The Four Mistakes DTC Marketers Continue to Make

Most pharmaceutical marketers continue using dated and mostly irrelevant models. The pandemic has changed the way consumers make healthcare choices and obtain information, and with trust in pharmaceuticals at an all-time low, pharmaceutical marketers seem to be withdrawn from reality.

People in the United States are not happy with their costly healthcare. It costs too much and takes too much time to get a recommended treatment. They continue to read about how insurers are dictating treatments and tests, and prices for new drugs are through the roof. In the meantime, DTC marketers keep running TV ads and manipulating data to show that spending more money provides a better ROI when that’s not essentially true. Here are the biggest mistakes they continue to make:

1ne: Pharma product websites read like medical journals and are often not part of patient decision-making.

If I showed you a twenty-year-old pharma product website and one from a product today, you would mostly ask, “What the hell happened?”. I just finished an analysis for a client that showed that the content on their website was at “college level” reading comprehension. Content should be at an eighth-grade reading level.

When their product was first introduced, the website traffic was good, but the time on-site and bounce rates were extremely high. Clickstream analysis showed that people spent more time on sites like WebMD than their product sites. The most cited reason? “The pharma website didn’t have the information I needed.”

Too many pharma websites are posters that are seldom updated with information based on what patients are talking about, and usability is a nightmare. Digital marketers promote irrelevant metrics, and agencies deliver “poster” websites.

2wo: Spending too much on TV ads without measuring reach and frequency.

There is a massive disconnect between awareness and asking for/about the product. Market research departments often don’t provide awareness within target audiences, and when money is available, it goes to more TV ads.

TV ads are great at saying, “Hi, I’m a new drug,” but the decision tree from there is often complicated, and marketers don’t have an in-depth understanding of where their audiences will make that treatment decision.

3hree: Allow agencies to become “taskmasters” or not challenge their proposals.

Last week, I sat in on a meeting between a large digital agency and a pharma DTC team. What I heard both shocked and upset me. Essentially, the agency was telling the client what they needed to do, and the client was eating it up. The problem was that it was off-strategy.

For example, spending money on a paid search doesn’t make sense. Ad Blockers often prevent users from clicking through to sponsored sites, and online health seekers prefer organic search. DTC managers need to challenge ALL their agencies for metrics that matter. Just building a site or putting together a media plan is not enough.

4our: Not admitting that patients have changed.

So much data clearly shows that patients are changing the way they make healthcare choices, yet pharma seems to ignore these trends. Trust in pharma is at an all-time low and is getting worse as big pharma fights lower drug price negotiations with Medicare. Even though the CDC recommends more Covid vaccinations, people say no because they don’t trust health institutions. Pharma is showing that it could care less about what people think about the industry and has yet to embrace a “patient first” attitude.

Budget cuts are coming as higher drug prices are challenged. R&D is being replaced by mergers and acquisitions, yet pharmaceutical CEOs continue to make obscene amounts of money. I expected massive changes, but the talent pool is pretty low.