Direct-to-consumer marketing in healthcare is a way for medical organizations, doctor-owned practices, pharmaceutical companies, wellness programs, and other care providers to advertise services, treatments, and products straight to patients.

This type of healthcare marketing enables healthcare brands to connect with and build trust directly with their patient audiences.

Read on to learn the benefits of direct-to-consumer marketing, see examples of successful medical advertising campaigns, and get tips for creating a healthcare marketing plan that improves the patient experience for people in your target audience.

What does DTC healthcare marketing mean?

Direct-to-consumer (DTC) marketing in healthcare is growing vastly in popularity as marketers increase their ability to refine their target audiences.

Direct-to-consumer marketing in healthcare is a patient-centric strategy. It uses insights about patient experiences and lifestyles as part of core messaging for branding and advertising campaigns.

At different points in their lives, everyone sees a doctor. That’s why healthcare remains the largest industry in the U.S.

According to findings from the International Telecommunication Union, between 56% and 79% of U.S.-based patients use the web to get medical information and manage their care, making the Internet a critical way to build trust with your direct-to-consumer healthcare strategy.

The best DTC healthcare marketing campaigns increase brand recognition, boost credibility, and strengthen connections.

How direct-to-consumer advertising goes beyond traditional medical marketing

Platforms like television, banner ads, newspaper, and radio are types of conventional medical marketing used to “push out” campaign messaging. As the history of healthcare marketing shows, these advertising methods don’t result in meaningful patient interactions. They just inform—if you’re lucky, they aren’t overlooked or blocked.

On the other hand, direct-to-consumer marketing in healthcare uses a “pull” strategy. This type of advertising is more thoughtful, prioritizing tactics that encourage direct engagement with patients.

More brands are reaching out to patients for feedback, responding to their comments on social media to understand their experiences, and utilizing assessments, like checklists, to deliver personalized care recommendations.

Thus, the importance of marketing in healthcare is cementing itself into this increasingly digitalized industry.

2 benefits of DTC healthcare marketing

A few of the benefits of direct-to-consumer marketing in healthcare include:

  • More power over your services and its brand position
  • Understanding your patients’ needs better because you’re engaging directly

Potential challenges with direct-to-consumer medical marketing

Like with any new marketing strategy, there’s no guaranteed profitable outcome.

Here are some examples of what to avoid when starting direct-to-consumer marketing in healthcare strategy:

Don’t misinform your audience

Though healthcare brand marketing includes highlighting the usefulness of your services, treatments, and products, you shouldn’t mislead patients in the process. The FDA is known to take disciplinary action against healthcare and pharma companies that overemphasize drug benefits and minimize risks.

Patients may lack the skills to assess medical information appropriately, even when it’s provided to them. In fact, a 2020 assessment found that roughly half (pdf) of U.S. adults ages 16 to 74 years old lack literacy proficiency.

Proper target marketing in healthcare should naturally attract the audience you want to help, eliminating any need to mislead your patients.

3 ways that direct-to-consumer healthcare brands empower their patients

  1. DTC healthcare brands inform and educate their patients about their products and why they’re a great fit for them. This ultimately empowers patients to research more deeply into their health needs and understand the product before they purchase it.
  2. Brands can directly remove the stigma associated with certain medical illnesses through their marketing, which ultimately encourages patients to discuss their health issues with their doctors more openly.
  3. Direct-to-consumer marketing in healthcare is a tactic that, when done right, can help strengthen doctor-patient relationships. This is especially critical in marginalized communities, where distrust of medical providers is common.

4 tips for incorporating DTC campaigns into your healthcare marketing strategy

If you’re interested in adopting a DTC marketing strategy for your healthcare organization, you’re not alone.

