In the best of environments, marketing is a tough business. Everything from radio spots to billboards to social media campaigns and SEO must fit within a limited marketing budget.
In sectors like healthcare and finance, though, the climb is even steeper. For these critically important areas, industry regulations make marketers put certain tactics under the microscope or, in other cases, avoid them altogether. Marketing in regulated industries may be tough, but it’s far from impossible.
During, before, and after you dream up a strategy:
1. Respect the boundaries of the rules.
You don’t need to be a consumer privacy expert to help market a medical practice, but you do need to understand two basic guidelines: What is reasonable marketing behavior in your field, and what’s restricted by regulations.
Bending or breaking regulations with your marketing might pay off at first, but it will eventually come back to bite you. Between 2016 and 2017, for example, Juul used social media for serious growth. The e-cigarette company grew by 641% and went on to possess a staggering 68% market share by the following summer.
Issues began to arise, though, when regulators noticed that many of its ads were clearly targeted at teenagers. The company’s marketing strategy, now plagued by accusations that it illegally marketed its products as less harmful than tobacco cigarettes, has led to a protracted and highly public PR battle.
Gray areas exist around every regulation. Unless you want to see your legal and PR teams fight it out for years, stay out of them. Not only does this protect you from liability, but it can also generate respect from the general public.
2. Emphasize consumer education.
Some industries are regulated because consumers need a certain level of knowledge to use the product responsibly. Alcohol may be socially acceptable, but it destroys lives when abused. Pharmaceuticals can solve medical problems, but they can also have serious side effects.
There are different ways to educate consumers, and the best one likely depends on your specific product or service. Rather than hide it on a product page, online healthcare company Nurx puts FAQs like “Does alcohol affect my birth control?” on its homepage to make it easy for patients to find. Educational email campaigns can be effective as well, but realize that many customers only land on email lists once they’ve bought your product.
This becomes more challenging for B2B companies, which are an additional step removed from the consumer. Hawke Media, an agency that specializes in CBD marketing, suggests that its clients hire a chief education officer, a role virtually unheard of in other industries.
Even if you aren’t forced to put a Surgeon General’s warning on your products, operate in good faith: Be upfront about the potential for misuse. Just as importantly, explain what responsible use looks like. Make sure customer service staff members are prepared to answer questions about the differences between the two.
3. Segment your service lines.
In other industries, some, but not all ,of a company’s products are regulated. In other cases, they’re all regulated — but they fall under different sets of regulations. Trying to market them together is confusing at best, and dangerous or illegal at worst.
Fisher Scientific, a supplier of science equipment, does this for certain chemicals that aren’t appropriate for the classroom. The Fisher Science Education segment of its site displays many of the same chemicals as the main one, but it omits certain ones that are too toxic or dangerous or require a permit.
Segmentation is a signal that you can cater to multiple sets of regulatory concerns. Although cybersecurity company StratoZen serves all sorts of companies, it breaks out two “focused industries” on its website: healthcare and financial institutions. Although keeping customer data secure is the goal in both sectors, the rules around doing so differ significantly.
Finance companies operating in the state of New York, for example, need a chief information security officer, while healthcare companies have no such similar requirements. Healthcare companies face more restrictions on sharing patient data than finance companies do with their customers.
4. When in doubt, ask an attorney.
The financial services sector has to be careful what it says in ads, on-site content, and even live interviews. Banks and brokers, in particular, can’t give what could be construed as mass investment advice.
Unsurprisingly, that gets in the way of a lot of modern marketing tactics. BPV Capital Management still managed to trade brochures for digital content, though, by checking with an attorney: Does each article or ad reference a general financial principle, or could it be seen as providing investment advice?
Your marketing team may not like running everything it creates past a lawyer, but that’s the reality of marketing in certain industries. The key is collaboration: When marketers and attorneys work together, the outcome tends to be creative and within the boundaries of the law.
Regulations don’t make marketing easy, but they don’t make it impossible, either. Know the rules, stick to them, and provide as much information to consumers as you can. And if you’re still worried about whether a marketing strategy or tactic is legal, ask an expert. Even in marketing, some risks simply aren’t worth taking.