Pharma marketers' biggest opportunity today lies not in generating demand, but in servicing the demands of the 160 million
health-information seekers already online.
Search engines, such as Google, Yahoo!, and MSN, have become the de facto starting point for both consumers and healthcare
professionals looking for health information. According to Manhattan Research, more than 7 million searches for health information
are conducted each day—nearly 3 billion per year. Two out of three patients turn to the Internet both before their doctor
visits (to research their condition and prepare questions) and afterwards (to validate what their doctor has told them and
find answers to questions they didn't ask).
Customers have already identified themselves by their search-engine usage and the sites they visit. The challenge for marketers
is to engage them and earn their trust by connecting them with helpful information and like-minded people—not just through
Web sites, but through search results and a multiplicity of new channels. (See "Know Your New Medi".)
Though based on diverse technologies, all of the new health channels represent a shift of power from the large institutions
that have traditionally controlled the brand dialogue (read: pharma companies) toward the users, powered by consumers' declining
trust in marketers and rising trust in content created by their peers.
For pharma, understanding the on-demand opportunity starts with recognizing that its customers are, in many ways, ahead of
the industry. Their expectations for service, value, and control have already been set by their experience with a wide range
of non-pharma resources—and those expectations are high. Consumers' use of technology is, in general, more sophisticated and
varied than most pharma marketers employ or even envision in their promotional strategy. And the high stakes that health conditions
often carry incline consumers to mistrust companies they perceive as trying only to market to them (but conversely, they are
highly loyal to companies they perceive as truly serving them). Thus, for key lessons, pharma marketers should look toward
their customers, not their competitors. Here are some starting points:
Dive in One of the best ways to start learning about the new world of healthcare marketing is to use the on-demand services that
patients also use. Familiarize yourself with blogs and social networks, but resist the urge to participate—you're there to
listen and learn. Subscribe to health-related blogs, such as Diabetes Mine (
http://diabetesmine.com/). Explore health-related tags on the social bookmarking site del.icio.us. Subscribe to relevant Google Sponsored Links to
see how that affects a search for information on your brand. Explore the social networking and rating features of new health
communities, such as Revolution Health (
http://revolutionhealth.com/), to see what consumers are saying about your category, your competitors, and your drug.
Think big—and broad It is becoming important to give your customers multiple ways to reach and use your content. Offer it on your brand site,
but also syndicate it to high-traffic portals such as WebMD and MSN Health, as well as key advocacy sites and blogs. Health
seekers typically search from six to 10 different Web-based resources—three-quarters of them third-party resources, according
to ComScore—and they regard the information that is repeated most consistently across those resources as the most trustworthy.
Know Your New Media
Fill the information gap With the proliferation of health information on the Web, consumers increasingly report that their searches don't get to the
core information they seek. Solicit feedback to determine what information consumers most want and need. Learn about the information
gaps and find ways to fill them—or support others in filling them.