Strap: Digital marketing rules the roost in the UAE where healthcare is concerned; and an extremely diverse group of people as the target market, looks like one of the biggest challenges of the region
By: Jayata Sharma
Marketing is universal. Be it any region or industry, it’s difficult to fathom smooth functioning without marketing playing a key role. UAE as a region has a unique identity as it’s one of the most cosmopolitan locations of the world. Hence, even the healthcare market is pretty diverse. The target market too is a colourful lot.
As per recent reports, the UAE’s healthcare market has the potential to reach to more than AED103 billion ($28 billion) by 2021, which means there will be a 60% growth over the next few years.
For players vying a bigger market share in such a scenario, it becomes vital to have a keen marketing eye to keep surging ahead. In this article, let’s try and dig in a bit deeper into what makes the healthcare marketing click in this part of the world.
“One of the highlights of healthcare marketing here is that it is more focussed on the digital front and the market is overall a bit more evolved,” says Vivek Shukla, Director – Healthcare & Life Sciences at Frost & Sullivan. Mr. Shukla is a healthcare expert with extensive branding and marketing experience, especially covering the Indian and the GCC market.
He further informs that the Ministry of Health regulates marketing, so any message that one sends out, either by way of flyers or advertisements have to be cleared by the Ministry; approval is needed before any material release. This ensures that the market is more organised and also that people cannot give out any message that they want. “It has to be a specific quality so that certain credibility is maintained.”
Certain industries work in similar fashions all throughout the world. For instance, when buying healthcare, word-of-mouth is the most preferred and safe option that people adopt. Providers too, realise this aspect.
“Word of mouth has been one of our more prevalent referral tools. Additionally, we utilise other approaches based on our requirement and the key one is ‘on-ground awareness programmes’. Our strength lies in analysing the relevant data to identify the more prevalent health problems and make our services more accessible to all patients from different economic strata and from around the world,” says Ana Maria Mandai, Marketing Manager, Canadian Specialist Hospital.
Print, radio, outdoors, are popular mediums. “Public relations and below the line (BTL) marketing meaning brochures & flyers are also used prominently by players. In fact, we also do various activations on health days or months like breast cancer awareness month, and so on,” says Mr. Shukla.
Another player, NMC, also uses all forms of marketing as listed. “We use both ATL (above the line) and BTL marketing tools. ATL includes media, radio, TV, newsprint, digital and road side brand communication; while BTL includes referral, corporate and awareness events etc.,” says Sapna Bhadresha, Manager – Sales and Marketing, NMC Healthcare.
All leading players opt for the best methods that give the most rewards. As is said by Gururaj Rai – Marketing Director, Zulekha Healthcare Group, “We use print and digital marketing tools across various channels like the newspapers, magazines, journals, supplements, social media, television, radio, FB live, SEO, SMM, and more.”
Digital is becoming huge nowadays and it seems UAE is riding high on this one.
Confirms Mr. Shukla, “Digital marketing is very big here.”
Healthcare industry is technology-intensive and keeps developing rapidly. It is not too surprising then to see it adopt digital marketing as one of the most preferred means, especially in the UAE where staying on top of the world seems like an agenda!
“With the authorities pushing for the digitisation of medical records, the industry and the patients would benefit a lot from such initiatives. For instance, social media plays an important role in reaching out to people and thereby, educate them. It helps in shaping more complex and affordable marketing strategies. It provides a better segmentation of our demographics and allows us a more targeted approach. It also became easier to measure and predict results,” shares Ms. Mandai.
Agrees Ms. Bhadresha, “Digital marketing is evolving and certainly it is changing the way we market healthcare at a very rapid pace. All marketing strategies and activities have now got a digital presence.”
Mr. Rai of Zulekha also has similar views when he says that digitalisation “has improved our reach and real-time connect with our patrons; the future of effective marketing lies in programmatic advertising and businesses must adapt soon. In fact, we recently focussed on providing second opinion service to our patrons. It’s value addition and extension of our services. For the activity, we used a digital drive to maximise our efforts that translated to touching lives and providing value-based care. Social media marketing also helped us achieve good results for various campaigns.”
So, does this mean that print is losing its sheen in this part of the world?
