The New Age of DTC Pharmaceutical Marketing

With direct-to-consumer marketing evolving as the fastest growing promotional strategy of the healthcare industry, pharmaceutical companies are beginning to do what other consumer brand marketers have been capitalizing on for years: learning to capture and use information to build patient relationships and target new customers with similar attributes.

Whether your company is launching a new product or looking to reinvigorate sales of an existing brand, a comprehensive database marketing program offers you an effective, measurable way to reach your goals.

Gather vital information. Consumers traditionally have chosen healthcare products based on physician or pharmacist recommendations. Current studies indicate more consumers take an active role in managing their health, and they want relevant information to help them make the best choices for themselves and their families.

Since purchases are made at the pharmacy or, in the case of nonprescription drugs, at discount stores or mass merchandisers, it's difficult capturing customer data to understand what factors drive specific purchasing behaviors. Direct and database marketing can help to gather the information you need to better know your customers.

Mass-media vehicles are highly effective tools for building name recognition and general brand awareness. With the advent of the new FDA guidelines in August 1997, pharmaceutical marketers are required to include consumer-response vehicles such as a toll-free phone number or Web address. This represents an ideal opportunity to collect consumer response data to populate your patient database. Live operators or automated systems can capture fundamental information such as name, address, gender, age and health conditions.

Other methods for gathering patient information include reply cards inserted into direct mail newsletters, warranty card programs and coupons, which can be encoded at the household level to measure response and collect data through redemption online surveys.

One of the most popular methods for generating consumer-response information is surveys. Many data compilers use nationwide surveys to capture self-reported consumer behavioral and lifestyle information. These providers will often offer a service that allows manufacturers to customize questions on the survey — providing marketers with exclusive rights to the response data for a period of time.

Using the survey medium, you can gather competitive brand usage, brand preferences, frequency of use and other behavioral information for immediate segmentation and targeting of key prospects or future response analysis.

Most importantly, the information you gather should be carefully monitored and maintained. The database management system you choose should be secure, reliable and formatted for accessibility and ease of use. If you do not have internal resources, seek an experienced marketing database management partner who can help you design, operate and maintain your consumer file.

Know your customers. Once you begin to build your patient database, work with an established information provider to verify the data you have and append more detailed information to your existing file. Static data — such as gender and birth date — can be stored once it is verified to allow you to focus on capturing other data elements including:

* Psychographics — Brand preferences and loyalty, coupon redemption, shopping patterns, health conditions and concerns, direct mail responsiveness.

* Lifestyle Attributes — Diet and exercise regimes, nutritional habits, leisure activities.

* Demographics — Household size and make-up, rural/urban status and wealth/income indicators.

Armed with this rich depth of data, you obtain a more robust portrait of what your market looks like. As a result, you can segment your audience more accurately and develop messages based on their unique attributes. Once your database develops critical mass, you can begin to use it to develop best-customer models and identify look-alike prospects.

Database marketing is an investment in your product and can deliver measurable results when applied consistently. Use your database to carefully track response rates, purchasing patterns and characteristics to identify trends and other factors that impact your sales.

In an age where relationship marketing is increasingly important, data is often one of the most valuable assets in your organization. When used strategically through today's database marketing techniques, it is a powerful prescription for success.

Sue Wilson is vice president of sales at Experian, Lombard, IL, a global provider of direct and database marketing solutions for pharmaceutical companies and other consumer marketers.

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