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Healthcare marketing techniques, this guide will get you started.

For healthcare marketers, the landscape is always shifting.

From the consumerization of healthcare to the complex nature of the solutions you’re marketing, there are a multitude of issues and audiences to consider in healthcare marketing.

When you factor in the strict compliance and regulatory frameworks of the healthcare world, and the complex nature of the healthcare sales process, it’s easy to see why healthcare presents a unique marketing challenge.

Table of contents

Marketing strategies for healthcare

Digital marketing in healthcare

Why content marketing is important in healthcare

Social media and healthcare marketing

Can you use email marketing in healthcare?

Account-based marketing in healthcare

Related articles about healthcare marketing

Healthcare marketing changing

Download your FREE copy of ‘The guide to Healthcare Marketing’

In this Guide to Healthcare Marketing, we explore the key issues that healthcare marketers are tackling today, and the questions they are asking, such as:

  • What are the best healthcare marketing strategies?
  • How should I use digital marketing and social media in healthcare?
  • Does email still deliver good ROI in healthcare marketing?

We answer these questions and more in the Guide to Healthcare Marketing. In addition, we look at how to improve your content marketing programs, and how to implement account-based marketing techniques.

cover healthcare marketing guide

Healthcare marketing references

At Living Stone, we specialize in helping healthcare marketers to make their mark. To share their company’s story, to present information in a way that makes a difference – to plant a flag that proclaims excellence and value. We are experts in conventional as well as digital marketing for health care companies.

Our tools are easy to implement and build on the existing corporate tradition, sales customs and market ambitions of our healthcare customers. We’ve been helping healthcare marketers make an impact for more than 25 years.

healthcare marketing strategy

Marketing strategies for healthcare

In marketing for healthcare, the landscape is always shifting. Changes in public funding, an aging population and the push to do more with less while implementing the latest technologies are just some of the challenges facing the healthcare sector. For healthcare marketers, these constant shifts make it even more critical to find healthcare marketing strategies that can hold steady, even in the most turbulent seas. Here are 5 points to consider in developing marketing strategies for the healthcare business that work:

Before you look to the future – take an in-depth look at the past.

Take the time to review your healthcare marketing programs and strategy each year – especially the “traditional” healthcare marketing programs and tools you roll over without thinking. Does the sales team still use brochures? Or have they developed workarounds so they can use their phones to refer to different web pages when talking to prospects? If that’s the case, it might be time to switch to a more interactive sales tool such as Showpad. Does your website offer a top-quality design and user experience? And is it optimized for mobile? If not, it’s likely time to upgrade. Make sure you have the data (as well as the anecdotal feedback from sales) on all aspects of your programs, and do a deep dive into usage and ROI before making commitments.

Use the right analytical tools to understand the impact of your marketing activities.

As part of knowing what works, it’s key to use the right analytics tools, and fully understand the results, whether you analyze your marketing activities in-house or work with an outside partner. For your inbound programs, you can start small with a manual data dump from each of the social media platforms you’re active on, or move up to more sophisticated tools like Hootsuite, HubSpot or Google Analytics to analyze your traffic, leads and conversion rates. Whatever technology platform you choose to analyze your marketing results, your spend should be itemized and measured against each of your KPIs and goals.

Understand the consumerization of healthcare – and the implications for your marketplace.

In the past, marketing for healthcare was more of a straight line. If your company sold medical devices to hospitals, that’s who you marketed to. Everything you did as a healthcare marketer was targeted to the purchasers of your products. Today, thanks to the consumerization of healthcare, you’re still marketing to the end purchases of your products, but you also have to consider all of your other stakeholders.

Patients and prospects alike want information and expertise. Patients are taking a more active role in their care, researching conditions, booking appointments online, and finding out all they can about medical procedures. At the same time, this consumerization means that any online tools or apps you offer need to match the quality and user experience of the most popular social media platforms. A user won’t stop to consider that a hospital’s appointment booking app was developed by the department’s secretary; they’ll just compare it to Facebook and stop using it, or post a negative review.

Be the trusted information source.

Provide the information that both prospects and patients are looking for, and at the same time position your organization as the most authoritative source on the topic. Pharmaceutical companies that develop drugs for chronic conditions, for example, can also be a key information source and support for patients with the disease, strengthening their position as the leader in knowledge and patient support. Or if you sell mammography equipment, provide information on breast cancer, mammography procedures, etc., in addition to the technology info for prospects and customers.

