Direct to Consumer: Women are a powerful, but untapped, audience

Feb 01, 2006

Elizabeth A. Browning
Women influence many family decisions—from choosing what's for dinner to selecting the medications their children take. In fact, nearly two-thirds of women are responsible for family healthcare decisions, according to a 2004 national survey conducted by Plan for Your Health. Many women also assume the care-giving role outside their nuclear families. Today's middle-aged woman may also look after her parents and in-laws too, often determining how long they can live on their own and how to best care for them. In addition, she often influences the important health decisions of grandchildren, co-workers, and friends.

New Health Information

Having seen traditional wisdom overturned by new scientific findings, baby-boomer women embrace new wisdom. As new knowledge becomes available, they act on it and, more importantly, they tell others. They also actively seek health information. Of the estimated 93 million Americans who key in health-related searches on the Web, women are more likely than men to look for health information online (85 percent vs. 75 percent), according to the 2003 Pew Internet & American Life Project.

Pharma marketers should seize the opportunity to reach out to this information-seeking, receptive audience. But they must use targeted communications to reach them. Women tend to value a marketing approach that feels intimate and community-oriented. Therefore, education initiatives geared to women should do more than provide valuable information—they should offer an experience, a venue for women to interact, to inspire and empower one another.

By supporting independent consumer health-education initiatives, pharma can help women learn more about health and healthcare. To do so, marketers should leverage not only the Internet, but also in-person presentations and print media.


African-American women tend to experience a high incidence of diabetes and heart disease. In fact, one in four African-American women over the age of 55 has diabetes and more than 40 percent of the deaths in this population stem from heart disease, according to the American Heart Association. But many African-American women are not aware of this predisposition. To better inform them, Lluminari, a network of health experts, in partnership with the Council of Women Leaders, launched a community health-education initiative to help African-American women stimulate change in the health of their communities.

Since October 2004, the "We Matter" program has been implemented in seven major metropolitan cities with the support of corporate underwriters and faith-based organizations. Using the principle of "Each One Teach One," this program brings women together to learn about health risks and disease prevention as well as community health issues.

At the core of the program's success are nationally known physicians and other health experts who make personal appearances before live audiences. Experts, such as Byllye Avery, founder of the National Black Women's Health Imperative, speak from their own experiences and inspire women to put their health first. The meeting coordinators test each woman's health knowledge at the beginning and the end of each program using an audience response system. This metric has consistently shown that attending the program leads to a 38-percent increase in health knowledge.

In addition, participants are certified as "health champions," with the goal of returning to their respective communities to share information. About 40 percent of them sign up to receive a toolkit containing health-education materials suitable for holding similar programs in their churches or community organizations.


No medium has changed how people communicate as profoundly as the Web. Women enjoy participating in an interactive forum from the comfort of their homes. Even though they communicate with women across the world, they feel immensely connected to them. But the Web's potential to change the way people think about their health has barely been tapped. To date, most sites only make existing information more accessible, and not necessarily more meaningful. Few have realized the power that comes from a vibrant, engaged online community.

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