Why You Should Not Abandon Traditional Media Advertising (& What to Do Instead)

By Stewart Gandolf
Chief Executive Officer

The pendulum has swung dramatically from traditional to digital media marketing in the healthcare marketing industry over recent years.

Digital ad spending surpassed traditional media spending in 2019 and is expected to exceed two-thirds of total media spending by 2023. 

Healthcare audiences live and communicate in a digital world. Understandably, healthcare organizations and the agencies that support them (including our own) have taken a digital-first approach to appeal to new and shifting audience behaviors. 

But has the pendulum to digital shifted too far?

This blog post provides a second look at traditional media advertising, why it’s still booming in healthcare (for some). It also offers six factors to consider when leveraging traditional advertising in this digital-first world.

Traditional Media Advertising in Healthcare: Past, Present, and Future

Before the rise of the internet, traditional media advertising was the only game in town. Advertising came in print, billboards, radio, broadcast television, cable and satellite, and direct mail. 

Thirty years ago, advertisers could reach almost everyone with the same commercial running simultaneously on three major networks.

Digital media advertising, by contrast, is what you see today solicited online. Digital tactics include paid search, paid social, digital OHH (digital out of home), digital billboards, and programmatic advertising, including geofencing, OTT (over the top), and video advertising delivered directly to viewers over the internet via streaming services or devices (smart/connected TVs).

Today, everyone is talking about digital and performance marketing. Now it’s hard to find a full-service agency that also offers expertise in creative, branding, and traditional advertising.

But the question is: is traditional media advertising still crucial for the growth and bottom line of health and wellness brands?

The answer is usually yes.  And it’s even growing in certain pockets in healthcare. 

We feel strongly about delivering high-impact digital advertising programs for our clients at our agency, but we also employ traditional media advertising. 

There’s no question that direct-to-consumer advertising (DTC advertising) via traditional media has waned dramatically. So why is traditional advertising still around and even growing in certain pockets in healthcare?

Since many healthcare organizations have dismissed traditional media, opportunities exist to seize market share and allow exposure across various channels. 

According to Statista, “While the marketing world took a significant hit with the onset of the pandemic, pharma and healthcare took center stage in 2020, leading to stable or even increased marketing spending across several avenues.” 

While the top spender retail is becoming more present in digital ads, healthcare remains more focused on traditional ad revenues.

Today’s Integrated Approach to Healthcare Marketing 

Traditional advertising still exists, though not typically as a standalone offering but as an integrated strategy for reaching healthcare consumers and building brands. 

Traditional media still connects with specific demographics, whether you are trying to reach an older audience or get the word out in large numbers (think screenings, brand awareness campaigns). 

Building a brand online is more complicated; it doesn’t have the same emotional connectivity.

This is why we see and adopt a hybrid of both. 

Taking a holistic (integrated) approach to your overall marketing goals is key to success. However, this requires time and expertise. Over time and with the right approach, you can learn how to strike the right balance for your company’s goals, budget, and target audience. 

In our experience, this starts with a digital-first strategy, with other marketing tactics and traditional channels following suit to support the program.

Here are five tips on how to strike that balance. 

Six Factors to Consider Before Implementing Traditional Media Advertising 

  1. Audience demographics
  2. Location
  3. Global or Local?
  4. Brand Awareness
  5. Attribution
  6. Professional Media Buyer

            1. Audience Demographics

            Traditional media has its place for reaching niche audiences, such as older audiences who are still dedicated to these traditional forms of media or commuters who listen to broadcast radio. Statistics for viewing habits of baby boomers (or “boomers”), for example, are very different compared to younger audiences. They still read the newspaper and watch broadcast TV. 

            Open enrollment campaigns also still rely on traditional means (TV, mail, events, and other outreach campaigns) to get the word out.

            By contrast, consumer reach is fragmented for the younger and professional audiences. On-demand and streaming platforms abound, displacing networks and providing a more inexpensive and flexible option over cable. No wonder traditional advertising is not an obvious choice for digital marketers when trying to reach adult children or guardians of elderly parents. 

            2. Location (Geography & Number of Locations)

            Geography and the number of locations can help you decide if specific channels make economic sense. 

            For example, out-of-home advertising such as a well-placed billboard can be successful when offering something the general population needs and appealing to a larger market in a specific geographical area. If your budget allows, radio and TV placements can also perform well when reaching older local audiences.

            Traditional media can be very effective for a multilocation health system serving urban or rural communities. That said, if you have a single location in the New York metro area, much of your media buy will be lost in the noise. In such cases, traditional will not be the right option, so choose wisely.

            3. Global or Local Reach

            In many cases, healthcare organizations are the fabric of a community. While you may have a multilocation healthcare system or regional practice, your reputation with the community is inherently local. 

            Digital media advertising can’t compete with local outreach programs regarding emotional connectivity. And according to a survey by YouGov, traditional media channels are the most trusted places to advertise. This can include but is not limited to local TV and radio spots, traditional print, and billboard advertising.

            4. Brand Awareness

            Traditional advertising is usually not going to generate the same ROI as digital advertising. However, when utilized to complement your performance-based marketing strategy, it effectively drives brand awareness and “feeds” digital marketing and general inquiries.

            As an integrated strategy, traditional media can help build awareness and be the invisible hand driving traffic to your website

            When you cut out traditional advertising, it can affect digital performance, as we’ve seen this play out repeatedly.

            5. Attribution

            As we see it play out in our campaigns, direct attribution – where the lead came from – is more challenging. How you measure traditional is different today. 

            Traditional advertising has adjusted to the online world, often replacing phone numbers with vanity URLs and texts. For example, instead of tracking the number of phone calls to measure a campaign’s efficacy, marketers now monitor the website’s inbound traffic, the number of new users, completed form fills, etc.

            As you consider traditional media advertising, invest in learning to attribute your leads correctly. 

            6. Professional Media Buyer

            Having a media buyer in your corner can be a game-changer. A media buyer with specialized experience in the healthcare space can drill down into your campaign and separate the benefits from the fat. They can audit an existing program or build the right mix for your business and audience. 

            Media buyers will advocate for the right investment mix on your behalf. They are also there to manage the program; to analyze, measure, and monitor the campaign for ongoing optimization. 

            Conclusion: Traditional Media Advertising

            Traditional media advertising is a smart investment for healthcare companies, allowing you to develop more effective marketing campaigns and reach your target consumers. 

            Developing an integrated approach will bring the exact customers you need to grow your organization and make the most out of your marketing efforts. Work with your marketing team to identify these six factors and develop your integrated marketing plan.

            Stewart Gandolf
            Chief Executive Officer at Healthcare Success
            Stewart Gandolf, MBA, is Chief Executive Officer of Healthcare Success, one of the nation's leading healthcare and digital marketing agencies. Over the past 20 years, Stewart has marketed and consulted for over 1,000 healthcare clients, ranging from practices and hospitals to multi-billion dollar corporations. A frequent speaker, Stewart has shared his expertise at over 200 venues nationwide. As an author and expert resource, Stewart has also written for many leading industry publications, including the 21,000 subscriber Healthcare Success Insight blog. Stewart also co-authored, "Cash-Pay Healthcare: Start, Grow & Perfect Your Cash-Pay Healthcare Business." Stewart began his career with leading advertising agencies, including J. Walter Thompson, where he marketed Fortune 500 clients such as Wells Fargo and Bally's Total Fitness.

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