The environment in which direct-to-consumer campaigns are being implemented has significantly evolved since DTC advertising was first used. Government guidelines have eased over the years, the most significant change being the airing of brand name and product indications in the same TV spot. This contributed to the growth in DTC, whether expressed in number of campaigns or in dollars spent. Total DTC spending is expected to reach $1.3 billion in 1998, up 50 percent from 1997.
One of the most significant trends, and the most challenging for advertisers, is consumer reaction to DTC advertising. A report by Scott-Levin Associates shows a significant decline in the consumer's view of the reliability of DTC ads. In 1994, 65 percent of people viewed the ads as reliable, but by 1996 only 45 percent thought they were.
In light of the decrease in consumers' perception of reliability, and the increase in governmental, public and internal scrutiny to industry DTC spending, pharmaceutical marketers must find innovative, cost-effective ways to communicate with their audience. At the same time, the consumer appetite for healthcare information continues to grow. Strategically employed, direct response marketing can help pharmaceutical manufacturers fulfill their role as healthcare information disseminators.
Direct response advertising is especially effective when there is an identifiable and reachable target audience, the product is complex in nature and requires a lengthy explanation and the product has a repeat sales pattern. The advertising can and should enhance brand-building efforts while motivating action and building a relationship with the consumer to drive sales. Direct marketing must integrate with the overall product positioning as part of the branding strategy. A product's position drives the promotion platform which, in turn, results in image and message consistency across all target markets and all advertising.
The key to appropriate utilization of direct response will ensure that the information provided is appropriate, can be comprehended by the consumer, maintains patient confidentiality and respects the patient-physician relationship. Not all consumers are at the same level of understanding or at the same point in the decision-making process. For those who need more information, direct response advertising can set up an interactive communication process that delivers appropriate information at the time the consumer is most receptive to receiving the information. An integrated direct response campaign should cost-effectively acquire new patients and improve patient compliance.
During the acquisition phase, the campaign should educate targeted consumers to self-identify with the disease symptoms and motivate consumers to request more information and to discuss their symptoms with a physician. Once the product has been prescribed, a compliance program can further educate users on the product's appropriate use and motivate consumers to fill initial prescriptions, continue through treatment cycle and follow-up with a physician for continued evaluation. By so doing, the campaign should complement the general advertising efforts as well as support the patient-physician relationship.
The response one gains from lead-generation activities, compliance programs and ongoing communication with consumers can add a new reality to marketing decision-making and a new ability to measure campaign effectiveness. Responses indicate whether the advertising is correctly targeted. Results also provide an index of the comparative efficiency of different media, creative and offers as well as the foundation of database building and modeling opportunities to further refine marketing approaches. The cornerstone to developing, executing and tracking effective compliance programs involves the appropriate use and management of a well-designed database.
The goal of direct marketing is to enhance the patient-physician relationship by motivating the consumer to visit his doctor. A Scott-Levin Associates survey revealed that when a patient requested a specific drug by name, most physicians would involve the patient in the decision. Our own findings show that doctors are positive about product advertisements relating to illnesses such as migraines, allergies and ulcers.
The most effective pharmaceutical marketers understand the important role doctors play within the marketing equation and employ physician linkage elements within consumer programs. Physicians should be made aware of programs designed to reach their patients and must feel that the information presented to their patients is truthful and portrays the product accurately.
As changes continue to evolve in the healthcare system, and healthcare marketers pursue ways of building relationships with key professional and consumer audiences, the role of direct marketing in healthcare will increase in visibility and importance.
It is important to keep in mind that any healthcare marketer who employs direct-to-consumer marketing must at all times maintain and respect the privacy of the consumer. Consumer-oriented programs should aim to enhance the consumer-physician relationship and integrate the consumer as a knowledgeable participant in the healthcare arena.
Ellen Miller is president of healthcare marketing services at DraftWorldwide, Chicago.