Should DTC marketers put away their marketing hats?

Pharma companies need to put themselves in the patient’s shoes and provide clear, helpful content at what is often a worrying and stressful time. Richard Meyer offers some useful pointers.

In recent market research, an oncologist said that, when she sees a newly-diagnosed patient, she schedules a three-to-four-hour appointment to meet the patient, caregivers and family. The purpose is to explain the diagnosis, treatment options, what to expect, plus what indications will show that the patient’s cancer is responding to treatment. When asked if she used any materials from pharma, she said, “I would if they provided them.”

This oncologist clearly understands what it’s like to be a patient who receives a diagnosis for a chronic disease, but do pharma marketers really have that same understanding?

DTC marketers in the US have always concentrated on patient segments at a time when patients don’t want to be considered part of marketing segmentation. When we develop DTC marketing plans, we do so with a deep understanding of the health conditions in which we market, but today we also need to think like patients, who are often overwhelmed with online health information.


“The depth and complexity of online health information means hours of time trying to determine which is credible”

Google has made clear that the vast majority of online health searches start with a search engine. However, the depth and complexity of online health information often leads to hours of time trying to determine which information is credible, as well as trying to understand medical terms, which are often hard just to pronounce. Yet, most content on pharma websites is at a college reading level, which forces website visitors to look elsewhere to get the information they need and want.

There are things that pharma could be doing to make the patient journey easier:

1. Content for websites should be written as if you’re talking to a patient one-on-one. The worst thing you can do is to repurpose content from other marketing materials.

2. Complex medical terms should include, at a minimum, a rollover pop-up that clearly defines the term at a basic reading level.

3. One website does not fit everyone. Divide content – for visitors who want health information and patients who are both considering your product and have a prescription for your drug.

4. Licensing content from credible health sites in your product site can keep visitors engaged with your brand for longer periods of time.

5. Developing a ‘content media plan’ can keep patients coming back to your website and position your brand as the ‘go-to’ source for health information.

6. There should be a page on your website that has helpful links, including links to competitors’ products. While you may say ‘no way’, click stream analysis that I have examined clearly indicates that your website visitors are going there anyway. Your objective is to help patients make the right healthcare decision, not to limit them to only considering your product.

7. Direct online paid media to certain pages within your website, not just to your home page. It sounds like a no-brainer, but too many search engine queries lead to pharma site home pages.

8. For goodness’ sake, use real patient testimonials within your website and be open and honest about their relationship with your company/brand.

9. The more content there is on webpages, the higher the drop off. As a rule of thumb, users should not have to scroll more than twice to read your page’s content.

10. Use your thought leaders to write content and provide a brief description of their background. It’s been my experience that most are more than willing to write content and have it edited to meet FDA guidelines.

It’s hard to think like a patient when visiting your own website, but taking off your marketing hat for a moment can actually make you a better marketer.

About the author:

Richard Meyer has over 20 years of marketing experience in consumer packaged goods and healthcare. He has worked for companies like Eli Lilly and Medtronic, and recently sold his digital healthcare consulting business to take a position as chief strategy officer.

Among his many accomplishments, he was on the Global Cialis launch team, where he developed an award-winning interactive strategy, receiving the highest marketing award at Lilly. He redesigned the Medtronic Diabetes site, increasing key metrics, and is recognised as a digital thought leader.

Rich currently works with healthcare clients to develop DTC and HCP marketing initiatives. He leads research for clients and identifies actionable strategies to improve marketing. He has an MBA from the New York Institute of Technology and lives with his wife in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Visit Richard’s blog here.

Read more from Richard Meyer:

7 reasons to be wary of digital health hype