Pharmaceutical Digital Marketing – Consider These Factors

Pharmaceutical Digital Marketing – what is it?

The fine folks at SAS state that Digital Marketing is “the promotion of products or brands via one or more forms of electronic media.” Add to it a focus on pharmaceuticals and we now have Pharmaceutical Digital Marketing.

Digital marketing has proven to be a real game changer for marketers. Media Ocean shares with us that:

“Thanks to digital’s vast amounts of targeting technology and capturing of personal data, marketers are able to reach both large audiences and more granular segments without compromising scale. This includes being able to target by specific attribute including demographic, behavioral, psychographic, and more. Not only can marketers target groups of people, they can also target specific devices and even individual users regardless of what device they may be using.

In addition, digital marketers are especially determined to measure success of campaigns. A number of user engagements can be tracked such as impressions, clicks, website hits, leads, and actual purchases. In as much, digital makes it easier than traditional media to track Return on Investment (ROI), helping marketers to see the efficacy of their campaigns and make better decisions for optimization and the future.”

There are several factors to consider when determining your strategy for pharmaceutical digital marketing. To help guide you in this endeavor, here are three main considerations when planning your ad strategy.


Factor #1: Consider Your Spend Allocation

Before embarking on a new marketing campaign, you should first determine how much of your ad spend will go to digital. As shown in the 2016 graphic below, the healthcare & pharma industry lags behind others in digital ad spending. Retail comes in at #1 with 21.9% while healthcare & pharmaceutical digital marketing represents only 2.8%.


Pharma lags in its adoption of digital ad spend – image source


Just because the 2016 digital advertising spend for healthcare and pharma came in last place at just 2.8%, it won’t necessarily stay that way. With the trend toward pharmaceutical digital marketing, you will want to make sure you are not left in your competitors’ proverbial dust. So, early adoption in the industry will certainly make you more competitive in reaching your target audience.

According to an eMarketer report:

 “The US Healthcare and Pharma Industry 2016: Digital Ad Spending Forecast and Trends,” by 2020, digital ad spending in the healthcare and pharma category will reach $3.10 billion annually, eMarketer estimates.”

The article goes on to say that:

“Growth rates in the healthcare and pharma category will increase steadily through the forecast period, representing a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 13.2% from 2015 to 2020. This is on par with the consumer packaged goods (CPG) and automotive sectors, and higher than the US digital ad spending growth rate of 12.0%.”

Be proactive about putting your advertising dollars toward digital advertising. It will, in many cases, work in your favor. And, the sooner you adopt digital, the better-positioned you’ll be when your competitors fully immerse in pharmaceutical digital marketing arena because you’ll already be steps ahead of them.

But, don’t people still watch television, read newspapers, and peruse magazines?

Of course they do, and it’s a great way to get a general message out to a broad audience. However, as other leading industries have shown, digital is real and is the way that the consumer market is trending when it comes to time spent on available platforms. Increasing the digital ad spend in your marketing mix should be a part of your marketing plan if you want to keep up with the marketing landscape.


Factor #2: Consider Methods of Reaching Your Target Audience

This brings us to the next point to consider: What are the best methods for reaching your target audience?

  • Where is your target audience likely to be active online?
  • Are they active on social media groups and online patient communities?
  • Do they simply browse the internet for information?

The more specific you can be about your target audience and their online and offline activity, the better.

According to a 2016 report from Nielson:

“Surprisingly, the heavy social media user group isn’t Millennials. In fact, Generation X (ages 35-49) spends the most time on social media: almost 7 hours per week versus Millennials, who come in second, spending just over 6 hours per week. They’re female, 25% of their time online is spent on social media (vs.19% of males), and they reach across cultures. They’re likely to be on Facebook on Sundays via smartphone, while watching primetime.”


WEGO Health’s Behavioral Intent Study

In Part II of a two-part Behavioral Intent Study, WEGO Health surveyed 433 community members about their sharing habits when it comes to social media and health-related information.

We found that the majority of earned media impressions are taking place behind the scenes. In fact, 75% of respondents reported that they share information privately. Furthermore, we discovered that the bulk of this private sharing is done through Facebook Messenger, private groups, email, and offline communications.

