads for Yahoo and DuckDuckGo. With these combined properties, Bing can provide a significant lift to MQL volume and decrease costs for your SEM programs.
A lot of people think about organic search as a totally separate issue from all the paid platforms that we’re discussing elsewhere in this article but in my mind, it’s just another platform… albeit an unusually powerful (and occasionally moody) one. Likewise, a lot of folks regard SEO as a sort of voodoo magic that requires secret rituals and sacrifices in order to get to the front page of results. The reality is much more prosaic:
- Good focused content will result in qualified traffic.
- Calls to action that address those inferred search questions will result in conversions of qualified leads.
Is it really that simple? For the most part, it is.
The algorithms for the three main independent English language search languages: Google, Bing, and DuckDuckGo are incredibly rich and complex. They are getting better and better at identifying quality content that audiences engage with. While it’s still possible to game the search engines, playing cat-and-mouse with Google is a pursuit that you’re going to eventually lose. It’s better to just invest in quality content that engages your audience.
Most of our technical advice comes down to not making mistakes: clearly label your content with page titles and URLs that reflect your keywords and actual content, use HTTPS instead of HTTP, don’t do stupid stuff like signup for link farms or allow spammy outbound links in your comment sections, etc.
Appropriate inbound links are definitely helpful, but in our experience, the pursuit of them often leads to semi-spammy inbound links that actually hurt your rankings. When you have the opportunity to cross-link or get inbound links from sites that make sense from a logical content perspective, great. Otherwise, focus on writing great content.
Matching Calls to Action
Your primary CTA should offer an asset that answers the implied question asked by the search terms that got users to your page. This seems straightforward but marketers very often fall in love with their latest and greatest content offering and splash that across every page of their website instead. The problem with that is that if I am searching for “What are the best free EHR systems” and you offer me your shiny new asset How to increase practice revenue with EHR I’m unlikely to give you my contact details. If you’d offered me your year-old analyst report Comparing Free EHR systems I’m much more likely to give you my contact details.
Pro-Tip: Every article on your blog is a potential entry point for a prospect who is new to your company… answer the question they asked and you’re likely to be rewarded. If you don’t have a matching asset for a highly trafficked page… then put that at the top of your to-do list.
Planning SEO Optimized Blog Posts
Each SEO-optimized piece should be focused on one or two sets of non-branded 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. Don’t worry if the blog post seems repetitive (as long as it’s not verbatim – duplicate content will get you penalized) to similar articles… the only people who will read every one of your blog articles is your marketing team.
When planning your editorial calendar focus on the magic combo of search terms that:
- Show intentionality around your product, service, or underlying problem that you solve
- Have at least some measurable search volume (even 10 searches a month can be worth pursuing if they are high intentionality)
Prioritize those terms for which you already have an appropriate offer or CTA ready. Remember, it’s critical that search terms align with CTAs. Otherwise, your SEO efforts might get a ton of traffic but fail to convert any of it.
Example: 90% of our new readers arrived at this article (or another in the series) after searching for a term similar to “marketing to doctors”. We’re currently ranked #1 on Google for this term so we get a fair amount of focused traffic. About 10% of it converts on the CTA: “Download our eBook on Marketing to Doctors.”
Social’s primary value to niche marketers like us is that they know EXACTLY who their customers are. Social platforms know what their users do for a living, where they live, and who they work for. They usually know their job title and who their friends and acquaintances are. And they allow us to target our ads based on those criteria. That’s extremely powerful. All of the major platforms also allow you to upload your own list of emails and target only those users. (There’s that bought list coming in handy again.)
Linkedin is the B2B marketer’s go-to platform. This includes marketing to physicians. As of the date of this writing, you can target ~2 million healthcare professionals in North America on Linkedin. There are numerous useful standard filters available from geography to employer size to help increase your targeting. Creative use of fields of study, group memberships, etc can increase targeting further. Products range from InMail (where you can send in-platform “emails” to prospects) to in-feed sponsored content to standard banners. Business-oriented messages (Physician-as-Business Person) seem to work especially well on Linkedin.
Per-lead costs on Linkedin are high but so is quality. Scaling can be a problem as many doctors don’t log in to Linkedin very often.
Twitter seems to be largely populated by bots these days but there are some real physicians that still lurk there. Your best bet is to target campaigns at followers of local medical associations. The major medical publications typically have too many consumers.
Per-lead costs on Twitter are low, but qualified yields are usually low.
Facebook has been fairly useless as an advertising platform for us for several years. It’s not that the doctors aren’t on the platform, it’s just that they’re trolling for cat videos like everyone else. They’re not in the market for information on HIPAA compliant texting modules. Plus, the targeting controls aren’t well optimized for medical marketers. If you’ve got a fun/lighthearted message, give it a try. Otherwise, give it a pass.
Facebook isn’t a good match for serious marketing messages. Keep it light.