And keep in mind that a key part of building trust is to tell stories about people. Focus on the patient, and patient outcomes, with your equipment or solution playing a supporting (but important) role. You’ll still provide all of the technical information that your customers need, but remember to start with the human story, supported by your technical expertise.

Showcase your thought leadership.

As a healthcare company, your organization has plenty of experts and expertise. Shine a light on your experts and help them to share their knowledge with a structured thought leadership program. They’re probably already engaged in a range of thought leadership activities on their own (speaking engagements, participation on panels, articles, etc.) Try maximizing the power and impact of this activity by including it within your healthcare marketing strategy.

Blogposts and articles on social media platforms and participation in online discussions are a cost-effective way to boost your organizations’ thought leadership position.

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digital marketing healthcare

Digital marketing in healthcare

Thanks to the power of digital marketing, it’s never been easier to track, analyze and streamline your healthcare marketing programs … right? Well, digital also introduces new levels of complexity to healthcare marketing, meaning it can be even harder to know how you’re gaining traction, and where.

Here are some key areas to focus on, and suggestions for applying best practices so you can really maximize the returns on your digital healthcare marketing programs:

Make the most of your marketing automation solution

Many healthcare marketers implement a powerful marketing automation (MA) tool, and then use it just to send emails. But there’s a lot more you can get out of it. Here are ways you can make the most of your solution:

  1. Start slow, and master a few functions at a time. A recent survey conducted by online industry publication ‘Social Media Today’ found that the top three functions that respondents use marketing automation for are social media post scheduling, email marketing and social media advertising (retargeting). Start with these functions, and when you’re confident you fully understand the process and the analytics for each, try adding more.
  2. Work with sales to define your processes and set your goals. Map out your buyers’ journeys, and match your processes to the way a prospect typically proceeds. The more closely you work with sales on developing your processes, the more valuable the leads you generate will be. Then segment, target, test your messaging – use the full power of your MA solution to see the impact of your activities.
  3. Take the time to learn about all the analytics that your MA provides, beyond open rates, clicks, etc. Then choose your key metrics, in line with your goals, and continually measure your progress against them, adjusting as you proceed.

Maximize your SEO

For healthcare marketeers today, search engine optimization, or SEO, is no longer a ‘nice to have’ – it’s a business necessity. While the specific algorithms that Google uses to rank web pages are a closely-guarded secret, there are proven steps you can take to maximize your SEO. Consider these points to strengthen your SEO approach:

  1. Optimize the structure of your website. Google now ranks web sites that are optimized for mobile higher than web sites designed to be viewed on a desktop screen, so make sure your pages are optimized for mobile. Then, make sure the technical framework of your website aligns with best practices in SEO. Title tags, URLs, links, images, site maps, page speed – there are very precise specifications for these and other aspects that will significantly improve your SEO.
  2. Optimize the content on your website. As part of its ranking protocol, Google judges websites on their authority and trustworthiness. To be assessed positively, make sure your pages are readable (which in this instance means easy to understand and engaging, with images). Longer articles rank higher than short, so don’t be afraid to go into detail, and make sure to cite your sources, as Google ranks original research more highly. Do research to find the best keywords for your audiences, and use them appropriately across your content.
  3. Optimize the user experience of your website. Is it a pleasure to access your website? Or is it dragged down with downloadable PDFs, gated content and forms? Your analytics will tell you if visitors are turned off by the user experience of your site. In this age of healthcare consumerization, it’s even more critical to put your best face forward – and a good website experience also improves your SEO.

Support your customers with their own digital marketing tools

This is another way that you can position your organization as the expert, and support your customers at the same time. Develop micro-sites and apps that support the end customers or stakeholders of your customers.

For example, and depending on your products, you could build an app that helps chronic disease sufferers manage their medications and treatments, or create an app aimed at healthier living that your customers can customize and brand.

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content marketing healthcare

Why content is important in healthcare marketing

First, let’s start with a definition of what content marketing is. Is it your website? Is it a blogpost? Is it a video on YouTube? The goal of content marketing is to offer your stakeholders content that provides them with value. So if the content in these examples offers value, then the answer is yes, it’s content marketing.

Content marketing for healthcare can be in many formats, from white papers to videos, to emails and social media posts. And content plays a key role in healthcare marketing, for some very important reasons:

Need for information: In healthcare, there is a powerful need for information among a wide range of stakeholder groups – physicians, patients, consumers, purchasing departments, C-suites, hospital communities, etc. Some of these groups require information to carry out their professional roles, while others need it for reasons that are much more personal (and emotional.)

