The Quest for Quantifiable ROI and The Distraction of Digital Measurement

I’ve been working in pharma media long enough to remember the days when a click captured on an ad was enough to determine whether it was deemed viewable. Logic tells us, of course, that you can’t actually engage with media unless you see it first. Third-party measurement providers, intent on making money off measuring everything from viewability to audience quality, rarely come clean about their inability to capture a large percentage of the addressable universe.

Most measurement vendors have limited cross device capabilities, unable to keep tabs on a mappable device graph that is ever-expanding into more mobile and handhelds, where a cookieless user leaves a ghostly fingerprint. When cookies become more restricted, I shudder to think how much power these third-party measurement vendors will continue to wield, even when more of their addressable universe disappears.

What agencies regard as gospel from analytics platforms like Google Analytics and Crossix and use to justify investment or kill incremental hopes and dreams can in reality leave millions of dollars in measurable lifetime patient value on the table. The emphasis on third-party measurement for pharma and healthcare media often lacks something I wish we’d see a return to in short order—common sense. Digital metrics can give us an important glimpse into whether a program is directionally on track, but it should be seen as a single data point taken in a larger context, part of a more complex story to be told.

Tracking Cross-Device and Cross-Channel Conversions

As a digital nerd, I deeply admire and respect how informative web analytics can be when tracking SEO campaigns tied to keywords, or how often hungry consumers might come to your website looking for nutritional information about the Beyond Burger. When it comes to healthcare professional media, or direct to hand-raising patient engagement, the attribution model ascribed by digital web analytics often looks at surface-level interaction in a vacuum, disregarding the channel or supply type tied to delivery and the data loss that comes when third parties measure first-party data.

Web analytics teams quantify how many unique user sessions a vendor has generated, how many page views per visit were logged, what percentage of visitors bounced, develop calculations that spit out a cost per engaged user, or rely on a third party to share how many of the targeted professionals were measured to be NPI physicians and more. What digital metrics cannot track through third-party measurement platforms is how many of those NPI targets exposed or engaged actually converted to a prescription for an advertised therapy, and how many new-to-brand starts that vendor’s digital program was responsible for, down to the NPI level. What is often left out of the equation entirely is the data loss and discrepancy between servers and transparent discussions about measurement limitations.

Many third-party measurement vendors cannot effectively capture traffic, audience quality, brand safety, or viewability information when media is delivered in-app, for example, where NPI-verified physicians spend a vast majority of their time-consuming content. App traffic tends to look like a bounce in most third-party systems, when there is not a direct integration (SDK) or device ID pass back from vendor to measurement company. In these instances, the HCP lands on a professional site, gets the information they need, but more than 80% of the time that activity cannot be tracked navigating beyond the initial landing page.

Don’t Denounce The Bounce

From an article entitled Master your 2021 Google Analytics Bounce Rate, published in June 2020 by diib, measurement experts shared: “As a rule of thumb, a bounce rate in the range of 25% to 40% is excellent. However, 41% to 55% is fairly average. 56% to 70% is higher than average, but may not be cause for too much concern depending on the website.”

If you’re a retailer trying to drive a consumer to checkout at, I could understand fully why bounce rates in the 70% range and up might be a cause for concern. In professional media, if you’ve captured engagement on a video from an oncologist who has just landed on your website to quickly scan efficacy data, why are we raising alarms if that same oncologist doesn’t take in five trackable pages per visit? Especially if we, as publishers and healthcare data marketing companies, have the first-party data to prove that the same oncologist indeed saw your message and then converted? They came, they saw, they hopped off to preform life-saving transplant surgery and improved patient outcomes. We can’t expect professional audiences to stick around as long as I do when shopping for the perfect pair of jeans, nor can we rely solely on that one metric to tell us whether or not a campaign was effective or ineffective.

True ROI Is Measured in Lifetime Patient Value

In a digital display program we ran last year, we drove 197 new-to-brand starts for a leading multiple myeloma drug within a six-month period. The result was a 158-to-1 ROI based on their investment. The program was setup to target oncology professionals at the point of care, on their personal handheld devices, at locations that had been low or no-see accounts for the manufacturer. The program had some third-party measurement limitations due to the in-app referrals and the inability to track some site-level engagements because of the traffic coming from apps.

Had the agency web analytics team solely decided our fate, flagging a dip from 70% viewability to 67% during a single month as a cause for concern, we would not have delivered the $24 million in lifetime patient value to the manufacturer that ANCOVA modeling and the manufacturer worked on verifying, along with manufacturer-approved test and control segments.

It’s time we all took a step back, gathered all available data points, and looked at digital performance and measurement in the right context. Our customers and the patient outcomes our timely messages support, wholeheartedly depend on it.

  • Erin DeRuggiero

    Erin DeRuggiero is a fast-rising healthcare entrepreneur and company executive, leading change in healthcare innovation, female-led startups, and gender equity. As TI Health’s CEO, Erin brings more than 20 years of digital advertising and healthcare experience to the data-driven marketing company where she works extensively with leading pharmaceutical manufacturers, medical devices, and their respective advertising agencies to create palpable, positive impact across hundreds of therapeutics, devices, and brands.


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