Digital advertising, done well, can be an absolute miracle for a practice or healthcare system. Done poorly, or without a sound strategy, and it can be a budget killer.
For the purposes of this article, we’ll focus on digital advertising in the realm of Google search and display ads. Google gets more than one billion health-related search questions each day. Potential patients are clearly turning to Google for questions around their medical needs, which naturally extends to include looking for professionals who can help them with their health issues. Practices can elevate their visibility through long-term strategies focused on search engine optimization, but can also rapidly target common searches by implementing a digital marketing campaign. Both are valid strategies, and both are applicable to practice growth and patient acquisition. However, in the case of search and display advertising, we’ve found that advertising has limitations based on a number of factors- chiefly, consumer apathy.
What is Consumer Apathy?
Consumer apathy is something rarely talked about by advertising agencies, and it’s a tough subject. Essentially, consumer apathy is the tendency for a consumer to ‘filter out’ a brand or advertisement. You may have experienced it when you receive direct mail or flyers at your home, which you glance at and don’t fully read (and sometimes, don’t even open) before throwing it away. In the digital sphere, it relates to filtering out and ignoring advertisements, in particular at the top of a Google search or display ads in the banner section or sidebar of websites.
When Was the Last Time You Clicked on a Google Ad?
We are living in an age of unprecedented digital connectedness, and savvy marketers have been leveraging that for so long that mentally we’re becoming inured to the near-constant attempts of companies vying for our attention.
About one-third (32%) of the 1,000 US consumers surveyed in 2019 by Kantar Media said they disliked advertisements, down from 36% in 2018. The data also suggests that where consumers happen to view an ad contributes to how much it is enjoyed. Kantar found that respondents enjoy seeing advertisements at movie theaters more than in any of the other media channels. Perhaps more telling is that consumers prefer viewing ads through traditional platforms – such as television and print media – more than they do online. Finally, 56% of consumers object to over-targeting, while 55% are completely apathetic toward advertising content – increasing from 53% in 2018.
These stats are hugely informative, as it illustrates that there’s a fine line between strong advertising and overexposure. In fact, rather than referring to consumer apathy, we feel the better term is ‘ad apathy’, as it more aptly describes the ad fatigue and propensity to ignore advertisements when they aren’t done well.
A very clear case of this is when you think about your personal experience with Google searches. When queried, many people will say that they rarely or never click on Google ads at the top of a search. Look at the example of ‘dentist near me’, and think about where you would click for a ‘near me’ search. With a heatmap of eye-tracking, we’ve found that people tend to linger on ‘differences’- for instance, $values and deals, large numbers of reviews, the word “BEST”. We see a large amount of lingering on map & organic listings with searches for local services.
In general, we find it more productive to dedicate significant effort to elevate visibility through website & local map listing SEO (search engine optimization), as potential patients trust those search results far more and have a greater tendency to click on them. We view advertising as a way to ‘fill the gap’ when organic rankings aren’t strong, or when we want to market in a new area or with a new service. Essentially, we use Google ads to present ‘must have’ deals, or as a way to connect with people who may not find us organically.
Should Your Practice Run an Advertising Campaign?
This is a complex choice, and there’s no bulletproof singular strategy. As a guideline, it’s usually recommended to run an advertising campaign as a stop gap measure, meaning run it when there’s a very clear need to present a deal, quickly penetrate a new market, or to bolster other patient acquisition strategies such as physician liaison marketing. Digital advertising campaigns are quick to implement, with visibility being achieved nearly instantaneously.
You should always consider your budget when running a search advertising campaign through Google. Google places a premium on those ‘top 3’ spots within search results; depending on how competitive your market is, you may find your advertising spend budget expended rapidly if there are large volumes of searches and many competitors bidding on the same terms.
When considering running a display campaign, you should put considerable thought into the potential to become ‘clutter’, and the potential to cause negative sentiment to associate with your brand. Display ads run in banners, sidebars, and sometimes even injected into articles and alongside email. These can be interruptive, and an overabundance of them is associated with backlash and negative perception of the brand. We prefer a retargeting/remarketing approach for display ads, only showing them AFTER a consumer has interacted with your brand (usually by visiting your website). Display ads can be a subtle nudge to remember the brand & potential need, but can easily bludgeon a consumer is not carefully and selectively displayed. This relates to a fantastic quote from research into advertising clutter and consumer apathy:
The growing consumer apathy to mindless advertising clutter, and efforts of over-enthusiastic producers to position their products by creating a niche in the already crowded space in the Consumer minds, is quite apparent. Consumers were always able to avoid mass media advertising, and today, advertising avoidance becomes increasingly easy. Televisions have remote controls, many people watch only shows that were recorded earlier so the commercials can be skipped, or many broadcast services are now by subscription and commercial-free. Yet it appears that the advertisers’ “solution” to audience avoidance of their messages is to increase the number of messages, so even the effort of commercial avoidance becomes a source of audience frustration.
Savvy advertising agencies know that advertisement avoidance and ad apathy contribute heavily to budget waste, and should strive to produce creative, disruptive advertising that captures attention in a meaningful way. Think of the above google search results- the dental ads that captured attention longer focused on deals with clearly identified dollar values, and then a significant volume of attention was paid to the map listing ad. Map listing ads allow you into a ‘trusted space’ for those seeking local services, and allow you to be displayed in a service area you don’t physically occupy.
Final Thoughts on Digital Advertising and Consumer Apathy
As an advertising agency, it’s our job to match our services to your needs and goals. Our strategies and recommendations have had to adapt through the years as consumer behavior has changed- those ppc ads that built some practices into multi-location megaliths simply aren’t as effective anymore. There is no one boilerplate method that guarantees a high ROI digital marketing, and it’s far better to take a comprehensive viewpoint of the market, competition, goals, offers, and what makes the most sense for cost per patient acquisition. Only then can we come up with a strategy that builds your brand, elevates your visibility, and most importantly, drives practice growth.