The four biggest challenges facing DTC marketers

DTC marketing has evolved. Those DTC managers who use the exact roadmap will waste a lot of money when accountability is increasing. Challenges await, and there isn’t one set of guidelines for every product category.


Pharma companies are increasing digital budgets, but they are wasting too much money because of internal staffing issues and inexperience with online marketing.

Paid Media – The most commonly used KPI in marketing is¬†essentially worthless. For that matter, click-through rates don’t correlate with any meaningful brand metrics or any meaningful lead-gen metrics. Billions of dollars are “optimized” based on nothing but noise. Meanwhile, you are more likely to complete Navy SEAL training than click on a banner ad.

By the way, eMarketer reports that current estimates of the total cost vary from $6.5 billion to as high as $19 billion. It could be worse; even the highest end of this scale seems to be conservative by some measures. Advertisers get three cents of actual value for every $1 spent on programmatic platforms.

Pharma websites continue to have the highest bounce rates of any industry. Think about it for a second. These people “take action” to come to your website but leave because your website looks like a medical journal and go to other general health sites. Pharma continues to ignore a content strategy and the power to use content to be a leader in the health category.

Challenge #2 – UNDERSTANDING YOUR AUDIENCE – Pharma marketers don’t get a drink of water without doing research, but the analysis they are getting is too quantitative. When I submit my creative brief to a client, there is a page headline “what do we know about our target audience and caregivers?”. Too often, this page is blank. Pharma DTC marketers should develop personas for their target audience that tells us who they are like:

1ne: Where do they go for medical information online?

2wo: Are they more/less active on social media?

3hree: What are their primary concerns with treatment options?

4our: Do they regularly go to their doctor and have a specific HCP they trust?

5ive: What’s an essential aspect of selecting a lifestyle treatment?

You would be surprised how many DTC marketers tell us “we don’t have that information yet” or “we don’t feel it’s relevant.”

Challenge 3 ROI/ACCOUNTABILITY – Pharma has put up a good fight against reform, but it’s coming along with lower revenues. In addition, the FDA seems to be looking at NDAs in terms of REAL outcomes. Executives want more from DTC marketers, which means more time is spent trying to justify spending than developing new strategies to reach patients.

Challenge 4 – LACK OF TALENT – Good marketing people leave pharma in droves. There are just too many barriers to trying new ways to reach patients, and they want to be told “let’s try that” as opposed to “we can’t do that.”

Too many DTC marketing people have come from the sales force and have a sales mentality at a time when people don’t want the hard sales pitch.

Relying on your agency as your “online/marketing experts” doesn’t work unless you have a great relationship based on quantitative metrics. Pharma is losing people who have a passion and excellent knowledge on how to market to patients. This has to be reversed.