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Alternative Media: Web-surfing Seniors


Pharmaceutical Executive

Pharmaceutical ExecutivePharmaceutical Executive-12-01-2005
Volume 0
Issue 0

Seniors represent an ideal, captive audience. Because they tend to have more leisure time, they are often willing to take the time to read in-depth information.

Seniors have been branded as computerphobes. While it's true that some do shy away from Web technology, many have really begun to embrace it. In fact, Americans age 65 and older now represent the fastest-growing online audience, according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, "Older Americans and the Internet." The project found that the percentage of senior Web users jumped 47 percent from 2000 to 2004, and older Americans now represent some eight million Web users. While these seniors surf the Web for many reasons—e.g., to communicate with grandchildren or play online bingo—many search the Web for health information. Sixty-six percent of "wired" seniors who were surveyed in 2003 said they searched online for medical or health information, representing a13-point percentage jump from the senior population surveyed in 2000.

Anna Banks

Make Contact

Despite the growing numbers, many pharma companies have not yet made contact with this new audience of tech-savvy seniors. Some have even failed to establish—let alone maintain—relationships with seniors who currently use their brands. Through online marketing and establishing a senior-friendly presence on the Web, however, marketers can create a dialogue with this population. And seniors have proven that they are eager to communicate. Ninety-four percent of wired seniors have sent or received e-mail, compared with 91 percent of all Internet users, according to Pew Internet Project's 2004 findings.

Tread cautiously Pharma marketers should remember that, despite their enthusiasm, seniors use the Internet cautiously. Many tend to be very distrustful and suspicious about information on the Web. Marketers can counteract this skepticism by first providing educational information—treatment options, tips for condition management, online support groups, and drug discounts—to help gain seniors' trust. As the dialogue continues, marketers can then shift the focus to a discussion about a particular therapeutic brand.

Guide Brand Decisions

For many seniors, the Web "bookends" a physician visit. Visiting a health-related Web site, and viewing general disease information, may spark consumers to speak with their physicians about a particular brand. With prescriptions in hand, they may then go back to the Web, and visit the branded Web site to get information on dosage and side effects. This series of events presents an opportunity for the pharma company to sign up the prospect-turned-patient for an online adherence program, which increases persistency and compliance.

Sweet rewards Creating incentives will also encourage seniors to visit a particular site. Promotions, such as online sweepstakes and couponing, can help marketers build a robust database and drive additional online traffic. With seniors, it's less important to offer one big prize than to offer many smaller prizes, as smaller prizes tend to increase participation. The best programs enable seniors to customize content and frequency of communication. Everything must be opted in—and a double opt-in (where an opt-in choice is confirmed) works even better.

Senior-Friendly Web Strategy

When developing an Internet strategy for seniors, marketers must consider Web site design. Since seniors did not grow up with computers, they often get frustrated quickly and have less patience for bad design. Marketers must also consider that some seniors may have visual and fine-motor-skill impairments, and arthritis. Therefore, they need easily navigable and intuitive sites featuring large fonts and simple graphics. Seniors may also be more comfortable printing things out to read, rather then reading on the screen. Therefore, it's important to design elements in a printer-friendly format. Marketers must also address senior sensitivity to privacy issues by clearly stating the privacy policy in an easily accessible spot on the Web site.

In some ways, seniors represent an ideal, captive audience. Because they tend to have more leisure time, they are often willing to take the time to read in-depth information—assuming that it's relevant. The challenge lies in figuring out what seniors deem relevant.

The first step for marketers is to develop a better understanding of seniors' attitudes, behaviors, and needs. Executives should use data-collection techniques, such as surveys and polls, among other tools, to make informed decisions about how to market product offerings, as well as how to create relevant and personalized information for senior patients. Marketers can also glean information about their target demographic by studying the traditional medical sites seniors visit, as well as sites that appeal to seniors' hobbies and other interests. Further, placing advertisments on these sites can give a company great exposure.

In regard to search-engine optimization, all the standard practices apply for seniors as they do for other demographics. Marketers should research the search terms that seniors are likely to use (noting that key terms may be surprisingly similar to those used by other age groups) and optimize them to get the most return on investment.

Clearly, seniors have a unique set of needs. Understanding their online preferences and how they process information on the Web will help marketers keep this senior tech-savvy population online and engaged. They may need larger fonts and simple graphics, but like other online users, they still expect relevant, highly targeted content. As they become even more familiar with the Web and confident in their "surfing" abilities, their expectations will only increase. As Pew Internet Project statistics show, this is just the beginning of an era of senior empowerment.


Informed Medical Communications launched MrxHealth, which will focus on alternative marketing. Healthline.com launched as a consumer search engine for health information. HealthEd launched a Web site and print campaign to communicate the importance of patient education.


The World Health Care Innovation and Technology Congress will use the VisionTree Conference Platform to collect input, enhance collaboration, and generate new ideas. The San Diego County Medical Society Foundation and the California Institute of Information Technology and Telecommunications partnered with Sun Microsystems to develop a regional health-information organization, the San Diego Medical Information Network Exchange project. Rosetta Biosoftware and Agendia will partner.

Healthline Homepage


Maria Shields, chief financial officer of ANSYS, was selected as a finalist in the Pittsburgh Business Times 2005 CFO of the Year awards. Shaw Science Partners Web site, The Science of Sleep, which was designed for Takeda, won a 2005 FREDDIE award in the Web category.


Stephen Leicht joined the iAdvantage Software board of directors.

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