How many times have you discovered a new song, movie, book or other product by chance and said to yourself: ‘How did I not know about this before now?’
And then in the blink of an eye, you become a hard-core convert to that artist/actor/author/brand, trawling through their archive of work or wider product portfolio, consuming everything you can get your hands on.
Soon, you start mentioning your newfound obsession to anyone who will listen: ‘Have you heard … seen … watched … tried?’ And like gasoline to a fire, so begins the power of word of mouth.
If you’re on the other side of the ledger – i.e. you’re a marketer – word of mouth is great. But how many other potential brand converts still don’t know your product exists? In a world where there is more content, more products and more choice than ever before, do you really want to risk leaving the discovery of your brand to happenchance?
Ah, but a great product will sell itself, you may say. Indeed it can and should, but only if people know about it. Brand awareness is the initial stepping-stone on the buyer journey – without it, there is no path to purchase.
Unfortunately, companies are not always willing to invest in getting their brand/s known – they assume positive word of mouth will do the job. Sometimes it does, of course; things do go ‘viral’. But more often than not, you need a catalyst to help you gain attention and get noticed.
And that means paying for it.
Start-ups are particularly prone to overlooking the need for paid promotion, to the extent that brand and marketing may not even be line items in their budget. Capital is limited, with financial backers pressuring for low overheads and a fast return on investment. Sometimes the founder’s belief in the product is so great (ostensibly a good thing) that they become numb to the product’s shortcomings or challenges of entering a competitive market (definitely not a good thing).
The reality is that even great, revolutionary, life-changing, innovative, paradigm-shifting products need to be marketed. People don’t know what they don’t know, can’t love what they don’t know, can’t share what they don’t know, can’t buy what they don’t know, can’t prescribe what they don’t know.
Which is a nice segue to the idiosyncrasies of healthcare marketing.
While smart channel distribution is often key to serendipitous new product finds during a shopping trip, many healthcare products or services are not the kind you can find on a physical shelf. Beyond word of mouth, then, advertising is the gateway to brand awareness.
The good news is that today’s brands have many more advertising options than the traditional triad of mainstream TV, print and radio – meaning that paid advertising doesn’t have to be ‘big, scary and expensive’.
Newer, digital forms of advertising like paid search, paid social and on-demand TV provide more segmented audience reach (smaller but highly relevant) at a lower cost of entry. For many brands, these newer channels have put advertising within practical reach for the first time, and enabled many niche brands access to audience sizes their predecessors could only dream of.
But that’s not to say that traditional channels don’t also have a role to play.
If you’re a local service provider, local radio, newspaper and OOH (out-of-home) display advertising are still highly relevant channels, particularly when coupled with geo-targeted search and/or social campaigns. The challenge here is channel selection and smart media buying, which is a whole other conversation.
The point is: advertising offers a highly practical tool for getting your brand known. It has the capacity to put your brand in front of many more potential customers than you could otherwise achieve. So if sales growth is truly on your agenda, it may be time to leverage the power of advertising to catalyse brand awareness and lead your audience down the yellow brick road to purchase.