The healthcare landscape is experiencing massive change all over the world. If you define the industry as the commercial vertical that surrounds human health, you can break it down into four main sections:

  • The development of medicines and technology that enable care
  • The administration of healthcare itself, on the part of physicians
  • The insurance and financing which patients and organizations use to pay for care
  • The peripheral products and services that contribute to ongoing wellness—like gyms and wearables

There are two major factors driving the change across all areas of the industry.

One is an evolving consumer journey. The consumer journey is comprised of moments when consumers are open to influence. In healthcare, this is morphing quickly because of:

  • Increased access to information and data for both consumers and brands
  • Increased exposure to costs of healthcare products and services
  • Growing consumer interest in health and wellbeing

The second large driver of change are the amazing leaps being made in the science and technology of care. The quality of healthcare has never been higher. That’s thanks in large part to advances across medical science and the deployment of technology.

Technology is enabling brands to put consumers at the forefront in ways that were not previously imaginable. But it is also breaking down barriers to entry for competitors. These changes mean that consumer interest will hinge on effective branding, presenting a growing opportunity to healthcare brands who can market themselves as customer-centric.

Technology enables brands to put customers first.

Healthcare brands have never had a better opportunity to put customers front-and-center. Access to data is giving birth to drastically improved systems of prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and payment. This is the result of modern technology taking hold in healthcare. That is, not only has the field adopted the infrastructure of the information age—it has started to deploy more specialized applications of that infrastructure.

One example of older technology being applied to a valuable new marketing strategy is Mexico’s MedicallHome. It is a phone-based service that offers its one million subscribers access to professional health advice for a fixed fee of $5 a month (payable on phone bills), a cost far below the charge for a physician’s visit.

A more software-based example In the US is Flatiron Health, a startup that aggregates preexisting cancer data sets and licenses it to oncologists. It’s a great illustration of technology putting consumer data at the center of cancer care and services.

Big players in the health insurance field like Unitedhealthcare, Cigna, Aetna, and recent Aetna acquisition Humana are all using technology to design experiences that take advantage of mobile functionality and granular consumer data. Programs like HumanaVitality, for example, provide direct financial incentives for exercise and healthy habits.

Consumer-centered initiatives like these are here to stay because they provide real value. They can’t be treated as bolt-on advertising efforts. Rather, they must become a core part of healthcare marketing strategy. The brands that build systems to share their customer-centric values will be the ones that ultimately gain market share. And if they don’t, new competitors will.

Technology lowers the barrier to entry.

The deployment of technology is also creating a more dynamic market. The wave of startups and challengers are entering from surprising places. It took Oscar, a software-driven New York-based insurance start-up, just 16 months to reach a $1.5 billion valuation.

FitBit has openly recognized that their technology benefits from its associations with “wellbeing.” What’s to stop them, Apple, or another start-up from taking dead aim at a business like Roche’s $10 billion diagnostics division?

Think that’s impossible to do? Tell that to Elizabeth Homes, who dropped out of Stanford at 19 to found Theranos. Her company, which is now valued at $9 billion dollars, allows you to get your blood tested at your local pharmacy. It’s going to market with a goal to “create the world’s first consumer health technology brand.”

CVS is now offering examinations and treatments for minor illnesses, wellness and physical examinations, health screenings and vaccinations. Most would traditionally associate these services with their general practitioner. CVS also happens to be entering the market with all the experience of building a national consumer retail brand. They’re wisely starting with the consumer in mind.

When the stakes are as high as they are in the healthcare industry, tradition doesn’t get you very far. New entrants are wisely betting that consumer-centric brands based on value and innovation will fare well.

Consumer interest will hinge on effective branding.

Technology has given healthcare marketers the ability to put consumers at the center of their strategy. It’s enabled disruptive new entrants to go to market with consumer-focused brands.

This approach is all the more imperative because consumers are waking up to the health implications of their diet, exercise, medicine, and doctors. While the curiosity around personal wellbeing is increasing—in the US especially—marketers are struggling to provide even the most foundational of facts about healthcare. For instance, most young people can’t answer basic questions about their insurance coverage, according to a study at the University of Pennsylvania. There is an opportunity for marketers to own the value of educating consumers about the health care topics they’re clearly interested in, growing their brands in the process.

Increased attention to wellbeing is not the only reason brands need to be consumer-centric. Much has been written about costs shifting to the consumer in the US in the wake of the Affordable Care Act, though it’s not just an American phenomenon. Costs are rising globally as well. With a lack of foundational knowledge and cost pressures mounting on customers, healthcare marketers can’t rely on the current systems they have in place to build their brands. The status quo is clearly failing to spell out the value of the healthcare system. For instance, the health insurance industry ranks near the bottom in customer satisfaction when compared to other verticals.

The healthcare companies ready to consistently prove their value to consumers will be the ones that grow their brands. They will have a bigger impact on our lives than almost any other organizations that exist today.

The opportunity is just beginning to take shape—and it’s immense.

Globally, an aging population, high demand for access to care, and the fact that the deployment of technology is in its infancy all contribute to the growing opportunity to gain market share in healthcare, according to Deloitte. Those factors are bringing about a trillion-dollar disruption, expertly laid out here by Tom Main and Adrian Slywotzky of Oliver Wyman.

This is taking place in relatively green pastures as far as brand salience is concerned. The opportunity to own white space around attributes like wellness, convenience, and value is drawing waves of competition from non-traditional competitors. The brands that capture that white space in a meaningful way, adding value with the consumer at the fore are the ones that will ultimately win.

At Percolate, we’re lucky enough to work with many healthcare marketers. At its best, healthcare branding can elevate the practice of marketing and inspire us. We know it’s not easy to do this work. At times it feels like the landscape is shifting below your feet. At others the industry feels so highly regulated that you’re unable to keep up. We also know how important your brands are. We’re excited to help build the systems to share them.