Continues Mr. Rai, “Yes, the life of print is very limited and has the shortest life cycle.”
While some think that print media has its very own target audience and is also getting used for clinical case details or major announcements. “But the cost of marketing activity requires consideration so we don’t see the utilisation of print media for low budget campaigns,” shares Ms. Bhadresha.
Most experts share a similar thought process. “In an age where we are connected and can access information 24/7, it makes less sense to wait for an entire day to catch up with the happenings around the world. But print media still has relevance in today’s world. There are older generations who still read printed newspapers. However, the new digital natives/youth prefer digital platforms,” says Ms. Mandai.
Deciding on the spends
When you have multiple choices, the marketing budgets too have to be smartly divided among these. One wrong move and you may end up putting in money in a tool that perhaps was not the right one for a specific campaign. So, how can you ensure this?
Says Mr. Rai, “The decision depends on the target audience and the campaigns that are being driven. The message must reach the right audience and we spend what is needed.”
“Like all healthcare service providers, we look at walking the fine line where we make sure our services can be utilised by all patients while making sure that we survive long enough to see through our mission. The spending is done mainly on campaigns to raise awareness about lesser-known facts about certain diseases and how we can help the patients deal with their illnesses,” says Ms. Mandai.
True. And it seems that preventive healthcare is also a leading contender for marketing budgets.
Ms. Bhadresha says, “One of our most successful campaigns was on heart disease awareness, where the message was – we are alert and ready to handle cardiac emergencies. We started with preventive, interventional cardiology and cardiothoracic surgery awareness through preventive screenings, use of digital/print media, HCP engagement. A 360-degree campaign, which had utilised every marketing tool and medium to educate the general public regarding risks of cardiac disease and our readiness to prevent and manage the particular disease condition.”
Zulekha is also a keen player in this segment.
Says Mr. Rai, “We are strong advocates of preventive healthcare. This is being done through four of our campaigns through the year – Pink it Now: Awareness and education, early detection and prevention of breast cancer; Screen and Survive: Awareness and education, early detection and prevention of colon cancer; Chance to Change: Awareness and education, early detection and prevention of cervical cancer; and No More Excuses: Awareness and education, early detection and prevention of cardiac and stress disorders.”
Advertising & PR – the balancing act
There is always a conflict of interest when deciding the marketing spends on PR and advertisements. While the scale will tilt towards the option that most suits your brand identity, usually healthcare players try and strike a balance between the two.
It’s not easy though to decide between both forces or favouring one, as you have to keep in mind the different games both bring to the table. For instance, do you want to pay or want a free coverage? Do you wish to be in control of what is marketed (ads) or are you satisfied with whatever media can offer you (news releases); how much shelf life are you looking at? Longer (ads can run as per your budget) or shorter (press releases and articles typically only appear once)?
“Advertising and PR both take a substantial share in the whole marketing effort. The news we distribute of our success stories makes up for good word of mouth publicity as well as enhancing the brand image in the minds of our patrons. Both go hand in hand and are chosen judiciously to ensure promotions through creative content distribution,” informs Mr. Rai.
While it seems the Canadian Specialist Hospital believes more in the PR, “We are more into generating awareness through various mediums, whether it is PR or social media,” says Ms. Mandai.
What’s life without some challenges? They make us work harder, think smarter. Marketing is an activity that directly touches your consumers. Such sensitive actions should hence be carefully planned and executed. It goes without saying that during this process every market will pose a different set of challenges. So does UAE.
“We have people from multiple nationalities here, from more than 180+ countries. So, the target audience is very diverse, which has an impact on how one plans marketing. To make a relevant message for all these people is a big challenge,” says Mr. Shukla.
Another angle to this is shared by Ms. Bhadresha, “GCC is rich in expat population with diverse nationality. Moreover, this is a mobile population, not static. However, we do not take it as a challenge as such, but an opportunity to serve such a wider segment.”
Unlike India, here the government has stricter rules as well, as already mentioned at the start of the article. “There are governing regulations, which are country-specific and communications channelling are crucial. We need to be running responsible marketing that adheres to regulations, so content and communication is crucial,” says Mr. Rai.
