Drug Companies Fail to Harness Internet’s Marketing Potential

The Internet is the most cost-effective channel for creating consumer demand for prescription medications, according to Cyber Dialogue, but it isn’t being used to its maximum potential.

In the first half of 2000, pharmaceutical companies spent an estimated $833 million on television consumer advertising, $460 million on print campaigns and $47 million on Internet marketing, according to IMS Health. Using these figures, Cyber Dialogue estimates that it cost pharmaceutical companies an estimated $54 per single specific drug request driven by the Internet, compared to $152 for television advertising and $318 for print advertising.

But the goals of pharmaceutical e-marketing initiatives should be extended beyond awareness for a specific product or company. Cyber Dialogue recommends that marketing strategy should include online programs that complement offline initiatives and are designed to increase demand, improve compliance and promote patient success. With online initiatives in place, the analysis of opt-in online data (collected and utilized in accordance with the strictest privacy and ethical standards) will enable pharmaceutical companies to maximize the return on investment (ROI) for their direct-to-consumer (DTC) Web sites while also improving the quality of life for site visitors.

Cyber Dialogue also emphasizes, however, that the Web should not be used as an isolated tool, nor should companies abandon the print and broadcast media channels that are essential to brand building.

“For the first time, pharmaceutical companies can use the Internet to spearhead a customer-focused, data-driven marketing strategy to augment their traditional consumer marketing programs,” said Mark Bard, a director in Cyber Dialogue’s Health Practice. “The key factor to sustainable success, however, lies in the integration of e-marketing with existing marketing programs.”

Pharmaceutical companies can use the data collected from consumers with their permission to understand their customers, provide feedback to refine their programs and serve long-term marketing strategies. A DTC Web site that offers online condition management can eventually deliver services such as personalized product messages, support information, patient education and even monitoring tools that enable online communication between a patient and physician. If done effectively, consumers may even feel more comfortable interacting with pharmaceutical companies because of the value they’ll receive in return.

“We already know that many patients are improving their compliance after simply reading disease information online,” Bard said. “A DTC product Web site that offers a complete customer care platform will quickly prove its ROI because of its appeal to valuable segments of online consumers who want substantially more than brochureware for a given prescription drug.”

Advertisements across any channel keep consumers informed of available drugs, according The NPD Group. A survey of 12,000 individuals by NPD’s PharmTrends unit found that 51 percent say ads keep them informed of available drugs. The survey also found that drug advertising helps them take more control of their personal health care, and drug ads motivate them to request specific drug brands of their physicians.

“When it comes to health care, consumers are telling us that they want to be more informed of their treatment alternatives,” said Fariba Zamaniyan, senior account manager of NPD PharmTrends. “This is evidenced by their positive response to prescription-branded drug ads. But the key to success for prescription drug advertising is whether or not the ads prompt doctor visits, generate prescription fulfillment for that drug and improve patients’ likelihood to comply with their recommended drug therapy.”

NPD’s study indicates that consumers aren’t flocking to their doctor’s office because of a prescription drug they became aware of through advertising. Only 11 percent of the consumers interviewed report they were actually prompted to make a doctor’s appointment to inquire about the prescription drug they saw advertised. Not surprisingly, two-thirds of consumers who were prompted to visit their doctor because of a prescription drug advertisement had prescription drug insurance.

Other findings from NPD’s research include:

  • Nearly one-quarter of the respondents asked their doctors about specific prescription drugs they learned about through DTC ads.
  • 38 percent of consumers interviewed feel that there is too much advertising for prescription drug products.
  • One-third said that the advertisements are too confusing and that they would not like to see more prescription drug advertising in the future.
  • Certain categories have higher ad recall among consumers. Nearly three-quarters of the patients on a prescription allergy medication recalled an advertisement for their drug.

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