Since the pharma industry uploaded its very first websites in 1994, marketers' perception of the web has moved from intriguing novelty, to must-have status symbol, to vital communications channel for both patients and physicians. Yet even as product managers devote more resources to their brand-name product websites, many still commit fundamental errors with alarming frequency.
This article identifies some of the most common mistakes pharma marketing managers make, along with potential remedies. It also highlights brands that are doing things right-often because managers have integrated their online tactics into a broad brand strategy.
Mistake #1: Treat the web as an afterthought. Although the internet is consumers' number one source for healthcare information-and one of the top three sources for doctors-pharma companies still treat web initiatives as a poor cousin to other communications channels. Companies' e-marketing spend has increased steadily during the last few years, but it represents just 10 percent or less of most marketing budgets. Insufficient resources may not be the worst problem afflicting web initiatives. In many cases, the online investments brand managers do make are poorly planned and executed.Lack of experience often leads pharma marketers and their agencies to slap the imagery from their offline ad campaign onto a website in the name of "brand consistency," missing out on the distinctly different possibilities presented by the electronic environment.
One prominent example is Merck's pain reliever Vioxx (rofecoxib), one of the most heavily advertised drugs in the world. Advertising points patients to Vioxx.com, which features a still photo from the TV campaign as the home page's centerpiece. It has no patient stories, no physician presence, and its "Pain Diary" feature, a seemingly perfect candidate for consumer interaction, is in a PDF form that visitors must print out to use. In short, the website provides consumers with few opportunities for engagement and little reward for their efforts to find out more about Vioxx.
Remedy: Rather than treat a website as a clumsy afterthought to a print or TV campaign, pharma marketers must consider how internet activities can advance their overall brand strategies. Marketers must break old habits, such as relegating e-marketing initiatives to a disconnected interactive business silo. They must also teach their peers and partners about online techniques that drive patients to talk to their doctors about their product: traffic generation campaigns, eCRM loyalty and persistence programs, and interactive patient education.
Mistake #2: Don't promote the website. The day when people casually surfed the internet and stumbled across unpromoted websites is long gone. Yet many product managers still pay scant attention to traffic generation. Companies must create clear, compelling incentives in their offline media to lure consumers online, rather than just include website URLs in DTC ads, which does little to generate traffic.
Remedy: Marketers must use as many resources to promote a website as they do to build it. Brand teams should implement the following tactics:
Cross-media promotion. Off-line promotion should depict a product website's incentives, such as patient testimonials, illustrations from high-value patient education materials, and, when appropriate, coupons and contests.
"Pay for performance" key word purchases. Key words are more cost-effective than banner ads. An advertiser might purchase the keyword "diabetes" so that when a health seeker types that word into major search engines such as Yahoo! and Google, the results include a prominent "sponsored link" containing a brief message and link to the advertiser's website. The advertiser pays only when someone searches for specific words, delivering more targeted consumers and cutting down on waste in the online buy.
Search engine optimization. Companies should improve their listing among the unsponsored search engine results by "optimizing" the way their website appears to the search engine. Some searchers deliberately ignore all banners and sponsored links, so getting the site's ranking improved among the unsponsored links is critical. Search engine optimization is a fairly involved topic, so companies should do some research about it (searchenginewatch.com is a good place to start), or ask a professional.
Mistake #3. Assume doctors are ordinary people. Suppose a brand manager wants to build a consumer-targeted Rx site. Suppose someone asks the team to "throw in" some pages for doctors, in case they check out the site. What should the brand manager do? Assuming that person isn't their boss, laughing him or her out of the room is a reasonable option.
Doctors want data-not brand imagery-and they are suspicious of anything that smacks of promotion. Doctors also want companies to acknowledge their position and prestige. Further, because there are severe restrictions on the nature of website content if companies commingle any physician information with consumer content, they are better left as two distinct entities.
Most sites do offer separate sections for healthcare professionals, but they leave their data exposed to consumers and they often use the same design to present it. That makes the physician portion of the website look like a lightly considered postscript.