DTC Plan Needed for Health-Info Seekers on Web, Exec Says

Healthcare consumers are the most fervent cyber searchers on the Internet. They are determined to retrieve information relevant to their conditions but impatient when they have to navigate their way through the proliferation of information posted on the Web by universities, clinics and commercial Web content providers. When in need of medical attention or relief, consumers don't want to waste time browsing, surfing or navigating through extraneous content — they want to get answers to their questions quickly.

With more than 11 million Internet users looking for health-related information on the Web in an average month, you need to develop and execute a DTC strategy with insight and foresight. The most successful DTC programs not only provide information relevant to their customers, they also deliver the tools and motivation for consumers to take action.

With that in mind, here are five fundamental truths to follow when planning a DTC Web strategy:

Define your objective: Are you trying to acquire new customers or retain the ones you have? Gauge what you want to accomplish before setting a budget. Incorporating personalized content to a site is usually more expensive than merely translating your corporate brochure or annual report online, but it will allow you to communicate with your most valued customers on a personal basis and encourage them to return to your site.

Research your customer: Make sure you understand what is important to your customer before developing your Web site. Do they need to understand more about their condition, treatment and risks? If so, provide an on-line tutorial that explains easily what they should and should not experience, and set the stage for how your product can help. This approach will enhance your credibility and demonstrate sensitivity to your customer's needs. If there are barriers to overcome in the adoption of your medication — for example dosage, interactions, side effects or food restrictions — the Web is an ideal platform to address them in a helpful, non-threatening way.

Prepare for launch: Try to post your site before your DTC program begins. You will find that consumers are already online searching for your kind of product even before you launch your advertising/marketing campaign. Once your offline campaign starts, don't ever let them find your site under construction. Chances are they won't come back. Plan ahead so you can be there for them when they need you — it's the best way to build a relationship.

Pave a clear path: With the latest software and media services, we are able to create more engaging banners and place them more effectively on the Web than ever before. Make certain your banner ads lead users directly to a page with your drug's brand name on it. Then verify that your most relevant content isn't being bypassed because users cannot find it. Too often, rich content is misplaced under vague section headings where users tend not to inspect. Usability research should be implemented to help you detect problem areas before your site goes live. Also, offer users a chance to give you feedback. It's a wonderful way to show you care about their needs.

Don't underestimate the opportunity you have: The Internet is being used primarily as an acquisition medium, but it has unrealized potential to support consumer persistence and compliance. Have you created a special place on your site for current users, where they can access everything from forms to chart progress over the long haul to tools for behavior modification?

The Internet is one of the most valuable tools you have in your DTC arsenal. Develop a strategy that will let you fully realize its power, for your company's sake and for the welfare of your customer.

Susan Delman is director of planning for OgilvyOne, New York.

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