I’m not sure what to say about Doximity. With $80 million dollars in venture funding and a claimed 70% of all US physicians (and half the nurses) in this “Linkedin for Medical Professionals” we should be all over this platform. However, we’ve never posted a single ad there. We’ve contacted them numerous times over the years. For the most part, their salespeople won’t return our phone calls. When they have, they’ve either given us absurdly bad pricing, informed us they won’t accept advertising except from pharma companies, or otherwise totally put us off. I think they are focused on Big Pharma and Doctor recruitment, but if you know better, give me a shout and I’ll update this section.
Remember: Think Mobile
Doctors spend a lot more of their time on their phones than desktop/laptops compared to your average marketer. Doximity says that their data shows 90% of them use iPhones rather than Android. Why do I point this out? Because a huge percentage of your campaigns will be consumed on an iPhone and the default QC device for most marketing and advertising people is their laptop.
Make sure it looks good and the user-flow makes sense on mobile!
There are lots of publications and websites that are focused on the physicians you care about– from the generalist publications like Physicians Practice to more specialized ones like Anesthesiology News. They all offer a variety of advertising products and will be happy to send you their media kits detailing prices and specs.
When dealing with the publications, my advice is to actually call up the sales reps and open up about what your budget is, what your campaign expectations are, and what your creative and/or assets look like.
A lot of people feel like that’s giving away too much information, but negotiations don’t need to be zero-sum games. The sales reps have seen it all. They have a really good sense of what works and what doesn’t for their publication. They know their audiences. And a lot of them are very experienced marketing professionals in their own right. Show them some respect and ask for their advice. It doesn’t mean you need to take it – they do want to sell you advertising after all – but they want to steer you toward what will work. Successful advertisers come back for more. Unsuccessful ones don’t.
Nationally, medical association membership has steadily declined. Only 12% of active physicians currently belong to the AMA, down from 75% in the 1950s.
However, while medical associations aren’t as influential they once were, they can still be powerful allies. Explore sponsorship and content sharing opportunities with the relevant national (and especially) local associations.
Doctors are on their phones constantly. They use them for both work and play. In fact, 90% of physicians use smartphones to access electronic health records, communicate with their team, reference information etc. Another 65% admit that they use their phones for personal use while at work (although we predict the actual number is much higher).
Many medical apps such as ePocrates and Figure 1 offer advertising programs. They tend to be dominated by high-spending pharma programs but it’s worth considering if a specific app is a particularly good match for your brand in terms of audience and usage.
SaaS-based applications such as EHRs and Practice Management software are either making their money by charging fees or by selling access to their subscribers or data (or both). They have both excellent data on their users’ practices and high engagement rates.
Many of these companies are startups that are still trying to figure out their own revenue picture, so pricing and format options tend to be all over the place. If you’re interested in advertising with an app, it’s probably worth contacting them rather than just assuming their media kit (or lack of a media kit) is all there is to see. We’ll discuss how to evaluate their value propositions in the next installment of the series.
Direct mail is not dead. It’s evolving. As consolidation takes greater hold across the medical field, sending bulk mailings to doctors becomes less effective. For instance, when 200 identical direct mail pieces arrive at the front desk or mailroom addressed to every doctor in the building (and many that aren’t)… those mailers are going straight to recycling. Here’s how to have a good direct mail program:
- Spread it Out: Try to avoid the giant batch of junk mail by spreading your mail drops. Sure, it’ll cost you a little more in postage, but it will increase your effective deliverability.
- Customize: I’m not talking about lasering their name on the outside of the mailer. Do something meaningful. What this will be will depend on your offering, but some of the things we’ve seen work include pricing information, references to the actions or questions of close colleagues, mining relationship data to find client references that the prospect knows, etc.
- Go Narrow and Deep: I think the most effective use of direct mail in today’s world is in support of Account-Based Marketing. When you have the attention of one prospect but you need several to close the sale… consider how direct mail can support that effort. Being narrowly focused also means you can afford to spend more, a lot more, on each mailing compared to sending out 50k flyers.
- Go First-Class: Nothing says junk mail like standard postage.
- Go Dimensional: Packages are nice as long as they don’t look like a bribe. Including notes that “pop” are fun too. If you don’t mind the environmental apocalypse you can even include mailers that will play videos in HD for $20-$50 a piece.
- Go Old-School: Consider sending a simple hand-addressed package with a short hand-written note from an actual person. Low production values can communicate sincerity and human warmth – while getting past gatekeepers.
- Get an Email: Opt-in email is going to perform much better and be much cheaper than trying to develop a complex sale over direct mail. Email is the next step.
- Talk to the Front Desk: Sometimes marketers get too obsessed with getting past the gatekeepers. Try addressing them instead with packages and materials just for them. They might be more likely to pass your message on to the doctor if they know your brand and like what you have to say.
That’s a Lot of Options!
I know, right? Most companies can’t afford to just do “everything” and hope that some of them work out. A good agency should be aware of all the options and be able to help you develop an initial media plan to test out the best platform and campaign options for your specific market. In the next installment, we’ll do a deep dive on evaluating and optimizing this media mix.
This is the fourth article of a multi-part series on marketing to doctors. Others in the series:
Why Marketing to Doctors is so Hard
Messaging and Segmentation
Measuring and Optimizing Results