According to a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, as the provider economy gets ready for the full implementation of healthcare legislation, health insurance premiums are rising faster than employee salaries. This comes at a time when fewer people are going to see their doctors, when prescription abandonment is at record levels, and patients are putting off medical procedures because of costs and uncertainty around how it will affect their wellness. As Yoda said in Star Wars, “Always in motion the future is.” This is especially true for DTC marketing.

A recent Gallop poll indicated that consumers’ mistrust of the government is at the highest level ever recorded. We as marketers have to understand that this mistrust also extends to advertising, marketing, and brands, especially in healthcare.

Two significant trends are driving the changes in consumer healthcare behavior. The first, of course, is increased costs. Not only are customers paying more for health insurance, they are also paying higher co-pays for most drugs—even with programs designed to reduce the co-pay cost. The second trend is the focus on wellness. Wellness essentially means that patients want treatments that allow them to live the quality of life they want to live. Why get a hip replacement, for example, if you are going to need 6-8 months of therapy to learn how to walk again? Why take medication that may have nasty side effects when you can say to yourself, “I can just change my behavior”?

Of course, we know that most consumers are not going to give up their steak or weekly cheeseburger lunch to help control their cholesterol. Consumers are stressed; to cope, they do things that make them feel good, even though they may be unhealthy. Comfort is going to win out over exercising or watching what they eat.

So what should DTC marketers think about all these changes in healthcare marketing? Well one aspect that is changing for all products is the need for more transparency. In DTC marketing, this means that we have to speak to consumers as people, not as patients. We need to be honest about potential side effects and answer media stories about health conditions and medications as soon as they hit the wire. We cannot afford to say things like, “We’re studying the data,” or, “That study is full of errors.”

DTC marketers have all believed that they need to market to segments and to the masses at a time when more and more people are saying, “I’m not a market segment.” We need to think of ways to win over skeptical, risk-averse lawyers and regulators, and bring them to embrace engagement marketing. We can’t wait for the FDA to issue social media regulations that are going to be outdated before they are published. Marketers need to think more about how to approach their brands more as patients and less as marketers. They also need to view their brands as media, not products.

Email your question to Richard Meyer, our DTC expert, for the answer.

  • Richard Meyer

    Richard Meyer has worked in healthcare marketing for more than 12 years and is the author of www.worldof and www.newmediaand He is the Director of Online Strategic Solutions.


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