Web 2.0—Consumers on Demand

Feeling left behind by Web 2.0? Take these simple steps to join the conversation.
Sep 01, 2007

Larry Mickelberg
Pharma marketers' biggest opportunity today lies not in generating demand, but in servicing the demands of the 160 million health-information seekers already online.

Bruce Grant
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.

Know Your New Media
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.

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.

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