Direct to Consumer: Direct Mail, Done Right

DTC mail pieces get personal to get results.
Feb 01, 2005


Jay Bolling
Direct mail gets opened and read, is measurable, and creates a return on investment. So why don't more pharma companies use it in their consumer marketing campaigns?

It may have something to do with preconceived notions about what direct mail is and how it's used. As consumers, our mailboxes are full of direct mail from credit card companies, insurance agents, mortgage brokers, and other classic "direct-driven" marketers. We consider most of it "junk mail" and throw 98 percent of those solicitations in the trash.

So why do these companies keep sending us offers? It's all about the metrics. Companies know they only need two percent of direct mail recipients to take advantage of their offers to meet their ROI goals. Once they establish a mailing/response model that works, they replicate it again and again to reap the results they require.

Today's successful pharma direct mail campaigns use the same type of metrics to ensure success, but—as expected for a highly regulated industry—their approach has evolved along a different course.

Evolution of a Medium The first DTC direct mailing was Marion Merrill Dow's Cardizem (diltiazem) "Cardisense" campaign in the late 1980s. Patients received a newsletters series providing disease and lifestyle education about managing high blood pressure. While relatively rudimentary in its use of direct response techniques, the campaign was well received as a valuable source of patient information.


Patient Progress Recent direct mail pieces show that customized approaches work to increase awareness and adherence. For example, patients receiving Proscars direct mail pieces stayed on therapy 25 percent longer than those who didnt.
In the early 1990s, Merck's Proscar (finasteride) team took direct mail to the next level. They developed a multi-wave patient support program that provided different messages depending on the patient's therapy start date. This "customized" approach was considered a breakthrough. Patients receiving materials stayed on therapy 25 percent longer than those who didn't.

In the last ten years, pharma direct mail strategy has continued to evolve to combine direct response metrics with brand awareness to create measurable, influential patient relationships. Direct mail has proven its ability to acquire, convert, and keep patients by retaining a significant consumer response rate of 5 to 25 percent, depending on the target audience, message, and offers.

Keys to Success It's not enough to simply put advertising in an envelope and send it to a group of people who fit a similar demographic profile. Today, DTC direct mail campaigns must orchestrate a combination of variables to be successful.

Target the right people. It's relatively easy to define a target audience with information acquired through consumer opt-in or third parties, or even through internal databases that track responses to DTC ads through 800 numbers and the web. Those sources contain details on a person's life stage, diagnosis, prescription use, and specific disease interests.