How AI-Assisted Marketing Tactics Will Impact Health Retail

Targeted behavioral marketing could help us make better wellness decisions … and sell us stuff.

You see an ad on social media for a pair of trendy sneakers, featuring your city’s skyline in the background. After clicking on the ad and visiting the online shoe store, you decide not to buy. Over the next few days, you see ads for the same shoes on almost every website you visit … almost as if it’s following you.

Targeted marketing (and “re-marketing”) techniques based on consumer location, demographics, and behavior are ubiquitous in online retail. But could we really see these tactics make its way into healthcare? How could artificial intelligence and machine learning influence our wellness (and purchase) decisions? Is this the next platform to be used by retailers for targeting potential customers?

New sources of data collection, integration, and analyzation have shown glimpses of a future with AI-assisted health “coaching,” partnered with opportunities for advertising. Here are some benefits and key challenges of these technology advancements.

Fitness is the New Marketing Frontier

In 2016, Apple launched HealthKit, a software platform designed to pool personal health data from different apps into one central hub. Other apps, like branded health apps from Weight Watchers, Nike, or UnderArmor (its diet tracker, My Fitness Pal), can pull data from this hub, as well. All that personal data in the hands of retail giants? I’m sure it’s enough to make any marketer salivate.

Just recently, leaks within Apple revealed the tech company wants to expand the information stored in HealthKit to include clinical information, allergies, lab results, and other medical data. Users could then choose to share this info with hospitals or other third-parties. Imagine if pharmaceutical companies could target messaging toward users with certain allergies and test results (maybe even seconds after those results come back)?

With global wearable technology market growing from $26 billion in 2015 to an estimated $171 billion by 2025, smartwatches, fitness trackers, and other tech have the potential audience numbers that cannot be ignored by retailers.

What The Future Might Look Like

It’s 7 a.m., the time you usually take your morning 3-mile run. It’s already 80 degrees outside and air pollution levels are high. Your smartwatch buzzes you:

Time to for your daily run! It’s hot out today, so drink plenty of fluids.


While running, you pass a Walgreen’s. Your smartwatch buzzes again.

Hydration time! $1 off Gatorade at this Walgreen’s location.


This is a glimpse of what the future may look like — multiple data sources combining to help people make better health choices (while covertly marketing to your needs and interests).

Online portals — hosted by healthcare providers, pharmacies, or even fitness retailers — could allow for users to regularly enter their health information. Info can be synced from wearable health trackers. This data can be analyzed by complex algorithms, along with medical history, to send treatment plans, health advice, and recommended products to smart devices.

As technology evolves, more data becomes available, and trends are spotted, recommendations can be catered around individuals. Brand X medication not effective for your heartburn? Your history and medical records could quickly be investigated to find possible causes and make alternate drug suggestions.

At Novatio, we’ve used technology in the IT space to proactively identify alerts before they happen. Why couldn’t we do that in healthcare (or healthcare-related retail)? Similar technology could be used to flag high-risk patients or monitor patient trends, give them intervention, or send product recommendations before they actually get sick.

Our automated workflow solutions have been used to sample close to 1 million incident tickets per day to discover trends. Before this technology was implemented, only 20,000 tickets a day were being analyzed. Why only make important health and targeted marketing decisions based on 20% of available data? Technology can help us do the tedious work so we can shape more informed conclusions.

Possible Challenges from Digital Health Coaching

Online marketing tactics are so ever-present it’s becoming annoying, if not invasive. We download web browser plugins and turn off pop-up windows to block digital ads from displaying. If these techniques bleed into other spaces like our health, we could feel that there’s no escape from the bombardment of push notifications and alerts. Will current tactics become ineffective? Would we disconnect entirely?

And what happens when a push notification recommends something we may feel is offensive or inappropriate — like our rising BMI triggers a liposuction clinic ad? What if the owners of health data portals offer our information to retailers for yet more targeted marketing?

Also, with the rise of technology like this, humans run the risk of dulling their personal decision-making ability. Will we rely too much on technology to tell us what to do, where to go, and how to feel? Instead of using our own judgement to make healthy choices, will we lean too much on tech to do our thinking for us?

These are questions and challenges that will need addressed as artificial intelligence and machine learning becomes more a part of our daily lives. Global standards will need to be established to tell providers what they can and can’t do with an individual’s data. Users will need controls for how and what kind of recommendations are given. Consumers will need to learn how to partner with technology to make balanced decisions, together.

Even with these challenges, the future is brighter with AI-human partnerships than just us on our own. And we may get a push notification to avoid those chocolate chip cookies, but there’s no algorithm that can take away “cheat days.” Yet.

About the Author

Gokul Solai, MD is co-founder of technology firm Solai & Cameron and Novatio Solutions, a leader in digital workforce solutions. As a trained doctor, Solai brings a unique perspective to technological innovation, with the ultimate goal of using tech to make people’s lives better.

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