This Part II report, “Role of Patient Influencers: How do patients truly share information?,” also confirmed that Facebook is the top platform for the sharing of health information:

  • 87% of study participants say they share health information via Facebook posts
  • 81% of study participants say they share health information via Facebook messages

Although social networking does claim the largest part of the pharmaceutical digital marketing pie, by no means should any of the other activity types be discounted. Not all online activity is of a social nature. Some people are online simply to browse sites and/or gather information without interaction.

While the eMarketer report focused solely on social media users, the overall trend in platform usage is definitely moving away from TV and toward platforms of an online nature. Just check out the trends illustrated in the graphic below.


Q1 2016 Average Audience Composition by Platform – Image Source
Q4 2016 Average Audience Composition by Platform – Image Source

The most significant trend noticed from Q1 2016 to Q4 2016 is that of TV to Smartphone. In every age group, most – if not all – of the drop in TV was replaced with an uptick in Smartphone. On average, a 3% drop in TV was replaced by a 4% rise in Smartphone. This alone reflects a changing nature of how the population is most likely to take in information.


Consider the audience AND the message

As mentioned previously, in determining your target audience and the best way to reach them, consider where these individuals are most likely to receive information.

  • Is your message geared toward a niche or rare condition area? Or, is there a very specified part of the population you want to target? If so, then social media, and more specifically influencer marketing, would be something to consider because of its tendency toward more individualized messaging.
  • Is your message something of a very general nature? If so, and if you are targeting a demographic that is likely to be online, then a combination of varied digital outlets could likely work for you.
  • Or, are you trying to reach a segment of the population that might be less apt to be online? While some are moving online, most of the older population (we’ll say 80+ years) still prefers television or hardcopy resources. However, as the overall population ages, more will have had working experience with computers and other devices. So, the digital adoption rate will rise accordingly.

In no way am I suggesting that you only invest in pharmaceutical digital marketing. As mentioned previously, non-digital can be effective in getting a general message out to a broad audience. However, the more specific your target audience is, the more you will want to home in on the channel – or channels – most likely to be frequented by that audience.

According to 2016 statistics provided by Internet Live Stats, internet users made up 88.5% of the US population – and that number has doubled from 43.1% in 2000. So, the chances are pretty good that members of your target audience are online.


Factor #3: Consider Multi-Channel and Omni-channel Marketing

More people now use a variety of channels before ultimately taking action. Enter the world of multi-channel and omnichannel marketing. Keep in mind that consumers are using more than just one channel (whether digital or not) before acting on what they’ve seen or heard. Here is a very basic visual of the differences between single channel, multi-channel, and omnichannel marketing.

Single Channel vs Multi-Channel vs Omnichannel Marketing – Image Source

As shared by Alex Timlin in his article, What Is Multi-Channel Marketing:

While multi-channel certainly has its benefits, it is only part of the picture. Yes, multi-channel makes it possible to interact with more prospective customers and at an increased frequency, however, brands must have a strategy to unite the customer experience across these various channels. Enter: omnichannel.

 As noted above, multi-channel tends to refer to the simple distribution of messages across as many channels as possible, while omnichannel refers to the strategic establishment of a holistic customer experience.

The article goes on to state that:

“customers are more informed than ever, and as marketers we have to make sure we are giving them the information they want, when, and where they want it.”

Ensure that you are providing a holistic customer experience to draw in your target audience, with the ultimate goal being customer acquisition and retention. In other words, you want to consider the decision-making process and the customer buyer journey for the members of your target audience. Find potential ways to reach your audience at every step of the way throughout their buying process. Then, provide as relevant many touchpoints for that customer as possible.



Now that we’ve shared these tips on pharmaceutical digital marketing and how it can work in your favor, how will you incorporate the ad spend into your media allocation? Which marketing mix will put you at the forefront, leading the pack?

Take these considerations into account while planning your annual ad spend and “have at it!” The evidence is there for an increased allocation toward pharmaceutical digital marketing. It’s a universe that, to date, has only been touched on the surface for healthcare and pharmaceuticals. So, be the leader and let everyone else simply follow in your footsteps.


From volunteering with a foundation that provides funds for cancer research, to working in a doctor’s office, to working for many years in pharma, and now with WEGO Health, Sue has spent the better part of her adult life in an industry for which she has a passion. As Customer Engagement Manager with WEGO Health, Sue connects with our network of Patient Leaders to bring the voice of the patient to our partners in the healthcare industry. When she’s not working (alongside her trusty feline sidekick, Santana), Sue enjoys reading, writing, photography, and getting on the mic at the occasional Karaoke outing.

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