Why Data Needs a Heaping Dose of Humanity

Healthline Insider Q&A: A series of conversations with experts from the digital, health, and marketing industries. Why? Because different perspectives enrich us and make us smarter, stronger, and more aware.

Healthline Insider sat down for a conversation with our VP of Strategy, Marketing & Revenue, Sarah Harper, on the topic of humanistic data analysis in health marketing. In her role, Sarah integrates data strategy, media strategy, and marketing development to drive brand impact and make real differences in consumers’ lives.

1. What do you mean by ‘humanity’ when it comes to data analytics?

A lot of people consider big data analytics a science. It is a science, but it also needs to be a ‘liberal art’ or ‘humanity.’ While the process of getting, analyzing, and modeling data is very scientific, it doesn’t end there. Data gives us the information to reach a target audience, or to understand the actions they’ve taken (or will take), but not what’s behind the information. Data doesn’t tell us what a person living with a health condition feels, or the reasons behind what they do or think. That’s important knowledge for any health marketer, given how layered people’s attitudes towards health can be. We need the human touch to dig below the surface to understand what’s really going on.

Combining Data with a Human Touch

Data Sources

Human Touch

1st Party
Lytics DMP
Google Analytics
Social Analytics
Audience Modeling

Find the story
Understand the emotion
Uncover why

2. What’s an example of how ‘humanity’ changed your interpretation of data?

About a year ago, Healthline heard from some HIV advocates that some of our HIV content and language was negative and shaming to people living with HIV. Our data, however, showed that our monthly traffic had grown and was steadily strong.

But because supporting patients and caregivers is so central to who Healthline is, we dug deeper, and confirmed that an issue did indeed exist. Healthline rapidly created a task force of advocates, patients, and practicing clinicians to understand the needs of the community. We then went back and revised all of our content to ensure that the resources on the site matched what we learned. This ultimately has resulted in a 32% YOY growth in monthly traffic and has increased average session time to 4 minutes.

If we’d just accepted the data at face value, without curiosity or caring, we wouldn’t have uncovered the disconnect and would have missed the opportunity to better serve our HIV community.


3. Where does this human approach fit into the new trend of using data and technology to create personalized user experiences?

The use of advanced analytics and programmatic technologies to target and engage health consumers is more than a trend — it’s the way of the future. But we’re nowhere near where we need to be. Much of the focus and innovation today is on getting clean and robust data into smart algorithms in order to accurately target health consumers on a personalized level. But what does personalized really mean? And who are these people? What are their (personal) challenges? Why are our brands right for them? The data teams need to be working more closely with the strategy and creative teams to deliver on this vision. We need to add marketing and market research into data-driven marketing.

4. How can data organizations systematize this humanity?

It starts with creating alignment across the organization around your mission, so that you’re all working to a higher purpose. At Healthline, this purpose is to help people live stronger, healthier lives. When you’ve internalized this purpose, you start to see data in a different context: as an essential and powerful tool that will help you get closer to achieving that purpose in very strategic ways.

We also need to remind ourselves to use the human lens and perspective when looking at data. And we need to give our data guardians permission to look beyond the numbers, and to ask why. It takes courage to explore the ‘grey space,’ and often requires other resources to dig deeper.

5. Is this just something you believe, or have you seen it drive scalable impact?

It’s definitely a strong belief, but I’ve also seen it work, and drive results. At Healthline, our ability to look beyond the data to understand, at a very honest level, what it’s like to walk in our users’ shoes is driving user engagement: our 1st party data compared to social audience data generates 92% higher CTR and 141% more comments, and for sponsor campaigns, we achieve 300% lift in brand engagement.

And more importantly, it’s helping people feel better. Here’s what a parent of a woman with stage 4 breast cancer said in response to a Healthline article: This is a great informative article. Having a daughter who has just been diagnosed with advanced metastatic breast cancer, stage 4, it gives hope and insight into what to expect. This is a journey that a person needs all the information one can find!

That’s proof that we’ve looked beyond, and found the throughline.

Big data has opened up a world of possibilities for health marketers, enabling us to target at the individual level, identify trends and opportunities in real time, personalize at scale, and substantially improve profitability. At Healthline, we’re able to channel these capabilities through the human lens, to understand real people’s needs and make real differences in their lives. This sets the stage for improved brand loyalty to our sponsor brands. Come talk to us to find out how your brand can benefit. Please email us at corpmarketing@healthline.com.

About Healthline Media

As the #1 health media property in the US, Healthline Media reaches more than 94MM unique visitors each month (Comscore, August 2021). We provide credible health information with a compassionate approach.