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Revolutionizing Pharma: The Power of Direct-to-Consumer Engagement

Revolutionizes Engagement with Next-Gen Direct-To-Consumer Marketing

by Brian Fitzgerald | Last Updated: March 19, 2024 | 1 min read

Anupam Nandwana is cofounder and CEO of P360, a leading developer of technology for the life sciences industry.

Watch your local TV station long enough; eventually, you will find an ad or two about a promising new pharmaceutical. That’s because leading industry players spend millions of dollars on direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertising each year. According to recent industry reports, spending across the top 10 pharma DTC campaigns in 2023 reached $1.94 billion, a major jump from 2022’s $1.68 billion spent across all the top 10 ads.

However, while top spenders are reaching a lot of eyeballs with frequent ads, they are missing a big opportunity to deepen their engagement with those interested in learning more about the advertised drug.

Currently, most pharma-related ads end with a company URL or a recommendation to consult a healthcare professional (HCP). But I think a better call to action—one including an invitation for direct communication—could help companies drive engagement that goes beyond the commercial. For example, advertisers could include a QR code or messaging number that viewers could activate to connect with a company. This way, companies can start direct relationships with consumers.

Additionally, to help lower the burden of fielding a flood of requests, companies can utilize AI-powered information platforms to provide real-time answers and product information. For instance, AI can manage inbound traffic by answering initial questions automatically—filtering and routing more sensitive conversations to the appropriate team. Companies can also use this to strengthen relationships with HCPs by including them in a referral network.

What are the benefits for pharma?

One of the biggest benefits of combining mobile technologies like SMS messaging with DTC advertising is the volume of new relationships these channels can facilitate. The widespread use of smartphones means that there is a vast audience that companies can connect with. According to recent statistics, as of 2023, the U.S. has over 310 million smartphone users, making it one of the biggest user bases in the world.

This type of connection can also provide valuable data. Integrating mobile engagement tools with a CRM can help pharmaceutical companies collect and analyze data to learn more about their target audience, identify preferences and determine what messaging resonates with them. Advanced analytics can also help companies understand how ads are performing and the level of engagement that is being achieved and allow organizations to make real-time changes to campaigns that may not be delivering the results they are aiming for. When data that comes from this can also inform a better user experience. For example, AI-powered chatbots can be trained to manage inbound traffic, answer queries, provide product information and deliver 24/7 support—leading to an improved patient experience. By providing accurate, timely information and a high level of engagement, pharmaceutical companies can reassure patients, build trust and improve their brand reputation.

What’s in it for patients?

It’s not only about pharma, though. Direct communication with companies benefits patients as well. Here’s how:

  • Builds trust and confidence: With open communication channels, patients become better equipped to make informed decisions about their healthcare needs without relying on third-party information.
  • Personalization of care: Direct communication provides a more personalized care experience, which patients highly value. With direct access to pharmaceutical companies, patients can provide valuable feedback, ask questions about products and services, and provide their medical information directly.
  • Availability of information: With direct communication, patients have a quicker and easier way to access information on health-related topics. Patients can stay informed about new releases, preventive medicine, clinical trials and any emerging trends in healthcare.
  • Enhances patient advocacy: Pharmaceutical companies can help patients understand their role in navigating the healthcare system, making them more effective advocates for their care. Empowered patients can then build community by sharing their experiences with others.

How can companies get started?

The potential for technology to transform patient engagement in pharma’s DTC ads is vast. However, the path to pain-free implementation takes careful planning. To help prepare executives for the journey ahead, following are four tips and considerations for getting started.

  1. Craft the right technological mix. Investing in the right technologies is critical. From content management systems to engagement analysis tools, the tech stack must be carefully curated to work within the current IT infrastructure. As such, modernization could be needed. But the good news is that seamless integration of data and functionalities between different apps and systems can enhance both analytical depth and the patient’s experience.

  2. Cultivate organizational agility. Adopting a tech-driven DTC strategy could demand a cultural shift alongside technological implementation. For example, emerging technologies demand proficiency seldom found in traditional marketing departments. As such, encouraging cross-functional collaboration, swift decision-making and a learning-centric approach are vital to fostering the organizational agility needed to implement such innovative campaigns.

  3. Balance innovation with compliance. While the allure of cutting-edge digital tools is strong, their implementation must be carefully balanced with the complex web of regulations that govern healthcare. Encrypted data, secure platforms and transparent privacy policies are baseline components that cannot be compromised. Data retention is another big consideration, especially given the DOJ’s important updates to the Evaluation of Corporate Compliance Programs (ECCP). The first major revision includes using personal devices, communications platforms and messaging applications, including ephemeral messaging applications, for work.

  4. Prioritize the patient experience. The ultimate test of any DTC campaign’s success is patient experience. Ensuring that every digital touchpoint delivers value, is intuitive and aligns with the overall patient care narratives is essential. However, with concerted effort and regular testing before a campaign’s launch, companies can address potential issues before seeing the light of day.

The potential for digital technologies to transform patient engagement in pharma’s DTC ads is vast. By adopting a mobile-first strategy, pharma can create advertising campaigns that are not only compliant and innovative but also deeply meaningful to the patients they serve.

For executives looking to this approach, the path ahead is one of transformation, challenge and unprecedented opportunity. It will take foresight, investment and commitment to a patient-centric ethos. Yet, for the companies that venture into this new frontier, the rewards promise to be as substantial as they are vital to the future of healthcare.


Brian Fitzgerald