Since I began working in marketing analytics more than 15 years ago, the industry has evolved significantly in how data is used to improve marketing effectiveness. Across therapeutic categories, brands are leveraging de-identified health data to plan, measure, and optimize their campaigns to maximize the impact on patient behavior. Yet, one of the questions I’m asked the most is, how can Big Data address the unique marketing needs of therapies targeting small patient populations?

Not only is the number of patients afflicted by a single rare disease very small compared to more prevalent diseases, but the patient pathway is much more complex. While there has been a significant increase in the number of orphan drugs over the past years, many patients still go untreated. Further, with many rare diseases, patients can go misdiagnosed or undiagnosed for years. Engaging and educating potential consumers earlier in their patient journey can significantly improve health outcomes.

For niche condition therapies, advances in data and analytics have been a complete game-changer. With access to new sophisticated targeting techniques, rare disease therapies can reduce media waste and more effectively communicate with both undiagnosed and diagnosed patients.

Why Precision Targeting?

Health communications enable consumers to make more informed choices about their healthcare. And to be effective, marketing campaigns need to reach a qualified audience. But this presents the age-old question—how do you find a needle in a haystack? Traditional demographic, geographic, and contextual targeting requires brands to serve large amounts of media, even when the target group is very small. This approach leads to media waste and is difficult to use when scaling.

To prevent a tradeoff between scale and audience quality, brands are adopting more sophisticated audience segmentation and targeting techniques for digital and targeted TV campaigns. Health brands can use consumer demographics—including age, gender, lifestyle, geography, etc.—to better understand the characteristics most relevant to certain health conditions. These enhanced demographic targeting segments are based only on the consumer attributes of the target audience, not the actual health data of individuals. For niche conditions, targeting these segments can dramatically increase the likelihood that an advertisement will reach a qualified audience.

Crossix recently worked with a specialty pharma brand treating a rare condition. The brand ran a direct-to-consumer (DTC) TV campaign alongside DTC digital and point-of-care (POC) efforts. Even for this rare condition, using an enhanced demographic-targeting approach enabled the brand to reach an audience 2.5x more qualified than the general population. By leveraging the same audience segments to activate both digital and targeted TV, the brand reached the same audience with complementary messaging across channels.

Validating the Impact

To understand if the targeted media was effective in driving action, the brand analyzed the rate of new patient starts among those exposed to the media, compared to a matched control group. The targeted DTC campaign drove a 77% lift in incremental new patient starts, as shown in Figure 1. Despite the small patient population, the brand’s targeted media reached more qualified consumers and ultimately drove conversions to brand.

Across hundreds of marketing campaigns, I’ve seen that the highest conversion rates occur when consumers see messaging on more than one media channel. With our specialty pharma brand client, those who saw brand messaging on all three media channels—TV, digital, and POC—had a conversion rate 5x higher than those who saw messaging on only one channel. After seeing the cross-channel insights, the brand optimized their media investments to increase the channel overlap across targeted TV and digital advertising.

Getting the Most Value from Media Investments

When it comes to DTC advertising, every dollar counts. For niche conditions, the stakes can be even higher. On average, brands that leverage data-driven marketing analytics to target and measure their marketing investments reduce media waste by 25%. For niche conditions, that 25% can have a substantial impact on campaign effectiveness and patients’ lives through earlier diagnosis and treatment.

Advances in Big Data can help brands find their “needle in the haystack” and better equip marketers to gain the most value from their marketing investments. As the industry continues to transition to an era of personalized medicine, the one-size-fits-all mass marketing approach will no longer work. Brands will need to reach and engage niche audiences in a privacy-safe way. This focus on precision marketing for precision medicine will continue to be at the forefront of the life sciences industry moving forward. In my next column, I will delve deeper into opportunities for pharma sales teams and marketers to better engage HCPs to further improve health outcomes.

  • Sarah Caldwell

    Sarah Caldwell is General Manager, Crossix Analytics at Veeva. Sarah is responsible for Crossix measurement and optimization and audience targeting solutions at Veeva Systems. Crossix leverages connected health data to help life sciences more effectively activate, measure, and optimize their marketing investments. Sarah joined Crossix in 2007 and has consulted with pharmaceutical brands across various therapeutic areas and business situations, including launch and loss of exclusivity.


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