Healthcare marketers have spent the last decade perfecting their management of the customer-patient journey. With tools like Salesforce and Veeva, they’ve invested greatly in (and some have created deep competencies around) managing the longitudinal patient journey through every brand interaction.

But there’s a growing realization that a patient is more than his or her condition or pharmaceutical treatment, and that a physician is more than just a professional affiliation. It’s competitively beneficial for healthcare marketers to start to understand their customers holistically, so they’re able to more prominently and seamlessly position their brand in the context of their customers’ everyday life.

“Next best action” (NBA) is a set of product offerings designed to invite, inform or influence a conversation with the brand end-client that is more likely to lead to the adoption of the next step. This is a major step forward for digital marketing as it allows companies to engage with potential healthcare customers by anticipating what they might do next, and tailoring messaging to help them towards that goal.

The digital marketing landscape is changing rapidly. An increasing concern for consumer and healthcare privacy (as indicated in this PulsePoint document) is driving global legislation and the industry has begun to respond in kind with tech changes like abolishing third-party cookies. The result of this landscape shift will be the collapse of traditional user and patient journeys. Countries will continue to make privacy an obstacle to measurement and attribution, which will be further complicated by market gaps in traditional outcome products.

Prepare now so that you can run both an NBA approach and a traditional third-party cookie-based approach in parallel to work out all the kinks before the landscape changes forever.

What do you need for NBA?

Next best action is about being proactive rather than reactive. Instead of marketing activities targeted at behaviors that have already happened, NBA looks at the data and predicts what visitors in your digital channels might do next. NBA solutions become immensely powerful in healthcare in particular because healthcare data is expensive, fragmented, stale, not insightful, not interoperable and not portable.

So what’s needed?

The first component is data. Importantly, the data is connected and organized, linked to events and encounters that help to provide context. To make use of NBA, you’ll need a verified data source—a non-fragmented repository of first-party data. Second, you’ll need a proven technology platform that can provide NBA functionality in addition to traditional media buying capabilities to deliver curated messages to the patient, provider or care manager.

Most digital marketers are already using some kind of demand side platform to handle their targeting, retargeting and cross-channel campaigns. But DSPs alone aren’t NBA-focused. They don’t have that NBA algorithmic magic built into them to run campaigns based on prediction rather than analysis, let alone a source of first-party data relevant to their industry.

Preparing for the transition to a more proactive marketing

So how do you get from where you are now to when your digital marketing is driven by next best actions? You follow the following few steps:

1. Establish the right mindset. Get out ahead of the consumer. If your technology and teams analyze things after the fact, you’ll have missed your chance to guide the consumer/patient in their healthcare journey. You’ll need to change your marketing department’s approach to engaging with digital consumers.

2. Trust in technology. Even though marketing automation has become a major staple in many digital marketer’s toolboxes, people historically have personally analyzed marketing data to identify insights. But technology can identify patterns and insights faster and more accurately than humans, and NBA is the ultimate in technology-driven marketing approaches. Trust the algorithmic recommendations and train people to optimize the models, instead of analyzing the data yourself.

3. Set KPIs and objectives. Of course this step isn’t much different from your current marketing tools and strategies, digital or otherwise. Some goals may be overly ambitious (like trying to convince every doctor to prescribe your particular medication), while others may be obtainable but at a higher cost. The key is to set KPIs that are measurable and actionable and lead to further refinement of the NBA approach.

4. Test, measure, and optimize. Once the technology is in place alongside measurable goals and objectives, you have to commit to continual improvement of the underlying models and the marketing assets. Even though the concept of next best actions is driven by a technology platform based on AI and data, it must operate under human supervision to ensure the results meet your expectations. Even if you predict the next behavior in a user journey, if you deliver the wrong content it won’t make a difference that you were predictive.


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