Trust and authority are key: Whether you’re presenting to a regulatory body on your studies in support of a new drug, or persuading a purchasing team on the efficacy of your medical device, your audience needs to trust you in order for them to believe the validity of your claims. It’s even more the case when it comes to providing patients with information on treatments and conditions. Without that foundational trust, your information has limited value.

Content marketing offers the strongest way to position your healthcare organization and solutions: The healthcare industry is accustomed to evaluating the evidence, and making decisions based on information. Content marketing is simply the process of providing the information your stakeholders need. The truth is that, as a  marketer in healthcare, you are providing tons of content already, whether it’s in the form of reference cases, product technical sheets, or your website.

So how can you strengthen your content approach and turn it into a high-performing, strategic content marketing program? Try these tips to formalize and expand your content marketing activities:

  1. Start by conducting a content audit.
    Document the what, who, why, when, how for each content element – what it is, who it is intended for, how it is used, how much it costs.
  2. Define your key audiences and key messaging.
    What groups do you want to target, and what messages do you want to convey to them?
  3. Compare this against the results of your content audit.
    What are you doing well, what’s missing?
  4. Identify the gaps.
    Consider how to fill these gaps. What target audiences are not included? What tools do you need, and which ones can be eliminated?

Creating better content: break down the silos

In many healthcare organizations, content is created by a wide range of people, scattered across the office or located in different regions. To make your content marketing strategy more cohesive, create a cross-functional content management team. You don’t have to pull people physically together (unless you want to, or it’s easy to do so), but you can create a virtual team and hold regularly-scheduled online meetings, and hold your team accountable to an editorial content calendar.

Tell stories about people

Whether they’re part of a team making a large-scale purchasing decision, or a parent who wants to learn about a child’s condition, people want to learn about other people. Even if your product is highly specialized, remember to keep the focus on people, and support your stories with technical information. Read more about how to build your corporate narrative.

Use and re-use your content to maximize the value

If you’re posting content in one location and then just letting it sit there, you’re not getting full value. Re-purpose and re-promote content as much as you can. And look for opportunities to generate content.

The quality expectation for how-to videos, for example, is not high, so try making some in-house of your product specialists. Or go with a higher quality of video production, and make videos of the speakers at an event, for example, and create a follow-up micro-site for people who couldn’t attend. An added benefit is that having video on your website improves your SEO. It’s also one of the best ways to instil trust and humanize a highly-technical product or solution.

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social media in healthcare

How to use social media in healthcare marketing

When it comes to healthcare marketing, the value of putting budget resources into social media campaigns is still a bit hazy. For some healthcare organizations, social media efforts just haven’t gained the expected traction. The strict regulatory and compliance requirements that govern healthcare communications also add an extra layer of complication.

So what’s the best way for a healthcare marketer to engage in social media without feeling like you’re throwing budget resources away?

Who do you want to reach?

Well, first let’s look at who you want to reach, and how they’re using social media.

For members of the general population, searching for information on health and medical conditions is a very popular pastime. Eighty percent of internet users in the US have searched for medical information, according to the Pew Research Center. For teens and young adults, it’s even higher: 87% say they have searched online for health information.[i]

This ties in with the growing trend towards people managing their own Patient Health Records, and the increased use of patient self-monitoring tools. In fact, this was cited as a top trend to watch over the next two to three years in the Annual European eHealth Survey[ii].

But what about clinicians? What do they want from the internet and social media? It turns out they want information too, plus a chance to network with their peers. In a study on “How Health Care Professionals Use Social Media to Create Virtual Communities,”[iii] researchers from the UK and Australia found that the top reason to seek out an online community was the chance to talk with others about relevant professional and academic issues, and share information.

Using social media to build communities

When it comes to communicating with their patients using social media, though, the numbers are low. For example, a survey of 700 physicians, nurse practitioners and physician assistants in the US [iv] on their communication preferences found that less than 4% use social media to communicate with their patients.

This 4% finding is in sharp contrast to how some of the biggest pharma companies are using social media to communicate with consumers. By focusing on the diseases that their products address and the affected patients, rather than the medications, these companies are providing support and community along with education. A leading diabetes care company, for example, created a Facebook community which operates as a place for diabetes patients to share their experiences and suggestions, such as how to manage diabetes in order to run a marathon, as well as scientific information.

A major pharma company offers another example, with a health marketing campaign intended to generate a new, more positive attitude towards aging. The campaign includes a website, video, articles, blog posts, and more, focusing on health and wellness as we age – but doesn’t mention the company’s products. By avoiding any direct advertising or claims, these types of social media programs build awareness and strengthen relationships, all while keeping clear of any regulatory concerns.

