September 25, 2008
The number of U.S. adults using the Internet for health and pharmaceutical information has doubled since 2001, with over 130 million now using the Internet to access health information. With this drastic growth, pharmaceutical marketers are tasked with reevaluating their marketing strategies to ensure they are keeping up with the shifting media preferences of today’s health consumers. Despite the regulatory concerns that go hand-in-hand with the industry, many pharma brands are embracing technology as an integral part of the marketing mix—launching innovative campaigns across social networks, video sharing sites, and other channels. However, in allocating marketing resources across such a broad selection of platforms, it’s important for brand teams not to lose sight of one of the most fundamental components of an entire online strategy: the product website.
Direct-to-consumer (DTC) television, magazine, and search ads and other types of promotional media can be effective ways to raise brand awareness and encourage consumers to seek more product information, but are limited in the time and space they have to deliver the full brand story. While physicians remain the most popular source of additional information following a pharmaceutical advertisement, the Internet is the top media channel sought by consumers as a resource following DTC ad exposure. This is no surprise, considering that the Internet is an ideal platform for consumers to conveniently and, to an extent, anonymously wade through the often confusing and frightening waters of health and disease management.
In light of the 52 million U.S. adults who visited pharmaceutical corporate or product sites in 2007, brand marketers should assess the marketing mileage they are getting out of their own sites. The product website has the opportunity to serve as the hub of an integrated campaign. Pharma brand websites aren’t as affected by the functional, time, and space constraints of some other types of promotional content, and oftentimes are more limited by the amount of resources devoted to it than anything else. Research shows that online consumers who visit product sites are more likely than those who do not to request a prescription drug and to have an extended health impact on family and friends, making the audience aggregated at the product.com a critical one for marketers to court.
At their best, product sites can deliver a comprehensive brand experience to consumers through a mix of promotional, educational, and entertaining content that ultimately has an influence on important healthcare decisions. To be sure their sites are in line with consumer expectations, marketers should take a step back and make sure they can answer the following essential questions about their product website: Do you understand the behaviors and needs of your target audience? Do you have clear site purpose and goals and intuitive calls-to-action for site visitors? And finally, do you have a process in place for measuring and optimizing site effectiveness?
Knowing Your Audience
Gaining insight into the characteristics, behaviors, and desires of the target audience is critical before marketers can even dream of ways to optimize their own brand.com. The site plan proposed by a web design team or agency as “cool” is irrelevant if it doesn’t materialize into a destination that satisfies target visitors and is an effective step on the path to conversion. A multitude of demographic and disease-state factors—including whether they are seeking info for themselves or as a caregiver; whether they are current prescription users; the therapeutic category; and age, gender, and other demographic characteristics—affect the ways consumers interact with a brand online. Understanding the target audience and which site components will lead them to convert on-site or offline is crucial for product website success.
Among the broader audience of E-pharma Consumers (adult consumers going online for pharmaceutical information), tools and content that present side effect and condition information and explain how a pharmaceutical or prescription drug works rank as the most valued product site features. Throwing marketing dollars into brand spokesperson videos and other rich media that look sharp may be a waste of money if visitors are only seeking side effect and product detail information. Yet for some audiences, flashier site components and interactive games work wonders for increasing engagement and post-visit brand recall. Therapeutic categories vary in their online health activities and preferences, so the site feature that proved successful for one brand may not deliver return on investment (ROI) for another campaign.
There’s also usually more than one audience group visiting product sites with different purposes and health information needs. Site features and calls-to-action that are useful and effective for visitors seeking information aren’t necessarily relevant to caregivers or patients taking the product. Ensuring that product websites have distinct content and tools uniquely communicating with different target audiences can also lead to a more satisfying user experience and enhance brand website effectiveness. For example, many users of Concerta’s brand site (www.concerta.net) are there on behalf of their children, and the site appropriately offers features like a guided video tour for parents of children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Understanding Site Goals and Objectives
Although it seems basic, marketers must make sure a clearly defined purpose exists behind the product website, combined with predefined goals and actions for consumers once they visit. Without the entire team of site stakeholders—including information technology, legal and marketing groups, agency partners, and others—having a solid understanding of goals and objectives, product sites run the risk of becoming a hodgepodge of expensive tools and features ineffective in driving the bottom line. What’s the point of spending money on advertising leading to a landing page that doesn’t prompt consumers to convert and has them quickly bouncing from the site?
Actions directly related to increasing prescription volume, such as requesting a coupon or a free sample via an online form, are some of the most obvious conversion goals for marketers to focus on. However, marketers should also determine the value of “softer” goals, such as visitors sharing information found on brand.com with a friend or family member or discussing the product with a doctor or family member, to discover the most comprehensive view of their site’s effectiveness.
Ambien/Ambien CR, Chantix, Allegra, Viagra, and Prevacid product sites are ahead of their counterparts in driving consumers to request a prescription after a visit. Ambien CR’s site (www.ambiencr.com) in particular makes it intuitive for consumers to answer the main call to action—the offer for a free trial prescription jumps off of the homepage and is promoted clearly throughout the site. Making it easy for consumers to find and follow the path to conversion can go a long way in contributing to site goals.
Establishing a Measurement and Optimization Cycle
Measurement is one campaign element that will never go out of style as pharmaceutical marketing progresses. However, this fundamental component of website strategy is often a second thought in many digital marketing campaigns. Most product sites are set up with at least some kind of web analytics tool, and brand stakeholders commonly invest in market research—but how are these services being used? There can’t be an ROI for market and audience intelligence tools if no action is taken as a result of their insight.
Employing a cycle of measurement, reporting, analysis and optimization, and a resource or team that drives this cycle, leads to website updates that are tied to improving key metrics and reaching overall goals. The danger of ignoring the data and insight from audience intelligence tools is having a website that is irrelevant to visitors and ineffective in driving marketing and sales goals.
In today’s changing healthcare environment, static sites that are not designed in response to consumer needs or to drive conversions have no place in this market. Marketers need to assess their current product sites and ensure they are effective in converting interested consumers to product users. Knowing their target audience, having a clearly defined site purpose and goals, and establishing a process for measurement and optimization are basic, yet essential, website strategy elements to master before planning ahead for next-generation pharma marketing.
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