The challenges facing DTC marketing

images4There are so many challenges facing DTC marketers right now including shrinking budgets and diversification of media that you have to wonder if there is enough talent to really break DTC marketing out of this funk.  The priorities for pharma companies are to both reduce costs and to increase the effectiveness of all marketing programs.  However is pharma it’s own worst enemy when it comes to embracing empowered health consumers and will antiquated processes and thinking limit DTC marketing ?

Key Challenges to DTC Marketing:

(1) Acknowledgement of empowered patients

When I have said in the past that patients are consumers of healthcare I meant that patients are choosing the what, how and when of treatment options.  I believe that overall DTC marketers still continue to talk at consumers rather than with consumers and don’t give me the “we’re a regulated industry garbage” because some brave DTC marketers are trying to blaze new trails and earn a John Mack Social Media Pioneer badge.


(2) Lack of understanding & talent in digital marketing

People who have expertise in digital marketing are being gobbled up by consumer marketers everywhere because they know that digital marketing has evolved into a speciality with a lot of extensive knowledge of how all the pieces come together.  Too often we find that DTC marketing departments have one person in charge of digital marketing and this one person is supposed to do everything from SEO to develop a website to analytics.  Pharma needs forward thinking digital marketing people to start laying the groundwork for future opportunities.

(3) Lack of talent, overall

I wasn’t sure about this one but when I look back at all the people who have been shown the door at pharma companies I cannot help but wonder how many talented people have also left.  In addition new blood and talent is not pursuing a career in biopharma marketing at a time when new thinking is really needed.

(4) We have to continually prove ROI to get a budget

DTC marketers, in my opinion, spend a lot of time justifying what they have done or plan to do to people who don’t understand the value, just the cost.  If you believe in DTC marketing as a key business driver than just look at the results of your business plan with actual results.

(5) Agencies that are treated as vendors rather than strategic partners

How many times have agencies worked with a brand to form a great relationship and then people rotate to a new position and they have to start over again ?  How many people really see their agencies as strategic partners instead of “just do this for me”?   How many agencies do what a client wants them to do even though they know it’s the wrong thing to do ?

(6)  Conduct research on everything except digital marketing initiatives

One of the reasons I have been so successful in healthcare digital marketing is that I know that we need to ask our audience what they want to see and how they want to see it digitally.  This includes the design of a website, content and of course usability studies.  Yet too many pharma marketers let the budget limit the strategy even though digital marketing is more important today.

(7) Content

I included this because content is an issue that seems to be ignored by most marketers.  When I refer to content I mean two things; readability (understanding and reading level) and content that your target audience finds valuable.  Consumer marketers are realizing that brands are media today yet there has been little attempt to help consumers sort out the good content from bad content when it comes to health.

(8) Messages

Nobody wakes up and says “I think I’ll do some research on ADHD today?”.  There are triggers that start people down the path to looking up health information.   This means that different key words should go to different places within your website or that you should have different pages within your website to target specific triggers.

(9) Over reliance of TV

TV is great to drive awareness of disease state education or new products.  However once that awareness has reached a certain level marketers have to move from push to pull and that is probably best done online and with integration of content through insurers and HCP’s websites.  I mean is there anyone that believes that the over saturation of Cialis commercials is going to lead to new business ?


Of course there are a lot of external factors that are going to influence DTC marketing in the coming years but I look at challenges as a doorway to new opportunities.  What do you think ?