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Three years ago, someone was able to estimate that most people in America saw about five thousand ads in a given day. Before most people were on Twitter and Facebook, you could anticipate that your audience was subjected to more ads in a day than your parents saw in a month. Objectively speaking, that a whole lot of ads.

Let’s do some very simple math. How many HCPs are on your target list? Even if you filter out your low-performing deciles, what are we talking about? Ten thousand people? Is that a safe number? That means that in a day, your targets are seeing… Carry the two… Fifty million ads. In a day. Times 365 days, that’s 18.2 billion ads.

And somewhere, your friendly neighborhood brand manager is hoping that they can catch their target’s eye. In fact, some might be hoping that they can buy up lots of ad space to try and blunt a competitor’s message upon launch.

What the numbers tell me is that there is a nearly infinite space in which to advertise (remember, the 5,000 number predates Facebook’s growth, which now accounts for one in every five page views in America. Let that idea sink in a little bit) which means that the job of ”simply” increasing brand awareness in so much space is a full-time job. You are, in essence, trying to get someone to see your particular star in a milky way of stars. And in a world of Pepsi and Coke, Disney and McDonald’s – the stars that can spend big cash to look as obvious as Orion’s belt – how can a non-blockbuster brand even register?

Well, the answer comes down to message and placement (though I’ll save a discussion of messaging strategies for another day). At its most basic, it’s about delivering what you want to say to someone who’s inclined to listen to it.

You can target “old-school-style” by buying placements on HCP-centered websites and networks (like WebMD and eHealthcare Solutions) or electronic medical records sites (like PracticeFusion or Precision Health). These kinds of sites allow you to filter even farther, focusing on specialty, condition, and sometimes even to specific people on your target list. Some companies, like PracticeFusion, can even tell you how well your ad buy is doing to increase prescription-writing (by holding back a sample of the target group and comparing the two groups at the end of the test period, they can see if seeing the ad changed the HCP’s behavior).*

Or you can “kick it new-school” and focus on behavior-based placements (like when a target hits your branded site, gets cookie-ized and suddenly sees your ads on USAToday or their Google Reader). This placement process lets you filter to a very specific group of people in places that fall far from the usual HCP-centered sites. The question remains whether unusual placements like this are useful, as your target probably isn’t thinking about their patients when they are searching for a tee time or researching vacation destinations.

These same placement strategies can also be applied in a competitor-blunting process without going broke in an attempt to completely ad-block them.

For example, if you have a competitor launching in May, you can use old-school placement strategies to target placements during the month before and after May (they won’t be able to counter before their launch and they may leave buying placements until the last minute to avoid the possibility of having to push the date back and wasting money). This is your opportunity to seize as much brand space as possible.  

You can combine that with an email push which embeds a tracking cookie on their system. A re-marketing (sometimes called a re-targeting) campaign, done just before the competitor’s launch, can push a lot of placements on a variety of non-HCP locations. Best of all, re-marketing costs are a small fraction of those on HCP-centered sites.

In the last year, we’ve seen a huge upswing in the places and ways in which you can target your users. Are you up-to-date on all of them, or are you trying to negotiate banner ads on AOL.com?

*full disclosure: I have placed Insertion Orders (the industry term for buying ad space) with PracticeFusion and EHS, and have had conversations with many reps from the companies mentioned in this post. I am not attempting to recommend any of them, just trying to show you that there are a lot of options out there.