WebMD Uses Data To Connect Sponsored Content To Customer Journeys

People visit WebMD to research their health conditions and treatment, yielding a vast array of data about how people engage with different topics.

The medical site’s knowledge about its readers now informs it nearly 3-year-old sponsored content program, which booked $20 million in revenue during its first year.

WebMD can show clients how the customer journey for their products may be different than expected. By tailoring content to how people actually learn about a pharmaceutical treatment or product, WebMD is seeing better results and high renewals for its programs with advertisers such as Certain Dri, omega-3 supplements MegaRed, Nicorette and NicoDerm.

For example, when WebMD analyzed data while working with Certain Dri, a prescription-strength antiperspirant for hyperhidrosis, it found that many people searched for simpler terms like “excessive sweating.”

“A lot of people didn’t realize this was a medical condition,” said WebMD head of brand studio Solomon Masch. “They were just generally looking at what was causing their symptoms and how to prevent it.”

WebMD created an assessment tool people could use to see if their excessive sweating made them a candidate for Certain Dri. Complete rates were “extremely high,” Masch said.

The Certain Dri custom content “helped provide the support our consumers were searching for on WebMD and beyond,” said Jennifer Moyer, Clarion Brands’ VP of marketing and sales.

WebMD also learned that many people want to know if they can treat the condition with lifestyle changes, such as modifying how they eat or dress. So Certain Dri created videos about how to naturally mitigate the condition. It distributed the videos on WebMD’s site and across social media, using a custom audience of people who had researched sweating. Complete rates again exceeded benchmarks.

“What was surprising was how much focus was on alleviating symptoms via lifestyle means,” Masch said.

Aligning messaging with the customer journey

When analyzing data for a second client, the omega-3 supplement manufacturer MegaRed, WebMD found that many people learn about the importance of omega-3s when seeking general dietary guidance, not via specific searches. In contrast, MegaRed’s marketing focused primarily on the benefits of omega-3.

“We ended up taking those engagement trigger points [around diet] and tying it back into the brand’s message,” Masch said. “We see with a lot of clients that what is most likely to engage the audience may not 100% align with the brand message. So we make sure we’re getting the brand message across in an appropriate way.”

WebMD’s approach usually focuses on how to initially get readers to engage with brands, For Nicorette and NicoDerm, they already had high brand awareness but a different type of challenge: People who want to quit smoking often fail.

So, WebMD built on the insight that smokers who used real-life coaches to quit were more successful. It filmed digital coaches to guide people through quitting – and close the gap between smokers who could afford coaches and those who couldn’t.

Strengthening a revenue stream

WebMD is also working to make its sponsored content campaigns a sustainable source of revenue.

For example, many sponsored content campaigns run on news sites for weeks, whereas WebMD’s campaigns typically run six to 12 months. And if they work – and the client hasn’t changed their goals or messaging – some clients renew for exactly the same content to run on the site. This makes WebMD’s sponsored content more viable in a market where many publishers see high production costs cut into their advertising margins.

WebMD’s scaled audience of 80 million monthly users also means it can distribute much of its sponsored content natively on the site, instead of relying on social platforms for distribution. By using data to make smarter content that is distributed within its own walls, WebMD thinks it’s learned from earlier entrants that pioneered sponsored content.

“We think from the standpoint of not only winning new business,” Masch said, “but how to sustain that business.”

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