Client Trends: What’s Now and Next for Pharma DTC Marketing

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As the Chief Client Officer of WEGO Health, Kristen Hartman has been at the forefront of DTC pharmaceutical marketing for over a decade and she has seen the strides that the industry has made toward digital adoption and patient collaboration. With the unique perspective of partnering with hundreds of pharma brands across varying therapeutic areas and pipeline stages, Kristen possesses the unique perspective of seeing it all.

With pharma marketing off to a sprint in 2021, we caught up with Kristen to share the trends of today and the forecast of the future.

Trends of Today

Mobile Spend Surges

Mobile-first has been a long time coming in digital marketing, but prior to COVID-19, we saw pharma still lagging somewhat behind. While websites and advertisements were mobile-friendly, pharma brands weren’t always designing mobile-first or allocating spend specific toward mobile efforts.

With the digital marketing boom in 2020 — specifically on mobile, studies show that the average American watched 3.7 hours of live TV a day whereas they spent four hours on their mobile device in the second half of 2020.

Mobile advertising spend grew 26% YoY and pharma marketers took notice, trending toward an increased spend on digital platforms and social media in 2020.

In 2020, eMarketer projected that digital ad spending in pharma would grow by 14.2%, with 57.5% of digital spend allocated toward mobile versus desktop. This coupled with the renewed public interest of this industry has caused a shift toward a mobile-first mentality.

You can’t log on to any social platform, from TikTok to Facebook, without seeing a conversation about a pharma brand or industry trend. We see pharma brands recognizing this opportunity to go where their audience is.

In 2021, we anticipate the share of the pharmaceutical and healthcare spend will continue to grow on mobile and mobile-first design will follow.

2021 Pharma DTC Marketing Trends WEGO Health

Digital Tools and Telehealth

Digital transformation in the pharmaceutical industry was happening well before COVID-19 rocked our world. Pharma has accepted that digital is here to stay and has embraced it.

Last fall, WEGO Health’s survey in partnership with the Digital Health Coalition showed that four in ten Patient Influencers utilized telehealth before the pandemic, and nine in ten have increased their telehealth utilization since the onset of COVID-19. Interestingly, respondents anticipated their telehealth utilization would surpass in-person visits moving forward.

A recent study from Mobiquity conducted by Censuswide revealed that half of UK patients over age 55 preferred digital tools instead of in-person consultations during COVID-19. The most preferred digital tools included remote monitoring and video examinations.

Pharma needs to continue to focus on transforming its services to provide patients with digital tools and apps that are convenient and provide everyday life value. These tools need to illustrate that a company truly understands and recognizes what it’s like to live with a certain condition.

Patients have embraced digital technology as a whole and expect pharma to meet them where they are in order to provide support, education, data, etc.

The Rise of Digital Video

We have seen pharma marketers embracing digital video over traditional TV for a variety of reasons. It’s less expensive than traditional TV ad buys, it does not have a 30-second limit, and it allows brands to share more in-depth stories and key brand messaging.

Studies show that consumers who engage with a health-related video online are more likely to take an action after watching a video, such as making an appointment or asking about a treatment option.

Clients come to us to bring their messages to life through storytelling, and digital video is a powerful, cost-effective way for them to do so. We only see that increasing in 2021 and beyond.

2021 Pharma DTC Marketing Trends WEGO Health

Forecast for the Future

Personalized Medicine

Personalized medicine has been a buzzword in the industry for a while, but it has not yet been fully embraced.

However, we are starting to see more personalization within marketing campaigns. Brands are delivering more personalized messaging and content to patients (both based on medication or disease state education), offering valuable reminders and resources, as well as checking in at crucial points during the patient journey.

Marketers are realizing rather than their desired customer experience, they need to meet their customers where they are and that requires personalization.

Patient Influencer Marketing

According to NRC Health’s research, 70% of healthcare consumers expressed an interest in getting at least some healthcare information through social media.

As social media has become a more trusted source, patient influencers continue to grow in credibility. If you look at the success of influencer marketing in other industries, it’s no surprise that pharma marketers want to play in that space.

We all know people tend to gravitate toward experiences that are authentic and genuine. A brand’s potential customers are more likely to trust a real patient over a cookie-cutter advertisement about how good a certain product is. This is where patient influencers come in. Now more than ever, patients are online looking for other patients with shared experiences from whom they can trust to get their health information. 2020 showed us all that empathy, connection, and the feeling of camaraderie are crucial, and that’s not going away.

2021 Pharma DTC Marketing Trends WEGO Health

In a 2018 WEGO Health Behavioral Intent Study, we surveyed 433 patients across seven online chronic health communities in the U.S. Nine out of ten patients stated that if they saw an influencer share information from a pharmaceutical company about a specific medication, they would likely ask an HCP about the medication.

Fast forward to today and patient influencers are still highly trusted and credible sources of information. Our most recent Quarterly Landscape Survey uncovered that over 50% of patients “mostly” to “completely” trust patient influencers and 52% were “mostly” to “very” likely to research medication promoted by patient influencers.

Lifestyle Influencer versus Patient Influencer Trust Factor

2021 and beyond will reinforce that leaning into patients is good business, and patient influencer marketing is the best way to educate and address patients’ needs proactively.

Evolving Communication

The way consumers communicate is evolving. It’s easy as a marketer to forget the day-to-day reality of your patients. It’s time to re-evaluate what it looks like to communicate and check-in with patients.

Marketers need to think beyond the standard channels of reaching their patients. For example, messaging applications such as Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp can make use of traditional messenger bots that are customized to push out products and services.

Over 1 billion messages are sent between people and businesses on Facebook Messenger every month. This method not only promotes the brand but also can provide patients a personalized customer service experience.

Another interesting trend that is getting more traction in the pharma space is ensuring content is voice search-friendly. With more attention focused on accessibility and with more and more people on the go, the use of voice search and voice commands is rising. Marketers will need to think about optimizing content to fit the requirements of voice searches and ensure brands are publishing content that solves or answers consumers’ questions.

In the past decade, I have seen a major shift toward patient-centered marketing and it is encouraging to see brands focus on meeting patients where they are, solving problems, and providing value. I believe the industry has a unique opportunity to harness digital trends to continue to build trust with the patients they serve.

About Kristen Hartman

Kristen Hartman Bennett Headshot WEGO Health Chief Client OfficerKristen Hartman is Chief Client Officer at WEGO Health where she oversees the company’s client portfolio and program strategy. For the past 10+ years at WEGO Health, she has worked with pharmaceutical companies to execute innovative, patient-centered social media marketing initiatives focused on education and engagement. She is passionate about partnering with clients to develop solutions for their business challenges, as well as improving the patient experience through patient collaboration.

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