Try Database-Driven Campaigns for Rx Marketing

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Imagine you have a new brand management assignment. You have a strong product to promote that addresses a real consumer need. However, target consumers are almost impossible to identify, and they must be given plenty of information about your product, including its shortcomings.

This scenario is reality for Rx marketers. Strict regulations exist for advertising to consumers. Pessimists might walk away from this task. Optimists see the assignment as the ultimate marketing challenge. They use ingenuity and creative solutions to overcome what seem to be huge barriers. In marketing prescription medication, rewards for tenacity are enormous. On the human side, you can make a difference in people's lives. On the marketing side, the profit contribution for even a small gain in market share is often significant.

Diagnosing the problem. Rx marketing rests on the essential principles of marketing - good product, clear objectives, consumer insights, correct medium, excellent execution and measurement. The first few are straightforward. The challenges are to identify the consumers, find a way to reach them, develop an execution that speaks to their needs and evaluate the program's success.

Assume you have an osteoporosis treatment. Your objective might be to create broad awareness of the drug so that when active referrals from professionals occur, consumers will understand it and be open to it. Or perhaps you want the consumer to go to the doctor to learn more about your products. To get the insights you need, you should use medical research, consumer demographics and behavioral lifestyle traits.

Finding a medium targeted enough to reach a narrow group can be a challenge. Many pharmaceutical companies are recognizing that direct-to-consumer database marketing is an excellent delivery method.

To determine whether to have a database-driven DTC component in an Rx marketing program, start by asking:

• Does your product have a unique competitive advantage?

• Is there little or no generic activity?

• Are there different messages for different types of patients?

• Is the doctor likely to recommend your product when it has been mentioned by the patient?

• Will patients need this drug for a long period of time?

• Is there a high level of patient involvement in this therapeutic category?

Prognosis for payment. A brand manager needs to examine the payout before deciding how much to spend. Payout is the cost of reaching the right consumer. Like other business decisions, it must be rationalized. To evaluate the marketing investment, there are three main variables: product margin, dosage/duration of treatment and size of potential patient base. The first two variables combine to arrive at the lifetime value of a single user. Once known, you can decide on the likelihood of converting enough users to pay back your investment.

Writing your marketing prescription. Consumer programs should be timed synergistically with your professional detailing programs. Remember:

• The only way that an Rx drug gets into consumers' hands is through the doctor.

• You can make the consumer more receptive to information from the doctor.

•You can make the consumer more knowledgeable when he visits the doctor.

Now for the challenge. Since medical practitioners are forbidden to release patient information, how can you reach your audience? Data companies can provide immeasurable added value when targeting a group with a specific need. They can identify the "top tier" target consumer segment by using detailed information about behaviors, attitudes and demographics. Once a consumer profile is developed, consumers in their huge databases (or other databases) can be modeled against it.

The execution of your DTC mailing could focus on education and works best with a call-to-action. If there is something in it for the consumer - a club, an offer or a toll-free number for more information - your direct mail piece will be more likely to achieve its goal. Past programs indicate that response rate for direct mail is as much as 10 times greater than traditional co-op mail or magazine ad response rates.

Treatment successful? The impact of DTC activity requires an upfront commitment to regular and ongoing measurement. Set up a research system in advance and commit to the "slow build" nature of the program. You are looking beyond tomorrow's prescription; you are trying to measure whether you can motivate target consumers to respond. This leads to the next step: a consultation with the doctor.

Measurement tools could include test vs. control scenarios where all variables but the direct mail are the same; recall testing; comparing information request follow-up levels to other programs; and pre/post image and attitude research. Do not overlook results from comparable DTC programs and agency findings.

There are ways around the prescription drug marketing conundrum imposed by regulations. Success may require an extra dose of determination, but like any good campaign, strong results can be attributed to product benefits communicated creatively to the right audience.

• Peter Meyers is director of packaged goods sales, North America, at ICOM, Toronto, a provider of direct-to-consumer and database marketing solutions. His e-mail address is

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