Five Things Most Health Marketers Get Wrong About Programmatic

September 24, 2018

Chris Neuner

The concept of programmatic is still a little misunderstood. I’ve been talking to health marketers about programmatic for over two years now, and I keep brushing up against the same misconceptions fairly consistently from marketers and media professionals. Here’s a quick post to address them in writing. I hope you find this useful.

1. Misconception: Programmatic is a tactic

Reality: Programmatic is how you implement your tactics

Programmatic is the automation of matching demand to supply. Remember when stock market trades were executed manually? Then it moved to automated buying, using data, in real-time. That’s essentially what programmatic is. And because programmatic ‘open markets’ basically open up access to both demand and supply, they enable data-driven micro-targeting, cost efficiency, and optimization.

In health, this automated buying can be used to distribute advertising, which is what we’re most familiar with, but is also being used for content distribution and CRM (email) experience management. Health organizations are also starting to use these automated approaches for population health management, using data and technology to distribute health management interventions to manage people’s health risks in extremely personalized ways.

Deciding on programmatic means deciding not to go manual. But it doesn’t stop there. Your programmatic buy still needs a strategy (audience definition, desired mindset, action standard), and still needs a tactic (advertising, video engagement, cross-device reach, cross-channel experience). Programmatic isn’t the tactic. It’s a means to implementing your tactics with ease.

2. Misconception: Programmatic is different from endemic buys

Reality: Programmatic is a better way to buy endemic media

Many marketers build their media plans with endemic sponsorships as the base, and then use programmatic to supplement this reach and / or balance out the CPMs.

But what if you were to bring programmatic to those sponsorship buys? Data and technology would give you the ability to write and implement targeting rules, have direct access to inventory, adjust your creative, and have it all be automated. Programmatic would, in effect, make your premium buy even more premium.

And when you’ve saturated your endemic reach, programmatic enables marketers to supersonically access the massive untapped potential across the internet, inclusive of endemic. By buying programmatically, you can standardize your targeting across all of your outreach, auto-optimize your buy, and load balance your efforts across your entire campaign to deliver the right mix of cost, quality and scale.

The only caveat to this is that you need to work with a programmatic partner who has access to premium, high-quality endemic and health-relevant inventory.

3. Misconception: Programmatic targeting is too broad

Reality: Programmatic targeting is machine-driven, and more finely-tuned, than any other option

Most marketers think of programmatic targeting as re-targeting. Someone visited my website, and I now follow them around the Web with reminder ads.

Programmatic targeting is so much more, enabled by the automation of the targeting and the heavy and versatile use of data. Here are some ways you can target your audience when working programmatically, using:

  • First party data – You can programmatically target people in your CRM database, leads from CPA campaigns, target physician list, or using other data that you own, and reach them across devices and channels, wherever they are.
  • Third party data – You can partner with data providers like IQVIA, Symphony or Crossix to use their medical claims, geo-demographic data and off-the-shelf segments, and activate this data using programmatic technology.
  • Behavioral data – Some programmatic companies have reams of data on users’ browsing patterns. You can use browsing behaviors to identify populations with certain affinities or interests, and target them. This gets especially interesting when you can identify browsing behaviors down to the minute details; instead of just finding people interested in “digestive disorders”, you can identify people reading content about “pancreatic neoplasms” or “pancreatic ductal carcinoma”.
  • Modeled data – Modeled audiences are the best way to get at a large volume of targeted users, that gets more accurate with time. This approach starts with a base of users (that could be defined by browsing history or claims data) which is enriched with appended data, then modeled with algorithms and AI to identify additional users with the same profile, at scale. The trick to modeled data is having enough scale of user-level information for your models to be valid and your reach to be worthwhile.

4. Misconception: Programmatic yields positive CPRx but no scale

Reality: Programmatic yields quality scale—but you have to work with the right partner

Not all programmatic companies are the same. Programmatic companies without deep knowledge about the health industry may give you top-of-the funnel scale but fail to convert the users they reach. These companies effectively give you low CPRx but no scale.

Instead, look for a partner that doesn’t just reach people but reaches the right people and knows how to engage them as well. When selecting your programmatic partner, look for one that has health reach capabilities.

Some questions to probe on are:

  1. Their overall reach (what percent of the internet traffic they reach)
  2. The quality of that reach (how much of that reach is on health inventory, or on inventory frequented by your target)
  3. The qualification of that reach (how well is that inventory classified)
  4. Their targeting ability (how well can they activate health data)
  5. The accuracy of their data (because differences in data exists)
  6. The power of their models (how well can they use models to expand scale)

5. Misconception: Programmatic is best left to the programmatic buyers

Reality: Programmatic needs marketers’ strategic acumen to work

Programmatic buyers worry about how well the programmatic machinery works. Talk to a programmatic buyer, and they are obsessing over ad ops, campaign specs, platform and device determination, targeting and retargeting specs, channels and channel mix, budget forecasting, brand safety targets, campaign execution, campaign optimization, and metric reporting. All important, but an incomplete view of your campaign.

Here’s what else a programmatic approach needs to be successful:

(Notice that these lie squarely in the domain of the strategic marketer. While some of this may seem like ‘tablestakes’ for any marketer, the personalization possibilities opened up by programmatic make it more complex, more varied and more customizable than a manual buy.)

Target Definition

  • Target consumer – disease, segment, formulary
  • Target hcp – specialty, profession, practice setting, npi#
  • Stage in customer journey
  • Creative evolution

Data Integration

  • Health data requirements
  • Additional data requirements

Campaign Planning

  • Endemic vs non-endemic publishers
  • Page-level contextual targets
  • Creative variation by channel and device

Regulatory Compliance

  • Customer sensitivities
  • Brand affiliation sensitivities
  • Regulatory issues
  • Black / whitelists

Real-World Analytics

  • Real-world outcomes
  • Third-party partnerships
  • Real-world results
  • Attribution studies

Don’t hand off your programmatic dollars and check the box. Programmatic is just the ‘how’. Stay involved in the ‘what’ – and drive strategic returns from your investment.

In Summary:

Technology and data (= programmatic) are transforming life, healthcare, marketing and media. Programmatic, when done right, enables us to be hyper-targeted and radically personalized, and reach the largest swath of our audience at efficient costs in an integrated and optimized way. Marketers, isn’t this what we’ve been searching for?


Chris Neuner, Chief Revenue Officer at PulsePoint, has 20 years’ experience driving performance in the interactive marketing and media space. He brings to PulsePoint a proven track record of partnering with leading pharmaceutical companies and agency partners to build successful businesses.

For a complete checklist of all that you need to consider when setting up your next programmatic health campaign, download the “Anatomy of a Programmatic Health Campaign” Worksheet here.