Marketing to e-Health Consumers

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There is no doubt the market for healthcare consumers online has reached critical mass. Some studies estimate that of the 75.8 million adults who were online in the first quarter of 2000, as many as 40.9 million were engaged in health-related activities.

With this growing market of health consumers online there is an opportunity for emerging Internet and traditional healthcare companies to attract, acquire and retain customers through online channels. The critical step in companies' efforts to attract and convert customers online is understanding how the Internet, specifically in the healthcare arena, can create a call to action that can often work with other direct marketing initiatives.

Call to action -- At a basic level, direct marketing to health consumers online should accomplish one of three things: capture qualified leads, drive traffic to offline sources or motivate those consumers to make a purchase online. Each step represents varying levels of engagement by the consumer. Most healthcare companies lack the capabilities to accomplish any of these steps, let alone capture the rate at which they are happening.

Pharmaceuticals online -- The exponential growth in direct-to-consumer advertising by pharmaceutical companies presents a great example of how these three principles could be applied online. The market for DTC advertising is expected to increase to more than $3 billion this year, almost doubling from 1999. Plenty of marketing data shows that the Internet plays an extremely valuable channel in establishing a dialogue with prescription- drug customers.

According to data from a study of 1,044 online consumers in January, 44 percent stated they seek additional information after seeing an ad for a prescription drug from any source. Of those 44 percent that seek additional information, 72 percent relied on the Internet to find more information, 43 percent asked their doctor for more information and only 17 percent called a toll-free number from the advertisement.

The big question for pharmaceutical companies: What options were available to those online consumers who were searching for product information?

As mentioned before, converting online consumers into buyers requires the ability to capture qualified leads, drive traffic to offline sources or motivate the consumer to make the purchase online. Building a relationship with online health consumers is the first step in converting them into paying customers and justifying the existence of an online strategy.

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