September 22, 2010
Digital Review: Exploring Consumer Healthcare Web Sites
Consumer healthcare Web sites play a vital role in consumers’ research, and digital campaigns are gaining traction among DTC marketing budgets. DTC Perspectives examined this role and in addition to a channel overview of trends and DTC efforts, also individually reviewed the top five digital sources, according to comScore data.
By Jennifer Haug
Marketers traditionally, as we know, have been hesitant about jumping into online promotions. Rightfully so – with corporate support sometimes lacking and a dearth of specific guidance from the FDA addressing Internet promotion d – many marketers are wary of getting too deep for fear of their efforts being considered violative. So rather, they take an overly cautious, safe route; or worse, do nothing at all.
However, with some dipping their toes in the water, marketers are now allocating more of their budget toward online spend. And with an expected draft guidance from the FDA by the end of 2010, that spend is likely to grow in 2011 and beyond. “Over the past several years, online ad spending for pharma has been rapidly increasing at a rate of approximately +30 percent year-over-year. Based on these trends, we can expect to see continued increases for the remainder of 2010 and into 2011,” said Susanna Selchau-Hansen, director of research, pharmaceuticals, for The Nielsen Company. Bill Drummy, chief executive officer of Heartbeat Digital, added that, “We’ve hit a tipping point with digital [and] there is no turning back. We’re going to accelerate the next couple of years, shifting quite dramatically more into the digital realm. Before we saw 3 to 5 percent of budgets going to digital on the consumer side, now we’re going to see more of 15 to 25 percent of budgets. We’re already seeing that [growth].”
Internet provides cost, targeting efficiencies
John Mangano, a vice president at comScore Marketing Solutions, has also noted the “groundswell in online marketing,” explaining that “both those who have not marketed in the past are now marketing, or at least testing, and those who were early adopters are expanding.” Both he and Drummy attribute the growth to a few key factors: pressures for cost-based and targeting efficiencies.
Drummy noted that, largely due to media fragmentation, time shifting and the Internet’s targeting capabilities, that online spend tends to be more efficient and produce a higher ROI. The Internet as a medium also helps limit the waste that marketers can experience with other media. He also suggested “another more subtle factor,” for the explosion of Internet usage by consumers – “the age of people making [health] decisions is younger. They have grown up with digital more and are more likely to be open to a digital strategy.”
There is a higher level of depth and interactivity with the Internet, Mangano said. “Once you get someone to your Web site, you can go into great detail from the molecular structure if you wanted to down to how to treat your condition.” Having a detailed site that is rather in-depth provides a deeper level of both understanding and communication.
Researching across the disease continuum
According to comScore data, a little more than 50 percent of people who are online visit health content; this equates to roughly 115 million people seeking such information each month. (See Table 1 listing the Top 5 consumer health properties). Monique Levy, senior director of research at Manhattan Research, told DTC Perspectives that since 2005 the firm’s research has shown a doubling in the number of consumers who go online to look for prescription drug information. People predominantly view general health sites, but they are highly likely to visit a Web site run by a manufacturer at some point in their research, she said.
Mangano explained that manufacturer sites typically only see 10 percent of the Internet population. “We see that 88 percent of pharma Web site visitors also visit [third party] sites while only 17 percent” of general health care site visitors view pharma sites, he said. “It’s a progression, as people learn about the condition they like to visit unbiased, third-party sites that are going to give a more broad view of how to treat the condition. As you start getting more and more down the road of treatment and have a greater understanding, then [consumers] want to know” more specifics, turning to a manufacturer’s site. Manhattan Research data shows a lift in brand.coms when consumers get a better understanding about the choice of drug they will receive, noted Levy. Furthermore, she added, consumers used to research primarily during the early stages, now they are researching – and using the Internet – more during various points of the disease lifecycle. “That’s a significant change,” she pointed out.
“The industry has been very successful utilizing these sites today, and as they evolve and become even more valuable to users they will become more valuable to the pharma industry,” Mangano said. Consumers enjoy the “confidentiality, anonymity and global community” that the Internet provides. It also affords a greater access to information, offering condition management solutions. “As consumers become more aware of how to use the Internet and the resources evolve to do things we may not imagine today, I expect anyone caring for their health will use the Internet as an integral part of their care,” he added.
Thinking holistically about campaigns
Rather than just simply integrating a digital campaign into an overall plan, Drummy suggested that marketers think “more holistically. … Take an overall strategy and deliver it in ways that are most appropriate across all of the channels that are out there.” Digital channels provide marketers with a unique opportunity to “create experiences of value and interaction that are going to be worthwhile.”
Selchau-Hansen also echoed the sentiment of having a cohesive campaign. “Although TV remains the primary mass media channel, employing multiple media platforms is crucial in DTC, particularly given the increasing prevalence of consumers seeking healthcare information online and the growing role of social media. Cross media exposure can also provide a significant and measurable lift to concurrently running TV and online ads, enhancing the net effectiveness of a brand’s advertising campaign,” she said.
Mangano told DTC Perspectives that many consumers visit Web sites because they are being driven from television. Paid search also supports other marketing efforts. “The most visited pharma sites are usually a function of the most marketed sites,” he said. He explained that marketers can utilize various channels, driving people from one medium to another. “In some instances, it’s more convenient to build a brand or have a discussion on television; but if you want to get more in depth, Internet is better; but if you want to reach someone remotely their mobile phone may be better.” The key is “tying them all together so they don’t work in silos, but as one campaign.”
