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Health Marketing Basics

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Health marketing and communication is an emerging field that draws from traditional marketing theories and principles.   Health marketing is defined as creating, communication and delivering health information and interventions using customer-centered and science based strategies to protect and promote the health of diverse populations.


Marketing is the process by which products are used to meet human or social needs. By acting as the link between vendors and consumers, marketing is an essential part of the exchange of goods and services. The fundamental aspects of marketing are the same whether they meet the need for a commercial product or a public health service. Therefore, health marketing is a form of traditional marketing.

For both traditional marketing and health marketing, the end user of a product or service is called a 'consumer' and a group of consumers is referred to as a 'market'. Characteristics of the market are considered at every stage in the marketing process, including the initial development of a product.

Marketing MixSocial Marketing

Marketing mix is a term used to describe the integration of four fundamental marketing elements, which are sometimes called the 'four Ps':

Each of these four components should be present in a marketing plan. However, it is the science of correctly using these elements in combination with one another that provides the effective 'marketing mix'. Essentially, to be effective a "product must be tailored to customer needs, priced realistically, distributed through convenient channels, and actively promoted to customers" *

A Traditional Marketing Example

A soft drink company creates a new product under its brand name. To efficiently market the new drink, the product is advertised in the local papers with coupons that offer a price reduction. The company distributes the new drink with their existing products so that it is available at every major grocery store in the country. Here is how this company used the marketing mix:

A Health Marketing Example

The CDC develops a new rapid HIV testing kit that provides results in half the time of current tests. To efficiently market the new product, the testing kits are announced by the national media and medical journals. The CDC sends free samples of the new testing kits to each of the state health departments, who deliver them to local health departments, clinics and hospitals. Here is how the CDC used the marketing mix:

As demonstrated in these examples, each of the marketing mix elements must be present in the marketing process. Tailoring the elements to match the target market and using each component in coordination with one another leads to a successful marketing mix.

Marketing and Exchange

One of the fundamental aspects of marketing is exchange. Individuals pay a price (money) for goods or services in the traditional definition of an exchange. In health marketing, the exchange often involves a non-monetary price, such as effort or time.

An Example:

Price is exchanged for Benefit
In Traditional Marketing Money -->New car
In Health Marketing Travel time to health center -->Blood pressure screening

In both commercial transactions and health marketing, consumers weigh the benefits against the price as they make decisions. For example, a person might agree to buy a banana for $1 but not for $50. The value of an exchange varies depending on the target market.

For example:

Target Market Item #1 is exchanged for Item #2 Outcome
Senior citizens Time on Saturday morning -->Read information on skin cancer Favorable value
Senior citizens Time on Saturday morning -->Play online game targeting obesity Unfavorable value
Teenagers Time on Saturday morning -->Read information on skin cancer Unfavorable value
Teenagers Time on Saturday morning -->Play online game targeting obesity Favorable value

As this example shows, different markets can value the same exchanges differently. Because senior citizens and teenagers have varying priorities and often use the same channels for different activities, they have opposite views of what constitutes an equal exchange. Understanding the specific market for each product or service is essential to effective marketing.

Choosing a Target Market

A critical decision in marketing is choosing the target market for the product.  A 'target market' is a specific group of people who have similar needs, preferences and behaviors.  Once a target market is selected by the marketer, a marketing plan is developed to match the characteristics of the target market.  There can be one or more target with corresponding marketing plans for each.  Choosing a target market is a first step in making appropriate distribution and promotion decisions.  It is only through an understanding of the target market that one can develop an effective marketing plan and create value for customers.

There are several important steps in choosing a target market:

  1. Define the market


  1. Segment the market
  1. Analyze each segment


A complete analysis of the target markets will result in choosing an effective target market and then, an informed development of marketing plan(s).


*Lovelock, Christopher & wirtz, Jochen. (2004). Services Marketing: People, Technology, Strategy. Upper Saddle River, NJ. (8)

Page last modified on June 27, 2006

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