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Transform or Fall Behind

Chances are, you’ve heard about ChatGPT. OpenAI released this powerful AI system free to the public on Nov. 30, 2022. Trained on vast amounts of online data, AI systems like Chat GPT answer complex questions, carry on human-like conversations, produce original essays in a few seconds — and they’re about to massively disrupt how you reach your customers.

At the same time, data privacy regulations in Europe and several U.S. states are changing how companies interact with customers. In 2023, these two converging trends — the growth of consumer privacy and the rise of generative AI — are colliding to disrupt digital marketing as we know it. Keep reading to understand the development of both trends and discover our top four predictions for how they will impact your healthcare company in 2023.

The Growth of Consumer Privacy

For more than two decades, advertisers used third-party cookies — pieces of code placed on consumers’ browsers without permission — to track internet users online and target ads to them.

In May 2018, the European Union implemented the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), a strict privacy and security law that recognizes cookies as personal data. To comply with the law, companies that sell goods or services to European customers must get a user’s consent before placing unnecessary cookies on their browser. Several states have since passed privacy regulations similar to GDPR. For example, California implemented the California Consumer Privacy Act in Jan. 2020. In addition, the U.S. Office of Civil Rights issued stringent guidelines in Dec. 2022 for healthcare companies regarding privacy and digital tracking technologies.

Tech companies are responding by tightening their consumer privacy measures. Since April 2021, app companies must ask Apple iOS 14.5 users (or those with newer iOS upgrades) for permission to track them across apps and websites owned by other companies. The Firefox and Safari browsers now disable advanced tracking by default, and Google has announced it will phase out third-party cookies by the second half of 2024.

Consumer Data Privacy Timeline

These changes are already impacting brands. In a letter to advertisers in September 2021, Graham Mudd, VP of Product Marketing at Facebook (now Meta), acknowledged that advertisers on Facebook experienced a revenue hit when Apple introduced its privacy feature in iOS 14.5.

This disclosure makes it clear: Companies can’t afford to ignore the growth of customer privacy. You may need to quickly pivot your marketing strategies to continue reaching your customers.

The Rise of Generative AI

As consumer privacy becomes a paramount issue, generative AI is on the verge of revolutionizing how people use the internet.

Asking Google and other search engines questions is so commonplace that the common verb googling made its way into Merriam-Webster’s dictionary more than a decade ago. Internet users have become accustomed to sorting through search result pages to find answers. Meanwhile, companies invest heavily in using search engine optimization (SEO) and paid search to appear at the top of these pages.

However, ChatGPT and other generative AI tools may soon transform how you use the internet (and how you reach potential customers). Within a week of ChatGPT’s release, more than a million users logged onto the platform.

Soon, all internet users will likely be able to access a similar AI tool on their browsers. Microsoft’s Bing search engine and Edge browser are already using the same technology as ChatGPT in a beta test to directly answer questions and chat with a select group of users. Although the launch has had bumps, Bing app downloads increased tenfold within a few days. Google quickly announced it will launch a similar tool to integrate with its search engine soon.

Browsers integrated with generative AI are still new. But they have the potential to quickly revolutionize search. After all, why would an internet user want to skim through a long page of results if an AI tool could provide an accurate, original answer to their exact question in seconds?

For healthcare companies that have invested resources and time into reaching their customers with the current marketing strategies, AI-assisted search brings up pressing questions: How will marketing look in the not-too-distant future and how can you prepare?

Predictions for the Future of Digital Marketing

Brands can’t afford to ignore the rapidly changing marketing landscape. Here are our top four predictions for what’s to come and tips for how your healthcare company can get ready.

1. Consumers will hold more power.

In a 2022 Axway survey of more than 5,000 consumers in five countries including the U.S., 90 percent of respondents said they wanted to understand the data companies are collecting on them. Laws and regulations around the world are slowly making that wish a reality.

“Consumers have much more control over what they see, when they see it, and what they can do,” says Trae Clevenger, Chief Analytics Officer at Brado. Brands no longer have the options they used to, which isn’t a bad thing, according to Clevenger. Tracking without permission allowed brands to stalk people online without their knowledge. But in the future, consumers will need to opt-in to receive communications and share data.

What this change means for healthcare brands: “As a brand, you’ve got to provide value to the consumer as your primary objective,” Clevenger says. You already provide value to your customers with your goods or services. Make sure you also offer value early in the customer journey to incentivize customers to opt into your marketing efforts. When consumers volunteer their information, they signal their permission to receive your marketing communications. If you reach them too late in the engagement, you may miss engagement opportunities.  

2. Search will be disrupted.

Search integrated with generative AI is in its infancy, and it’s hard to know what it will eventually look like. It will definitely be more conversational — and it may be a more media-rich experience than we’re used to. “You might have video that shows up in the space of the conversation, or it will be imagery,” Clevenger says. “It’ll be a richer answer to your search term coming from potentially multiple different sources.”

On the other hand, a curated experience where an AI tool delivers only a few links could limit the content customers are exposed to. For that reason, it could exacerbate the echo-chamber effect we see on social platforms where people only encounter information that reinforces their own beliefs, Clevenger says.

What this change will mean for healthcare brands: While it’s still too early to know how search integrated with generative AI will look, your company will likely continue to benefit from a diversified content strategy that features a mix of high-quality, relevant content such as long-form articles, illustrations, videos, podcasts, and more. With so many changes ahead for the future of search, your company may need to pivot your marketing strategies. You’ll benefit from taking an agile approach to your digital media operations and from working with a forward-thinking, responsive marketing agency that understands the dynamic media environment.

3. Attribution will become a bigger issue.

When AI produces original answers using multiple unattributed sources, brands may have a harder time attracting customers to their websites and measuring the impact of their marketing spend. Clevenger explains the dilemma: “If I have a really good part of the answer, that might be the only part that shows up. How do I recognize that a consumer came to my brand because of a blended answer provided by a conversational AI?”

What this change means for healthcare brands: You need to make sure you’re answering the questions consumers are asking. It’s not the time to skimp on market research, SEO, and high-quality content. If AI tools serve up curated links, the highest-quality, most relevant content will almost certainly fill those coveted spots.

Brands will also need to adopt different techniques to measure the impact of their marketing dollars. It’s a great time to invest in a strategy to collect zero-party data, information that a customer intentionally shares with your company. When customers willingly share their data, you know who they are and what they want.

It may also be time to focus more on metadata, the data you input to describe your content and make it easier to discover and identify. “Metadata tags and ontologies will become increasingly important and probably more granular,” Clevenger predicts.

4. Companies need to focus on building trust.

Which companies will win in the new world? The trustworthy ones. Customers increasingly need to opt into your marketing, and they’ll be more likely to do so if they regard you as a dependable ally that provides them with valuable insights, services, and products. “Customers have to know they can trust you, and that they’re receiving some kind of value,” Clevenger says.

What this change means for healthcare brands: As brands increasingly need to provide value in exchange for a consumer’s data, the value exchange must begin with the first engagement. “Brands will be forced to be real,” Clevenger says. It’s time to focus on building more authentic, more real, valued engagements and relationships, he adds.

Conclusion

Consumer trust is more important than ever before. As the rise of generative AI and the growth of consumer privacy converge to disrupt digital marketing, companies need to adjust their marketing strategies to stay relevant. By focusing on building trust, healthcare companies can foster deeper, longer-lasting relationships with their customers. The brands that put empathy and value first will be the furthest ahead as we move into the next chapter of the internet.

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