Focus on Pharmaceuticals

Online media has become a tough sell over the past year or so, with skepticism about the viability of the medium continuing to grow as the media continues to focus its coverage on tech and dot-com failures.

At times, it appears as though those working within the industry are the only ones who still believe in its effectiveness and ability to deliver solid, cost-effective results. And they believe because of the constant exposure to clients and the successful case studies of tangible results being delivered. Regardless, it is difficult competing with a declining market and media coverage that highlights the failures.

But two industries that should really be allocating greater volumes online are healthcare and pharmaceuticals, both of which have remained conservative in this regard yet have huge opportunities to reach qualified audiences online. Of course, these industries are monitored as a result of a number of marketing regulations and restrictions, both online and offline; but the Web offers them opportunity that they have not exploited, because they’ve shied away from it.

Our company recently met a potential healthcare client that was looking at the Internet as an opportunity for advertising. The client asked that rather than delivering a formal pitch, we instead present some key facts and trends that support the Web as a viable medium to reach the client’s audiences. We did extensive research, and most of it suggested that the Web presented huge potential for the client, particularly in the Canadian marketplace (the client was Canadian, but trends in the U.S. are quite similar). Furthermore, these industries always maintain their demand for services during sluggish economic times such as now; their sales do not run in conjunction with market ups and downs.

Canada has been quick to adopt the Internet, with over 15 million Canadian users to date, representing over 60 percent penetration. Of these 15 million, 55 percent — over 8 million Canadians — visit health-related sites per year to research medical issues and new products. The majority of these users are researching diseases and prevention, with approximately 30 percent purchasing or researching prescription drugs, according to Ipsos-Reid. The North American audience as a whole tends to follow similar trends, and the U.S. population is 10 times greater than Canada’s.

Furthermore, according to eMarketer, in 2004 over $7 billion worth of health products, beauty aids, and drugs will be purchased online (up from 1.1 billion in 2000); that’s a huge potential audience for marketers to reach via the Internet. Search engines also generate fairly high volumes of queries using health-related keywords. With such a rich audience trafficking key sites such as WebMD, HeartCenterOnline, and RealAge for information on personal healthcare and drugs, the online audience clearly exists and is still a relatively untapped resource.

So why have these industries’ marketers been so slow to adopt the Web as part of their marketing mix? They have a strong opportunity with a responsive audience for the products they offer. Marketing regulations can be blamed to some extent here, with strict restrictions on using product names and explicitly stating drug side effects. But every media employed has restrictions, and the Web’s benefits certainly outweigh the restrictions.

It is highly likely that these industries have not received enough attention from promoters of Internet marketing, and so clients require a longer education process than those within other industries. Still, these industries still have significant marketing resources, and they should become prominent online marketers over the next few years.

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