Here are a few tips on what to focus on as you start your journey:

  • Refine your brand identity
  • Understand who your patients are and what they need
  • Collect and analyze high-quality data to get insights into patients’ needs
  • Create authentic messaging that explains how your healthcare organization can help

3 examples of successful direct-to-consumer marketing in healthcare

Here are some examples of direct-to-consumer marketing in healthcare from companies known for their strong identities, consistent and clear messaging, and effective use of insights pulled from patient data:

  • PillPack is an online pharmacy—owned by Amazon—that packages multiple medications together into packs of pills sent directly to patients.
  • Hims & Hers Health are telehealth platforms that provide easy access to treatments and health information.
  • Smile Direct Club supplies teeth straightening treatments as an alternative to braces to patients directly at home.

These healthcare organizations have found success using DTC medical marketing outreach efforts. That’s because their work is relatable in that they plainly explain how they can solve their target audiences’ problems.

Direct-to-consumer marketing in healthcare trends
Online reviews

Existing trends point to more healthcare practices, providers, and doctors registering for review websites to receive direct feedback from their patients (and potential patients).

Websites, like Healthgrades, are platforms that provide patients with information about physicians, hospitals, and healthcare providers, including how patients reviewed them.

Subscription boxes

Subscription boxes are also on the rise across many industries, including options with a healthcare- or wellness-focus.

For example, the Mental Wealth Box provides its customers with curated boxes that contain tools and resources for people to explore mental health.

Telehealth services

As consumers seek safe, accessible, and high-quality healthcare, the demand for telehealth continues to grow.

Fair Health, the nation’s largest repository of private claims data, said in a 2021 report that telehealth usage increased by 3,060% from 2019 to 2020.

This trend will likely not go away due to continuous improvements to apps and online platforms for smoother virtual care amid fear of exposure to COVID-19 and other diseases.

What’s next

AI healthcare tools

Signs are good for the continued popularity of artificial intelligence and cognitive computing systems in the medical industry.

According to an analysis by Frost & Sullivan, AI tool usage grew from $811 million in 2015 to $6.7 billion in 2021. The latest solutions do everything from helping patients manage personal health information to enabling practices to customize care and spend marketing wisely on target advertising campaigns.

For example, the Apple Watch has many features that use AI technologies, including its irregular rhythm notification tool. It provides users with personal screenings for heart-related disorders.

AI-driven applications like this, created by healthcare providers, are increasingly used to help patients handle diagnostic assessments from the comfort of their homes (and even on the go, sometimes).

FAQs about direct-to-consumer marketing in healthcare

The shift to technological healthcare has many possibilities for brands to expand their ecosystem. Read below for additional information on exploring this method for your business.

How do I know if direct-to-consumer marketing is right for my medical practice?

If you are interested in gaining a stronger connection with your patients and want to do more with your paid media, direct-to-consumer marketing in healthcare can be an especially great option if your practice is new and you need to build your brand.

That’s because DTC marketing is a good way to build rapport with your target audience, better understand their needs during the patient journey, and find opportunities to get creative with your branding.

How will this approach help my patients?

You’d be empowering them to be informed about their options for addressing health concerns they may have, big or small.

This is also a great way to make patients feel heard through receiving their data directly from them, not a retailer, allowing you to get feedback faster.

Integrating the right social media marketing in healthcare strategy will also help funnel the online interactions necessary for stronger patient-relationship building and engagement.

What are signs a direct-to-consumer healthcare marketing strategy is getting results?

When it comes to direct-to-consumer marketing in healthcare, you need to ensure you’re setting up your campaigns correctly before you can measure your results. Some must-haves for success include:

  • Picking a target audience
  • Identifying their pain points
  • Creating promotions that address their biggest questions and concerns
  • Investing in an evaluation plan and toolkit that is right for your objectives

How DTC marketing can help you grow

Ultimately, the goal of any healthcare marketing is to make it easier for your providers to help patients find and get the care they need.

When done right, direct-to-consumer marketing in healthcare can attract high-quality leads, improve conversions, and enhance patient retention efforts.

Get help to reach your medical marketing goals

Our team at TBH is knowledgeable about what it takes to develop, execute, and manage successful direct-to-consumer marketing in healthcare campaigns.

We take the time to understand each client’s needs, concerns, and resources so they can get the biggest healthcare marketing ROI.

Reach out to us today to figure out how we can use our expertise to help you reach your business goals.