But what if you fall somewhere in the middle?

You don’t want to launch a major awareness/goodwill campaign, but you still want to maximize your social media efforts?

Start simple by using social media to promote your organization in three areas, without having to launch a major campaign or navigate through any regulatory questions:

Recruiting – Social media offers a great way to promote your organization to potential recruits. You can highlight the achievements of your employees, showcase your company activities and give people an inside look at your workplace.

Promote your charitable activities – You can also use social media to promote any charitable partnerships you are involved in, again without having to worry about the regulatory aspects. If your charitable partner is holding a fundraiser or event, promote it on your social media channels to help build awareness and spotlight your role as a supporter.

Promote your own content – Every time you post a new customer case studies, blog posts, videos, etc., promote it widely on all your social media channels. Encourage reshares and comments.

Then, consider a more in-depth approach for LinkedIn.

A marketing platform for healthcare professionals: LinkedIn

For healthcare marketers who want to reach out to clinicians and the hospital C-suite, LinkedIn has emerged as a very effective platform. You might never find these healthcare professionals on Twitter or Facebook, but chances are very high that they are active on LinkedIn. It offers them the chance to network and share information, in a professional and secure online environment.

From a healthcare marketing perspective, the targeting tools offered by LinkedIn allow you to search by job titles, geographic locations, memberships in professional organizations, and a lot more, making this one of the best sources for the information you need for account-based marketing.

Try some of these suggestions to maximize your healthcare marketing activities on LinkedIn:

First, make sure your company’s LinkedIn page is built out fully. Don’t just put a link to your corporate web page. Include all the information that’s suggested by LinkedIn, including company and executive profiles, etc. Make sure your key execs, sales and marketing people are active on LinkedIn, with fully completed profiles.

Then, start exploring. It’s easy to find different types of clinicians, for example, as well as the groups they participate in. Options to reach out to them include direct sponsored content (which will be shown to your selected targets, but it won’t clutter up your company page as an update.) This content should be helpful and informative, never sales-y. A customer reference case is about as far as you should go in promoting your company. Other types of content to try: blogposts about trends/challenges in your industry, tips and tricks, etc. The easy-to-use metrics in LinkedIn will show you exactly how well each piece of content performs, so you can create more or less of that type. Consider an InMail campaign, and join and participate in LinkedIn groups that your targets belong to.

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email marketing healthcare sector

Can you use email marketing in healthcare?

Is email still a good option for healthcare marketing? Or has email fallen behind in favor of newer marketing tools? While some marketers have been sounding the death knell for email marketing for a while, the fact is that email marketing is still one of the most powerful tools available to healthcare marketers.

One of the most important reasons is that the healthcare professionals that you are trying to reach prefer email, compared to in-person visits or printed materials sent via regular mail.

According to a survey of 734 medical professionals (physicians, nurse practitioners and physician assistants), conducted by HealthLink Dimensions , 68% of respondents said they’d rather be contacted via email. Only 11% said they would like to receive information via a face-to-face meeting with a sales rep or a printed direct mailer.

This is very good news for healthcare marketers, since email marketing is one of the most cost-effective tools in the healthcare marketer’s toolkit. It’s also measurable, highly customizable, and easy to manage, thanks to marketing automation software.

To ensure that your healthcare marketing campaigns are as powerful as possible, and to maximize ROI, consider these points as you roll out your email programs:

  • Provide information that is of value – don’t just sell. Healthcare professionals have a huge need for information, on medical conditions, treatments, regulatory changes, etc., as well as medical devices and other products. They expect pharmaceutical and medical device companies to provide them with information that is meaningful and relevant. Your email campaigns should reinforce your positioning as a trusted authority and information provider.
  • Be brief and to-the-point. Even if you’re providing detailed information, your emails should be short and focus on a single topic. Provide links to web pages that contain more information. And make the transitions from email to web content as seamless as possible – create landing pages, campaign pages, etc. Don’t send visitors to a general web page where they have to search to find the content they’re interested in.
  • Personalize your emails. Send all emails to a real person, from a real person. It’s easy to do and it will boost your open rates, as well as your credibility. Optimize your emails for reading on mobile devices. Just like the rest of us, medical professionals are increasingly reading their emails on their mobile devices, meaning that your emails have to look great on mobile devices.
  • Be professional. No typos, no “catchy” subject lines. Emails should always align with your brand and corporate positioning.
  • Target and segment. According to MailChimp, segmenting can increase your email clicks by up to 75%. Dig deep into your database to target different segments with different subject lines and different content, tailored to that segment’s needs and preferences.
  • Monitor and measure. Track open rates, bounce rates, response rates, etc. Do A/B testing on all emails and landing pages. Decide what response rates you are aiming for, and what you want the response to be (book a meeting, visit a webpage, sign up for a newsletter, etc.) Adjust your campaigns as you see the results coming in.
  • Adhere to all security and privacy regulations. Following all regulations and safeguards relating to security and privacy are always important, but they’re especially important in healthcare, where professionals have a heightened awareness of the need for such protocols.
  • Make sure you are familiar with all regulations (GDPR, CAN-SPAM, CASL, etc.), for all the regions in which you are active.
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account-based marketing in healthcare

