Monday, November 13, 2006

From the AdTech Blog: Big Pharma Shifts Bucks and Attention to Direct

Big Pharma Shifts Bucks and Attention to Direct

The FDA approved DTC in 1997. The shift in DTC is an unbelievable opportunity for online. DTC will not go away, there will be a shift to more appropriate communication. The doctor-patient dialogue is essential. Facilitating the dialogue is critical. The current model doesn't work. This panel explored what needs to be done.

Moderator: Joe Hartnett, Hartnett & Associates
Meg Columbia Walsh, Managing Partner CommonHealth Consumer. Pharma and consulting background.
Megan Shawcross, EVP at Xchange. 20 years of making customers the focus.
Bonnie Becker, Director of the pharma category at Yahoo Search Marketing. Was at Pfizer for 5 years, worked in global marketing at Polaroid. At Yahoo is focusing on Pharma to develop best practices.

The FDA approved DTC in 1997. By 2004 $2.5B was spent in DTC. There have been pharma shifts in 2005, many caused by the safety issues with Vioxx and Celebrex. Bill Frist said "drug ads fuel America's skyrocketing drug costs" and "drug companies should wait 2 years before DTC". This caused a change in legislation and changed the market-- DTC is much more restrained now.

We go in and out of paying attention to Pharma as a sector. The shift in DTC is an unbelievable opportunity for online. DTC will not go away, there will be a shift to more appropriate communication. The doctor-patient dialogue is essential. Facilitating the dialogue is critical. The current model doesn't work.

CommonHealth did a study of actual doctor-patient visits for the FDA. The result is engagement based on myth vs. reality. It turns out that DTC was not being spoken about the way the pharma companies expected. It shouldn't be "ask your doctor", it should be "present your story". Not closed-ended, but "how does this migraine affect your life?" DTC does work: it drives patients into the doctor's office-- yet patients still don't ask for medications by name. DTC is not hurting the doctor-patient communication. Yet risk-benefit is not being discussed. Surprisingly, only 3% of observed patients actually "asked their doctors" and over 60% of treatment decisions occurred without the doctor providing additional info. DTC has become just another word for mass advertising. We need a new model. We need consumer-targeted communication and more segmentation.

The shift to direct is a shift to relationship marketing. It provides the opportunity to communicate in a targeted fashion to build a long term relationship. Lives change, so to maintain any sense of relevance, you have to be able to evolve the communication in real time. What's true in a patient's life now will change next year. That's where digital has an advantage. Pharma companies are slow and stuck in the paper-based days, but they're catching up. We need to talk about physical plus holistic (emotional, social) needs, to time communication to key moments of truth vs. call cycles or media flights. There's a need to focus on delivering consistent brand perception and experience always.

Consistency is incredibly important in this process. Most people don't make the connection between the drug, name of product, and the manufacturer. We need to deliver in any channel-- the concept of "everywhere" which was so much discussed at Ad:Tech. DTC can't do that now. We can make the connection between brand, corporate, division, etc. It's about being where the consumer is. Pharma companies need to fit the message into the context of their lives, not push information like advertising. Content delivery is becoming richer. Citizen media is growing (podcasts), search engines make everyone a researcher. Pharma companies need to personalize pull marketing, not just push marketing.

Public and political pressure are accelerating DTC changes. Media consumption has changed-- adults 50+ now spend over 7 hours per week online-- more than with magazines and newspapers. Pharma spending is shifting online, with 35% growth last year. Over 60% of the US population 18+ looked for health info online. 34% of searchers would never take a medication without first looking it up online. 61% of searchers plan to see the doctor after searching. 71% of searchers talk about treatments with doctors. Health consumers are hyper-engaged online, not just looking at health but at everything online. You need to target your audience online via increasingly specific channels: Mass and mass-targeted media, behavioral targeting, and context. Marketers are engaging with sight, sound and motion. Interactive ads are positive because they allow the user to engage your content without leaving the page.

Now comes the digital evolution with social media, "we media" like YouTube, Myspace and flickr. You can get answers from your peers who have direct experience. You can have a diabetes community and social search such as on Yahoo Answers where users provide answers to the community. This happens within minutes, not hours or days.

Trust and permission-based maketing is more important than ever. It took 12 years for pharma to go online, they need to move more quickly to community-based dialog. According to the panelists, pharma had "better show up" in the communities. The boomer audience goes in with full treatment agendas when they visit a doctor, then go back online to validate "Is the drug I was prescribed the right one?" There are great partners in Yahoo and Google, and pharma companies need to use them.

It was a fast-paced session with lots of interesting info. There's a lot of room for what the panelists called "total solution holistic communities" which can be sponsored by the pharma industry. The panelists encouraged the audience to explore these opportunities, as they thought there were some nice economic opportunities there.

It will be interesting to see if, as the big pharma companies actually do engage their audiences more, they'll be able to do the hard work of listening, which is key to relationship building. We'll look forward to an update next year...

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