Reach Out and Touch…But How?

What is the way forward in this troubling time for the healthcare marketing industry? Humans need to connect, which is why F2F events, congresses and conferences have been a cornerstone of our industry for decades. Sharing resources, knowledge, innovation, research; never has the need to collaborate been more important in the face of COVID-19, but never has it felt so out of reach.

This invisible disease without a cure shuts down how we live, work, engage and heal. It has paralyzed the everyday, and caused us all to question what is most important. At the same time, this world-changing event challenges us to unleash new ways to connect so that we can fill the knowledge and connection vacuum quickly, authentically and with real impact.


Unlike the most recent industry upheavals (9/11 and the 2008 Great Recession), the promise of digital is finally, actually here. The expanded bandwidth and high processing power found on even the most standard work and home computers means that we all have access to high res images, video and easy 2-way and multi-way communication pretty much all the time. Who else watched the SpaceX astronauts leave their capsule and enter the International Space Station on their TV’s, iPads, or even phones? Staying and keeping in touch no longer presents the technological barriers there once were, so if it will be many quarters–as many industry analysts predict—before the healthcare community finds their way onto airplanes, brands can stay in touch digitally and continue that important education relationship.

CEIR research has consistently documented that we live in a marketing world that is most effective with a mix of in-person and digital touch. First documented in the 2014 Marketing Spend Study and again in the 2018 report, 68% of brand marketers that exhibit were already using one or more digital channels in their marketing mix, pre-COVID-19.

While digital is more mature now, the ways we use this channel to connect now require a different approach. It’s no longer about passive info on a website you hope your audience will encounter, navigate and take action. It requires inventiveness, multiple touches, and creating a great brand experience through which you can start and maintain a conversation.


For healthcare marketers, it’s about meaningful content: how to leverage it, package it, and present it for consumption in  “virtual-digital” spaces. 

Establishing a company persona that is relatable to the challenges your customers and users face right now is key. This isn’t the time for marketing fluff. There is no appetite for shallow discourse that feels commercial. During a recent HCP webinar HCEA hosted, physicians were asked what they missed about conference expo halls. They all said they missed the opportunity to connect with reps—not only are they not seeing them at congresses, they are not seeing them during in-office visits. They value the updates and new information they’d regularly receive, delivered in a personalized way. So if the rep can’t connect F2F, why not connect online, through a private chat embedded in a virtual conference experience? Technology makes this possible, enabling the brand side rep to connect with their HCP audience in personalized ways.

Another way to authentically connect and bring value to an audience hungry for new information is through webinars. But I think we can all agree that another dry and one-way GoTo Webinar does not feel like an online destination people will make time for. The HCP audience who participated in the HCEA panel discussion all said they were “Zoomed out,” yet they responded positively when asked if some compelling elements were incorporated. Enhancements like an energized host/moderator, like-real demos, true hands-on interactivity, and augmented reality touches would set the experience apart, and help them feel more connected to the brand.

Setting speakers up for success in a webinar format is another tool brands and associations can use to uplevel an online learning experience. Coaching the speaker, providing an at-home kit to optimize the quality of their lighting and image capture, and even a quick run-through online “clicking through their slides” can ensure a more confident and polished experience—one where there is no technology struggle and viewers are not distracted by an unfortunate background environment.

Incorporating surprise moments, such as the chance to bring a pet on-camera, answer a few quiz questions, or provide a QR code viewers use with their phones to trigger participation in a donation strategy are all components to elevate a virtual learning experience beyond the norm. The effort will pay off because those differentiators will make your messages stand out. 


Selecting the right back end technology can feel daunting when this landscape might feel new and unfamiliar. There is a range of platforms to select from, and matching one up with what you’re trying to say and do will help you ensure making an impact with your audience. Here is a quick run down that might help as you consider the options:

Simplest: Event Hub: Static or interactive site with learning modules, product information, interactive simulations, quizzes, gamification and lead capture.

Simple: Livestream-On-Demand Videos:  Live speakers, product launches and demos, and other embedded website content.

Most Complex: Virtual Conference-Expos. Online simulated congresses-conferences. A powerful software backbone that supports multi-track session agendas with live video-audio, on-demand sessions, streaming keynotes and interactive floor/expo with attendee matchmaking and networking. 

Complex: 3D Immersive Environments: Virtual exhibits and expo floors, product explorers, augmented or virtual reality. 




Data as well as anecdotal evidence suggests that HCPs might be willing to attend a F2F event if it were smaller scale and “local,” that is, within 1-3 hours’ driving distance. Safety practices are easier to control and eliminating the need for air travel minimizes the risk for gathering. Removing travel and safety issues will allow HCP’s to consider attending, which all four physicians who participated in the recent HCEA webinar expressed interest in. Bringing the meeting “to them” will further help bridge the COVID-19 disruption gap we’re all feeling. And technology enhancements can mean that broadcasting the local event beyond the small ballroom or mobile pop-up will further break down the walls separating live and digital. Imagine a noted researcher presenting live at the in-person event, but streaming that content to a remote audience, too. Really, it’s the best of both worlds. And the remote audience can participate by being allowed to ask questions, provide relevant data and connect in smaller follow on breakouts.


As we’re all finding ways to find and share information, technology and inventiveness are colliding to create a new environment where so much more is possible. At the same time we are struggling to connect, digital plus tried-and-true engagement techniques can combine to form a new language we can learn together to reach and touch, whether we’re actually together or not.