by Kevin Troyanos

Why healthcare marketing needs more STEM talent

May 09, 2018
Healthcare IndustryIT SkillsMarketing

In the digital age, sophisticated data analytics are an essential part of healthcare marketing. Unfortunately, there isn’t enough analytical talent to go around.

In May 2017, The Economist stated what many of us have long known to be true, “Data are to this century what oil was to the last one: a driver of growth and change.” Regardless of whether you buy that comparison, what’s clear is that the digital realm is already richer with data than the physical world has ever been with oil.

More than 90 percent of the world’s data has been created in the last two years alone, and according to Cisco, global IP traffic will surpass 3.3 zettabytes — that’s 3.3 sextillion bytes — per year by 2021. This explosion of data has forced professionals in nearly every field to reconsider how they approach their work, what constitutes success, and which path represents the best way forward. Nowhere is this truer than in marketing. As LinkedIn Head of B2B Product Russell Glass points out, “There’s really very little excuse in today’s marketing departments to not use data…If you’re not using data to make your decisions, or at least to inform your decisions, you’re probably not doing your job.”

A skills shortage a long time in the making

While the will to step into the data-driven future is there — in a 2015 study, Forbes Insights found that 60 percent of companies were planning to increase their investment in data-driven analytics programs despite the fact that only 22 percent of existing programs had delivered “significant results” at the time — the skill is not.

Back in 2011, the McKinsey Global Institute predicted that, by 2018, the U.S. would be facing a shortage of between 140,000 and 190,000 professionals with “deep analytical skills.” Unfortunately, this has largely come to pass. LinkedIn’s 2017 U.S. Emerging Jobs Report claims that only 35,000 people in U.S. have the skill-set necessary to be a data scientist. This is incredibly concerning considering that the number of data scientist positions at American companies has increased by an astounding 650 percent since 2012.

This skills shortage has caused numerous problems in the marketing world, as according to the Forbes report, nearly two-thirds of executives now require their marketing hires to be well-versed in some sort of data analytics. The shortage has been particularly noticeable in the healthcare marketing space, as, on the whole, the healthcare industry arrived late to the analytics game.

The need for diverse analytical skill-sets

With analytics talent already in high demand, many pharmaceutical companies have found it challenging to assemble a competent team of in-house data experts. And yet there are few industries in which an investment in analytics talent would pay higher dividends — after all, health and wellness companies aren’t simply reviewing web analytics to identify traffic patterns or referral sources. Instead, they have the unique ability analyze both traditional marketing datasets — website analytics, social analytics, etc. — as well as healthcare data — prescribing data, payer data, diagnosis data, etc. The complexity of the latter — not to mention the highly regulated way in which such data must be handled — render health and wellness organizations in far greater need of sophisticated analytics talent than, say, an online clothing retailer.

This shortage of analytical talent will only become more pressing in the coming years as analytics capabilities grow more sophisticated.

Many healthcare marketing agencies are already using data analytics as a retrospective tool with which they interpret (and learn from) target audiences’ historical behavior. However, as the broader healthcare industry continues to gravitate toward an outcomes-based model, marketers are feeling increasing pressure to leverage data in a way that delivers insights into future behavior and outcomes.

Predictive analytics are incredibly powerful when executed properly — they can, for instance, help marketers forecast whether a physician segment will be open to prescribing an experimental therapy or how likely a patient is to adhere to a treatment regimen — but doing so demands a nuanced understanding of what data can and cannot be expected to unveil.

That’s one of the reasons why every successful marketing analytics operation must include individuals with a wide range of data-oriented skills; analytics teams need players capable of working with everything from SQL to manipulate large sets of data, to R and Python to train and test machine learning algorithms, tag management software to effectively quantify digital behaviors, and data visualization tools to effectively communicate findings. Within my team at Saatchi & Saatchi Wellness, we’ve made a concerted effort to build a diverse, team of data strategists, data engineers, digital analysts, and data scientists— in addition to our talented group of art directors, copywriters, brand planners, and other “traditional” marketing staff.

The demand for data literate marketers is only going to grow as analytics become more mainstream in the healthcare marketing space. As Glass observes, “The more data-driven you become, the more you have a hunger for people who are comfortable working with data.”

Ultimately, this means that healthcare marketing agencies must do everything they can to make themselves attractive to top-notch analytical talent. As things stand, there simply isn’t enough to go around, and until that changes, it’s the agencies with a demonstrated record of innovative, data-driven operations that will be best-positioned to secure the talent they need to outpace their competition.