Healthcare, in general, is being disrupted by the Affordable Care Act, an upcoming Presidential election and a dramatic shift in the way patients make health treatment choices. DTC marketing, however, is under attack by physicians and consumers who are finally treating prescription drugs with the same scrutiny as consumer product purchases. Can pharma DTC marketing adapt to changing times?
The recent call from a physicians group to eliminate DTC advertising is myopic at best. Research shows that DTC ads both educate and inform patients about health problems and actually help uncover undiagnosed health issues. In addition, a huge disconnect exists between viewing a DTC ad and asking physicians about or for the product. Today trust in pharma is at an all-time low and consumers first do their homework to determine if an advertised prescription drug fits their needs.
White papers from some of the largest consulting firms in the U.S. have repeatedly said that pharma needs to “change its business model.” The current model of high drug prices cannot be sustained and eventually pharma is going to have to change with the times. This means leaner organizations as well as more scrutiny when it comes to DTC marketing, which many executives see as an expense. Rather than wait for change to be forced upon them, pharma marketers should be building new ways to engage consumers of healthcare.
Are You Ready for Transparency?
I’m sure you hear the word “engagement” a lot today but what does it mean when it comes to healthcare marketing? It means a lot of things, but high on the list is a level of transparency with which most pharma companies are unfamiliar. With Internet penetration at an all-time high, consumers are fact checking pharma marketer’s claims and talking to each other about the effectiveness of different treatments. A perfect example is Biogen’s tanking MS drug Tecfidera. A quick search on Twitter clearly shows that patients are unhappy with the medication’s side effects—and are seeking other treatments. Biogen’s response, DTC TV ads, is not going to overcome the hurdle of serious side effects.
Clearly, it’s a long journey from “awareness” to “asking for treatment”—something that DTC marketing cannot ignore. Marketers need to talk to patients as people who need answers—not as market segments who responded to a tested message. DTC ads alone are not enough to get patients to ask for your product. Marketers need to map the patient journey and think of ways to help them make the right decision that doesn’t involve the “hard sell.” To get there, organizations need to monitor the patient journey and consistently give patients a compelling reason to consider their product beyond “sales talk.”
Until pharma can adapt to the disruptive forces reshaping healthcare, DTC marketing is on life support and we are likely to see more and deeper cuts to DTC ads.