HEAL's Swadeep Srivastava discusses the role of integrated health communication is a regulated and diverse market like India

 Unlike in developed nations, the media in India plays a vital and bigger role in communicating  health messages, especially in rural areas. Here the challenge is two-fold: While FMCG brands can go in for direct marketing, hospitals and prescription brands have limitations due to regulations in place.

To overcome these restrictions, public relations and media advocacy in an integrated marketing mix have been successful strategies. To an extent, it could be termed as surrogate marketing. A hospital does a rare surgery; it is a story for the media. For the hospital, there is scope to subtly integrate marketing messages into the story.

But there is a danger. In an effort to integrate marketing messages, the hospitals sometimes overdo the strategy resulting in failure. The media is quick to detect this. This is where content curation is a must. Hence, one has to be careful in weaving in marketing messages in a story.

The same holds good with prescription brands. Here, companies cannot directly promote the brand. But again, when a brand is successful in treating a disease or an ailment, the story is on the disease and the subtle message is on the chemical composition of the cure available. While the common consumer may catch the message to a limited extent, physicians do get the message. This should then be integrated with public relation efforts.

Another problem is that many a times a user (decision maker) is not a payer and a payer is not the decision maker. This increases the role of influencers, mainly doctors, nutritionists and other healthcare professionals.

In India, the government plays a vital role in healthcare segment. Of late, the government has become more open-minded in collaborating with the private sector hospitals and pharmaceutical companies in combating diseases – common or otherwise. A case in point is when an outbreak of disease happens.

In such instances, again advocacy has a vital role to play.

Health advocacy for rural and semi urban population 

In India, the barrier is how to deploy communication tools in the rural areas where the literacy graph is barely above the ground level.

In such scenarios, integrated marketing strategies have successfully used ground activation tools like organising events and outreach through street plays, weaving in messages through folklore skits, dance dramas and flash mobs. 

To some extent, religious institutions too have been used to effectively spread healthcare messages. Can brands sneak in to god’s domain is worth exploring.

Brand visibility in these areas can be further boosted through banners, posters, placards, hoardings, etc. in a language and visual depiction that can immediately click among rural audiences.

Urban audiences for health communication 

But when it comes to urban areas, the game changes. Here the population mix could be both literate and illiterate. Of late, the demographic profile in urban pockets too have changed due to large scale migration from rural areas. Here the strategy must be an effective mix of both ground activation and digital.

Coming back to digital marketing proliferation, the rules of the game have not yet been drawn. The challenges are plenty and the field is wide open. Strategies like using the potential of digital marketing, promotion using social media, SMO/ SEO for their portals and online platforms to increase the visibility and hits have been tried out successfully.

All the above challenges lead to two main factors -- increased cost of customer acquisition/customer influencing/sensitization and retention. The solution lies in using "Integrated Marketing Campaign" innovatively and effectively.

Swadeep Srivastava is principle advisor to Heal Health Connect Solutions