Cleaning brand Clorox is using data collected from internet-connected thermometers sold by a company called Kinsa to target its products, which include disinfecting wipes, to consumers who live in areas where there are increases in fevers.

According to Inder Singh, Kinsa’s founder and CEO, “We take data from our users, we aggregate it, we do all sorts of machine-learning techniques with it and combine it with other data sets and what we ultimately get is a signal” about fever activity in a region down to the ZIP code level.

That signal can then be provided to marketers, who can use it to inform their marketing activities. “We can tell you if [fever activity is] high or low, whether it’s rising, if it’s bigger than the three- or five-year average, when it’s going to peak and how severe the symptoms are, too,” Singh explained.

To date, Kinsa has sold more than 500,000 of its smart thermometers in the US.

Clorox used Kinsa’s data to “target vulnerable populations where we have a clear signal about outbreaks” and reduce marketing spend in areas that were healthier. The result? According to Kinsa, engagement with Clorox disinfectant ads increased by 22% when its data was employed.

A blue Kinsa smart thermometer
A Kinsa smart thermometer (Image by bfishadow, available via CC BY 2.0)

Data protection

Some of the biggest challenges healthcare marketers face in reaching consumers effectively through digital channels are related to regulations like HIPPA, which protects the use of personally identifiable health information.

Under HIPPA, healthcare marketers are, with few exceptions, forbidden from using health data that could be tied back to specific individuals.

Kinsa’s data, however, would appear not to run afoul of HIPPA’s rules, as the company is simply providing ZIP codes in which it detects that larger-than-usual numbers of individuals have elevated temperatures.

It is not disclosing who has a temperature, or, ostensibly, any additional information that could be easily combined to identify individuals who registered a fever using its thermometers. It is also not making inferences about more serious conditions, such as cancer or diabetes.

In fact, as is the case with Clorox, Kinsa’s data can be used by marketers who want to reach consumers who are seeking to prevent illness, not those who already have it.

Given this, it would seem that healthcare marketers, such as those working on behalf of pharmaceutical companies that sell over-the-counter (OTC) cold and flu drugs, could use the approach being employed by Clorox to target ads in areas that might be experiencing a cold or flu outbreak.

Embracing digital transformation in the Pharma and Healthcare sectors

A boon for healthcare marketers

Already, according to The New York Times, Kinsa’s data has “been used by pharmacies and manufacturers that make and distribute medicines and cough and cold products to keep retailers’ shelves full with flu-related products when fevers spike in certain areas.”

While Kinsa isn’t the only provider of this kind of data, its data is particularly appealing because it’s fresh. Data from the Centers for Disease Control, for example, can lag outbreaks, and other sources of data, such as search queries and social media posts, aren’t always accurate or easy to turn into actionable insight.

The good news for healthcare marketers is that more and more data like Kinsa’s could be available in the near future as more and more connected devices make their way into consumers’ homes.

Importantly, not all of the devices that could produce data of value to healthcare marketers will be health-related. For example, according to The New York Times, Amazon has submitted a patent application for technology that would use its smart speaker devices to detect signs of illness, such as
coughing, and use the associated data to enable marketing campaigns.

Obviously, healthcare marketers will want to experiment carefully with the use of smart device data, and should expect that future regulation could target this kind of marketing, but given the pressure healthcare marketers are already under, particularly in the pharma industry, new digital tools for
reaching consumers effectively shouldn’t be overlooked.

Integrated print/digital campaigns could be what the doctor ordered for pharma marketers