Further elaborating on the challenges, Mr. Shukla states, “Marketing professionals have an inclination to use the knowledge that they have gathered from their home countries. Hence, someone from India may try to work an activity that may not be relevant here. Most marketing people come from different countries and they do try to bring the flavour of their country, but at times that does not work in this market.”
He adds, “Another challenge is that there is lot of clutter as many people are out to advertise their products and services, because UAE is a trade and business hub. So, you see a large number of people portraying their brands. To stand out among this, in the whole jungle of communication and marketing, you have to be really good and really special.”
Public vs. private
In a market like India, where the public healthcare system is not too strong across the nation, it becomes relatively easier for private players to capture the market. However, UAE has a strong government healthcare sector; not only this, the government is active in bringing out initiatives to continuously keep surging ahead. In such a set-up, the private players have to up their game a notch higher.
While NMC Healthcare believes in marketing clinical excellence and expertise, Mr. Rai of Zulekha says, “Quality and service innovation has made us pioneers in our field for various marketing campaigns we have introduced as first-of-its-kind. We always scout to be different and that helps us stand out.”
True. To stand out, one has to innovate. As mentioned earlier as well, due to UAE being a trade hub, many players try to compete for a slice in the market pie and innovation surely is an advantageous line to look at.
Ms. Mandai of Canadian Specialist Hospital has a more diplomatic view of the scenario, “The beauty of the healthcare market in the GCC is that the public and private institutions co-exist in perfect harmony. For instance, the availability of insurance to all of the residents in UAE whether local or expatriates ensures healthcare access to people of all nationalities. At CSH, we try to educate the people and make them aware of various healthcare challenges that the world is currently facing and which can have an impact on us.”
The medical tourism angle
UAE is a tourist hub. Every year it sees an increasing influx of tourists as well as medical tourists. As per a very recent report by Dubai Health Authority (DHA), Dubai alone had generated over Dh1.4 billion in medical tourism, and about 326,649 tourists had visited the emirate last year. “The influx of tourists marked a 9.5 per cent increase over previous years and the most popular areas of treatment were orthopaedics, dermatology and ophthalmology,” Dr. Laila Al Marzouqi, Director of Dubai Medical Tourism Project was quoted as saying in a leading publication of the UAE.
In such a scenario, how can healthcare players ensure to target as many numbers as possible?
“Digital advertising is the main source of reaching out to our patients across the globe and provide them with the required details to make a right decision even before they leave their comfort zones,” says Mr. Rai.
Similar views are echoed by Ms. Bhadresha when she says, “Medical tourism is evolving in UAE and a 360-degree approach utilising various marketing mediums will help in medical tourism. Digital and HCP engagement also can be fruitful tools.”
Canadian Specialist Hospital is also an aggressive player in this zone. It has a fully functional department dedicated to international patients and has been promoting health tourism since 2006.
Additionally, the government is investing in several initiatives to further enhance medical tourism in the region. “As part of their more recent initiative, Dubai got the world’s first comprehensive electronic medical tourism portal, Dubai Health Experience. This portal promises to provide all health, travel, hospitality and visa services at the click of a button and targets over 500,000 international medical tourists by 2020. Visa requirements and processes for patients that require medical treatment in the country have been significantly simplified to boost medical tourism,” informs Ms. Mandai.
Vivek Shukla, Director – Healthcare & Life Sciences at Frost & Sullivan
The Ministry of Health regulates marketing, and any message being sent out, either by way of flyers or advertisements have to be cleared by the Ministry; this ensures that the market is more organised and that people cannot give out any message that they want, maintaining certain credibility.
Ana Maria Mandai, Marketing Manager, Canadian Specialist Hospital
The beauty of the healthcare market in the GCC is that the public and private institutions co-exist in perfect harmony. For instance, the availability of insurance to all of the residents in UAE whether local or expatriates ensures healthcare access to people of all nationalities.
Sapna Bhadresha, Manager- Sales and Marketing, NMC Healthcare
Medical tourism is evolving in UAE and a 360-degree approach utilising various marketing mediums will help in medical tourism. Digital and HCP engagement also can be fruitful tools.
Gururaj Rai – Marketing Director, Zulekha Healthcare Group
Digitalisation has improved our reach and real-time connect with our patrons; the future of effective marketing lies in programmatic advertising and businesses must adapt soon