Better utilizing the digital medium
Marketers are faced with the continual challenge of trying to meet constantly changing consumer demands. While difficult, there are a few things marketers can do to make the most of digital channels. Drummy explains that “as long as people speak in just a broadcasting medium, they won’t be fully utilizing the medium; it’s not the same as a one-way medium. It’s about creating relationships of value over time. That’s very different than traditional advertising. Until people understand it a little bit better or get into a position of more authority, it’s probably going to lag some other industries.”
Levy noted that “it all depends on what type of information the consumer is looking for, which can be dependent upon where they are in the patient journey.” There is a “growing awareness among marketers” to consider the full journey and understand where in the continuum consumers may fall so that they may better “tailor [their] campaigns.” She suggests that marketers expand their efforts by offering support to patients to help adherence. Acknowledging such tactics can be “typically quite difficult and involved to do,” they could make a significant impact on the brand. She also recommends that since HCPs are still the “most influential sources on consumer decisions, brands that can tie back to them can potentially build their trust and credibility with the consumer.”
Opportunities for improvement
Each of these industry experts believes that while marketers are making good efforts in the digital space (given their constraints), there is definite room for improvement and untapped areas with great potential.
Mangano said he believes much can be done to improve paid search, and noted that search engines are creating new ad formats specifically for pharma to meet FDA fair balance requirements. Last year’s FDA letters for sponsored links had a “draconian” effect, ultimately “defeating the effectiveness of the site.” As a result, he explained that “we’re seeing a lot more unbranded ads and vanity URLs.” If marketers could have “a more open communication through search terms, [vanity URLs wouldn’t have to be used], which I think everyone would prefer. … There needs to be some clarity as to what is allowed versus just being told what is not allowed.”
Drummy and Levy also see mobile as a growing contender in the future. Levy believes that it is still early for mobile channel marketing by pharma, largely due to relatively low penetration of smartphones and also smartphones tend to skew towards younger generations. In the next three to four years, she expects to see thing picking up, providing marketers with a new, interesting way to reach consumers.
Current noteworthy efforts
Drummy, an advocate for mobile and iPads, discussed a few current mobile campaigns that have stood out. Working with UCB, Heartbeat Digital developed and created the Wellness Widget, a tool which helps Crohn’s Disease sufferers track their symptoms, facilitating doctor conversations. In addition to being a helpful tool, he explained that “this audience skews young and as high users of mobile phones, smart phones in particular.” He also identified Sanofi-Aventis’ Go Meals (not developed by Heartbeat Digital) as very successful. The app allows diabetics to access nutritional information at restaurants, find other restaurants and keep a log of their food intake.
Among other branded Web sites that stood out in our non-scientific survey (see Table 2 for top Rx properties) are Astellas’ and GlaxoSmithKline’s overactive bladder treatment VESIcare. This site has drawn consumers to the site and gotten them to view the information and act upon it, according to Mangano. He also pointed out Viagra’s 2009 Web site (Pfizer’s treatment for erectile dysfunction). “They were very good at getting people to view their video content, which was compelling enough to get people to view multiple videos.” There was a very small drop off between viewing the first and second videos. Based on comScore’s data, he deemed the site “very engaging and their goals were successful in terms of utilization.” Heartbeat Digital also collaborated with Xyzal, an allergy medication co-marketed by UCB and Sanofi-Aventis, to create a series of videos for their Web site. The videos helped people modify their behavior and had a huge impact on effectiveness for both the branded and unbranded campaigns, Drummy explained.
As for third party or unbranded sites, Mangano said Healthline’s use of video is very compelling; WebMD has wisely utilized social media; and Everyday Health has done a great job of driving traffic with solid content. Levy mentioned that UCB’s Epilepsy Advocates is “a well-developed site,” and ThereForYou.com, a hemophilia resource site by Baxter, has been “rather advanced for some time now.”
Finding digital success
“Obsess about results” is a mantra at the Heartbeat Digital office, Drummy explained, noting that “the Internet can be measured to a degree that wasn’t previously possible with other media.” Mangano said there are numerous metrics to determine a successful site, starting by determining what it is you want to measure and then comparing against a control to see if and how each component of a digital campaign drives the brand’s business. Digital ROIs can range from 4 or 5 to 1 or as high as 12 o 13 to 1, Drummy added. Digital provides marketers with a unique opportunity to reach consumers and measure their actions.
The road ahead…
The key for brands is to do what they can to balance both reach and targeting to get more efficient advertising, something digital channels provide. Having a brand.com can also be crucial, but since those must meet different legal requirements, Drummy recommends that marketers “find the unmet need and focus with great discipline to fill it” when building their sites.
Cautioning marketers about social media, Mangano said that it is a supporting role to the Internet and other marketing efforts, not the next big trend. He also forewarns marketers that it is a “very personal communication,” with consumers using it to connect with other individuals, therefore “consumers don’t always want companies to jump in.” He stressed the importance of listening to consumers though, but recommended that if companies want to communicate that they use their existing vehicles.
To best utilize digital, brands need to move from one-way communications of straight advertising to a plan more focused on providing messages and interactive discussions that are a value add to consumers that leads to brand discussion.
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