DTC marketers can no longer rely on push marketing to reach consumers, instead they must put patients first by finding ways to engage with them online.

The current DTC model of push marketing is obsolete. In the past, DTC marketers spent a lot of time and money developing TV commercials which, in turn, drove new prescriptions. Today, that model no longer works because consumers are skeptical of any and all advertising—not to mention their very low trust in pharmaceutical companies. Rather than acknowledge this environment, however, most big pharma companies have chosen to ignore it and continue to bombard us with ineffective ads.

Anyone who believes that consumers are going to see an ad for a new prescription drug and run to ask their doctor for it is living in the past. The research that I concluded this year clearly shows that when people become aware of a new drug or health condition their first destination for more info is the Internet and not the doctor’s office. Consumers’ research includes a lot of time online and is usually driven by triggers such as a bothersome health condition or a family member who needs treatment.

Consumers want to know everything they can about new prescription drugs, but the problem for pharma companies is that one of the top pages within any drug.com website is side effects and safety information. If your product has some nasty side effects then there is a good chance that consumers are not going to ask for it unless they have exhausted other treatment options.

More and more consumers are also turning to social media to read what others have to say about treatment options. Remember that a lot of people can read what others post on social media sites without leaving a comment. Social media is becoming a bigger part of the puzzle as more and more aging baby boomers use it to connect with friends and relatives.

So, what can marketers do to ensure that DTC stays relevant? First, they need to earn the trust of their regulatory and legal people by showing them what other innovative drug companies are doing on social media. They also need to explain that the Internet is shifting consumer attitudes towards advertisers. Second, they need to develop an action plan that clearly shows the risks and rewards of engaging consumers with marketing, but more importantly they need to win the support of senior management. Finally, they need to be prepared to fail, but they also have to learn from failure so that they can build a great consumer marketing foundation. It is better to try something new and fail than continue to do the same old thing that you know is ineffective.

The other issue that will challenge drug companies is attracting talented marketers who are willing to put patients first. The recent fines for illegal marketing activities clearly show that more people are needed who can speak up when they witness bad or illegal marketing. Right now too many good and talented people are leaving the drug industry because they don’t see a future in it and are tired of the layers of management they need to wade through in order to do the simplest of things.

Unless DTC marketing changes to acknowledge empowered patients, we could be witnessing the begin marketing budgets.

  • Richard Meyer

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

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