by Joe Abruzzo and Mahesh Krishna,
In the 15 years since the first Direct-To-Consumer pharmaceutical ads hit the marketing world, people have radically changed the way they handle their own healthcare: search engines have become the first stop for triage, YouTube is the new surgical theatre, and Google Health has placed medical record ownership in the patients’ own hands.
In the early years of DTC marketing, prescriptions for heavily advertised brands grew at a rate six times that of non-advertised brands — no small change in a $122 billion dollar industry where even a minor uptick in market share can result in multimillion-dollar boosts for any given pharmaceutical company. A more recent Millward-Brown study on the efficacy of DTC advertising demonstrated a 0.96 correlation (i.e. near perfect) between advertising expenditure and new prescription volume, and ascribed most of the value of pharma advertising to “brand awareness” and “emotional affinity.”
Today, with digital marketing on the rise and increasing uncertainty about traditional DTC advertising’s ability to deliver the same momentum for brands that it did 10 years ago, one fundamental point of influence has continued to stay relevant — even if somewhat altered: the doctor-patient conversation.
MPG’s 2010 Pharma Connect Study — a study of all touch points that influence patients at every stage of the patient journey, from awareness to asking the doctor for a specific brand, to advocating it to others — shows that the doctor-patient conversation is still the most influential source of information relating to drug brands.
While mass media, such as television and print, continue to play an important role in creating awareness for drug brands, more than 72% of the 525 American patients we interviewed said their discussion with their physician is the ultimate determinant for which drugs they receive a prescription for. The second most influential touch point for consumers? A discussion with their pharmacist or an informational website about a specific disease, tied at 45%. Written information provided by the patient’s pharmacy and magazines about specific diseases follow closely behind at 43% each.
Conventional wisdom dictates that patients and physicians have very different information needs and, hence, need dedicated communication streams — and, at first glance, our research supports that. Meanwhile, the 150 American physicians interviewed ranked medical conferences as the most influential source that would lead them to prescribe a specific brand of drug to their patients (85%), followed by discussions with academicians and clinicians (83%), articles and papers in medical journals (81%) and discussions with colleagues (77%).