Account-based marketing in healthcare

In healthcare, the “traditional” sales model based on products and territories (with sales reps responsible for certain product portfolios and geographical areas), is disappearing. It’s being replaced by an account-based sales model that puts the customer and the vendor/customer partnership at the forefront. There are several factors driving this shift:

Healthcare purchasing has become much more centralized.

In many cases, reps used to sell directly to physicians. That one-on-one relationship was very important. Now, healthcare companies sell to decision making groups, hospital networks or other types of group purchasers. These large groups, comprised of many roles, expect a different way of selling. They want vendors to go beyond product benefits, and instead commit to the specific outcomes they can achieve with their solutions. And they want to work with a single team to procure a wide range of products and solutions, not multiple people and vendors.

Customers want partners who will support them before, during and after a sale, not just a vendor. Education, support and training are just as important as the technology itself when it comes to marketing healthcare products and solutions. Complex technology solutions require a comprehensive, multi-faceted before- and after-sales relationship that will last for years, or even decades.

Changes to sales and marketing in healthcare

On the sales side, account-based selling requires a switch from product-focused sales teams to a key account management approach and structure. This is a challenge for many healthcare companies, because they have operated under the product model for a long time. However, the roles within a company are still the same, but with account-based selling they are combined in new ways in cross-functional, cross-product teams.

From a healthcare marketing standpoint, implementing account-based marketing (ABM) doesn’t require changes on the same magnitude. It’s more about changing your marketing mindset, and shifting your focus to align your activities with each identified prospect. Here are steps you can take to get started:

  1. Choose your targets
    Who is your ideal customer? What type of organization is your solution or product designed for? Which of your current customers are the most profitable for your company? There are probably a number of companies that are a perfect fit for your offering, and a larger number who could get some benefit from it, with a few tweaks here or there. Forget about these ‘maybes’ and focus only on the organizations for whom you know your solution will deliver maximum benefit and results.
  2. Do the research
    Find out all you can about the companies on your target list. What are their histories with suppliers or partners offering products similar to yours? Who are the people you need to connect with at each organization? Where did they work before? (Maybe they worked at one of your customers in the past.) What are the challenges for each organization, and how are they attempting to meet them? What are the challenges for the area or department that you are selling into? (i.e. finance, operations, IT, administration, etc.)
  3. Define the buyer personas for each target company
    The names, titles and org charts are easy, since you can find most of this information online. Then add preferences and pain points for each persona, based on your research, and input from sales.
  4. Develop a customized healtchare marketing plan for each target
    Create a step-by-step plan for each part of the customer’s journey, for each of your targets. Who do you need to communicate with? What do you want them to know about your company and solutions, across the awareness, consideration and decision stages? Map out the journey that you would like them to take, the platforms you will use to reach them and the content/messaging you will use at each step.
  5. Seek input and insight from sales
    A big benefit of account-based healthcare marketing is how it strengthens the alignment between marketing and sales. Your sales team will have a lot of the information you need to complete your research on your targets. They probably have contacts at many of your targets already. And they will have lots of insights that can help you in the process, on how you can reach specific people or roles, and what support and information the prospects need at each stage. They will also be able to tell you how well your healthcare marketing programs are working, in real time.

A lot of this sounds similar to how your Key Account Managers, or KAMs, operate, in terms of personalization and attention. But there’s a key difference. Because these organizations are still prospects, not customers, in many cases they’re not yet on the radar of your KAMs. As you strive to get these prospects to the stage where your Key Account Managers get involved, keep in mind that your KAMs are experts in determining which customers will be most profitable for your company, and ensuring that all of your company processes provide key accounts with smooth, streamlined and productive experiences.

So there’s a lot a healthcare marketer can learn from KAMs, that can be built into an ABM strategy. And by working closely with your Key Account Managers to shape your ABM strategy, you can ensure it’s focused on just the types of customers that they prefer. Read more about Account-based marketing.

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