The common belief is that digital does not require as big of a budget as other channels, but it is more complex than people think and marketers need to go in with a sound strategy.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, the CEO of Novartis suggested that pharma companies are going to have to spend more money on research and development at the expense of lower sales and marketing budgets.

According to the Rodale 2012 DTC Marketing Study, DTC marketing budgets are already starting to decline. Of course, a lot of this can be directly attributed to some very big brand names coming off patent, but we also should acknowledge that the pharma business model is changing.
Several surveys have suggested that pharma marketers are shifting more dollars into digital marketing, but while this is welcome news there also is a misconception that digital marketing is less expensive than other channels. That just isn’t true.

Over the last few years, digital marketing has become more complex and it’s almost impossible for one person to handle all of a brand’s needs for marketing a product digitally. In addition to developing a website and basic things like search engine marketing, today’s digital marketers have to look at social media integration and paid media—all of which have to work together in order to drive the desired business or brand outcome.

Today, marketers also must consider the fact that the way consumers take in information has changed dramatically. They now look for information on a number of devices from handheld smartphones to iPads. However, over the years I have learned through research that very few consumers go online for health information just because it happens to be there. They are usually driven online by triggers such as a health problem or as someone caring for a family member who may be sick.

We also should be aware that health information seekers usually go to a number of different websites to gather the information they need to make healthcare treatment decisions. The digital analytics company ComScore recently indicated that there is an increase in intent to ask for a branded drug from people who come to product websites, but intent is a far cry from actually asking for, receiving and filling their prescription.

There are several ways in which DTC marketers can improve the online experience. First, conduct research with your target audience and ask them what information they are looking for. Second, test your site via usability studies to ensure it meets users’ needs. Finally, stop trying so hard to sell. Instead, try to give consumers a reason to use your product in terms that they can understand. Talk to them, not as a market segment, but as if you had two minutes to speak with them face to face. This means that you need really good copy that eliminates complex medical terms that they may not understand. DTC marketers should also think about having different home pages on their website that are targeted towards different audiences via keywords.

Digital marketing is not less expensive than other marketing channels and requires expertise to get it right. You can rely on your agency if they are going to be partners rather than vendors. But you need to start building digital marketing expertise in house in order to understand that it is key to meeting your business objectives.

  • 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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