Written by Caroline Goodman on April 21, 2015
in Healthcare Marketing

Nielsen just reported that in 2014, US pharma spending on DTC media ballooned to $4.5 billion versus $3.8 billion in 2013. That’s a sizable increase of 21%, and the highest spend the industry has seen in years.  This shows a continued, healthy trajectory for the world of DTC advertising.  And there is no denying DTC’s increasing importance in the broader pharma marketing mix. This reflects a growing, industry-wide desire to speak directly to the ever-empowered PatientConsumer™.

But the question is not if DTC marketing plays a role, but more specifically how DTC plays a role in meaningfully influencing PatientConsumer™ behaviour and decisions.

Looking at the channel breakdown, the most significant increases this year were seen in TV (+26%) and print (+13%). Industry consensus is that their top spending brands operate in highly competitive categories and address widespread primary care conditions, e.g. ED, arthritis, diabetes. And with a target audience of boomers, they naturally gravitate to these mass, analog mediums to drive patient awareness and visits.

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Again, this begs the question of sustainability as the dynamics of the US healthcare market continue to undergo a seismic shift. Patients are increasingly in the driver’s seat, are proactive and self-informed of their options, and seek financial value like never before. As pharma marketers, are we really aligning DTC budgets to those needs and expectations? Are we even aligning DTC to how PatientConsumers™ engage the broader healthcare system, from home, to retail or providers? Or, are we still trying to just drive patient awareness and visits?

In Canada, while we haven’t felt the ramifications of something to the extent of the Affordable Care Act, the trending is similar. Patients are equally empowered, digitally-savvy, and educated on their conditions, and payers are laser-focused on the most efficient way of delivering outcomes. Lucky for us, our inability to use mass advertising forces us to be more deft and nimble in how we engage with PatientConsumers™ and build awareness and drive acquisition and support adherence.

As we head into 2016 planning, the one thing that remains clear is that the question is not if we should pursue DTC marketing, it’s how. We must ensure that we consistently start by grounding ourselves in the complexities of the real-world PatientConsumer™ journey first. Have you done your homework here? Do you really understand your patients’ functional and emotional needs? And, do you know what consumer behaviours they’ll exercise to get what they need? Only then can you build the DTC plan that gets you big results.

Caroline Goodman is a Senior Account Director at Ariad Communications.

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