Understanding behaviours is crucial for pharmaceutical marketers

In the fourth and final article from COUCH., Ash Rishi discusses the issues pharma companies face when it comes to patient adherence. Ash shares his thoughts on how pharma marketers can improve adherence through better understanding of patient behaviours and creating campaigns to support this.

(Continued from “Pharma really can embrace content marketing“)

Understanding HCP behaviours is crucial for pharmaceutical marketers. It is not enough to simply produce medications for illnesses; in order to achieve market penetration, pharmaceutical companies must understand both the prescribing habits of HCPs and the behaviours of patients to deliver products that meet the needs of both.

Understanding patient behaviour

Marketers should not assume that patients always take their medications according to the instructions given on the packaging or by their doctor. According to the WHO, adherence to instructions hovers at only around 50 percent. This means that half of all patients are taking medications incorrectly, potentially exposing them to unwanted side effects or causing the medication to be ineffective. So if we get into the mindset of the patient, we can see them becoming disheartened with the medication, this will lead the patient to either stop taking it or switch to another brand. Herein lays the challenge facing pharma marketers.

Behavioural marketing seeks to understand this seemingly irrational patient behaviour, and therefore find ways of working with patients and healthcare providers to ensure medication is taken properly. Part of this responsibility involves working with patients directly, for example by providing clearer usage information along with the products. However, educating healthcare providers can achieve a potentially greater impact, so that they can instruct patients on the proper use of medications. Ultimately, the pressure is on pharmaceutical companies to create products that are easy to use and fit in well with patients’ existing behaviour patterns.


“According to the WHO, adherence to instructions hovers at only around 50 percent.”


Designing behavioural marketing campaigns

Understanding patient behaviour is important for designing an effective marketing campaign. In particular, marketers must understand how patients respond to particular types of marketing materials, as well as how context plays a role in their response.

A study of direct-to-consumer marketing carried out in 20021 revealed that consumers were most likely to ask their doctor about a product after they had seen an advertisement that gave them information they had not previously known. Rather than rehashing the same messages in all marketing campaigns, pharmaceutical advertisers need to ensure that they are providing up-to-date, useful information, as this approach seems to be most likely to trigger patients to take action and request the medication.

The study also revealed that pharmaceutical marketing fails to reach sufferers of conditions that have not yet been diagnosed. Only 15% of patients who were driven to contact their doctors after seeing an advertisement were pre- diagnosis sufferers of a condition. This statistic represents an important opportunity for behavioural marketing in the pharmaceutical industry. Certain conditions, particularly mental health conditions such as depression and bipolar disorder, are estimated to be as yet undiagnosed in up to three quarters of current sufferers. Some physical conditions such as osteoporosis and hypertension also go unnoticed in more than half of patients. Marketers must get better at helping patients to recognise worrying symptoms and motivating them to seek medical treatment. Not only does this approach potentially increase the number of customers taking a particular drug, but it also has the potential to improve health by allowing conditions to be treated early.

“…pharmaceutical marketing fails to reach sufferers of conditions that have not yet been diagnosed.”


The source of messages is also an important factor in how likely it is that patients will be convinced to ask their doctor about the medication. In the case of the US where direct to consumer advertising is allowed, only around 20% of patients were motivated by an ad they had seen on TV, whereas almost half were responding to an ad they had seen online. This may be driven by behavioural factors, such as the fact that people use the internet to research medical conditions. Ads seen in doctors’ offices and pharmacies were also very effective. One possible behavioural marketing conclusion is that people are more likely to pay attention to ads for pharmaceutical products when they are already thinking about their health. In contrast, people who are relaxing in front of a TV program or flicking through a magazine are not in a receptive state of mind to take on health-related information.

Behavioural marketing can be applied particularly effectively in the digital sphere too. Digital allows us to use data about consumers’ browsing habits to show them targeted messages. Brand managers must pay attention to the latest trends in online behavioural targeting to ensure that their messages are shown to the right users and more importantly at the right time. Brand websites can also gather customer data, in compliance with online privacy legislation, and use it to target consumers with more relevant marketing. For example, someone browsing a pharma website for information about a particular condition could be shown advertisements to a non-branded educational website for a condition that could help them, rather than other, less relevant websites with unreliable information.

Plan for success by gathering information about the needs and lifestyles of the target market, and using behavioural marketing to reach out to those consumers, pharmaceutical companies can deliver marketing campaigns that are both useful for patients, and more effective at driving sales.


1. Pharma Marketing News http://www.news.pharma-mkting.com/pmn27-article03.pdf



About the author:

Ash Rishi is the Founder and CEO of COUCH. Based in London, COUCH is an integrated digital marketing and creative communications agency focusing on the pharmaceutical, healthcare and lifestyle industry. Ash has over 9 years experience in pharma marketing and has delivered activities across UK, Europe, US, Canada and Latin America. His area of expertise include: branding, communications, stakeholder development and digital marketing. Ash is also the founder of a new pharmaceutical marketing community on Google +. You can reach Ash at Ash@wearecouch.com or follow him on Twitter @We_Are_Couch and @Ash_Rishi.

How can we better understand patient behaviours when it comes to adherence?