Those efforts-aimed at patients as well as physicians-are helping improve customer compliance and retention in an industry beset by growing competition and cost pressures.
Such compliance ultimately impacts pharmaceutical sales. The approach is also seen as more palatable by the medical community because it helps doctors accomplish their goal-getting patients to follow orders instead of pushing them to demand doctors give them new drugs based on advertising.
And consumers saw plenty of ads in 1994, when direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical advertising for the first nine months rose nearly 44% to $187.4 million according to Competitive Media Reporting.
Drug and other medical products marketers can use databases culled from customer purchases to build brand loyalty, said Thomas Kardish, president of DiMark Pharmaceutical Marketing Group, an agency and consultancy in Langhorne, Pa.
"Pharmaceutical manufacturers are very young at talking directly to consumers," Mr. Kardish told attendees at the National Center for Database Marketing's national conference in Orlando in December. "Those that develop this first have an advantage over the competition."
Mr. Kardish cited Upjohn Co. and Boehringer Mannheim Corp. as companies that built their databases and aggressively marketed to those audiences. He discussed how Upjohn reacted to the disappointing 1988 rollout of Rogaine hair growth product.
Print and non-brand-specific TV advertising from Klemtner Advertising, New York, established good consumer awareness and 90% physician awareness.
But doctors, uneducated about the product, were reluctant to prescribe Rogaine or vigorously push patient compliance, said Keith Barton, a consultant who worked with Upjohn during the initial release.
The result was a big letdown for Upjohn and Wall Street. They had anticipated sales to top $350 million. But after the first year, the company had done little more than $50 million, Mr. Barton said.
Upjohn decided to broaden the approach.
It created the Upjohn Dermatological Division to focus on "relationship marketing" through coordinated ads and public relations messages, Mr. Kardish said.
Instead of telling viewers to "call your doctor," respondents received a coupon worth $10 at the offices of 4,000 participating doctors, lured by the chance to build a "subspecialty" that set their practices apart, Mr. Kardish said. Motivated doctors helped boost ongoing patient compliance, he said.
The company also got involved in event marketing to build its database, followed by direct mail and telemarketing.
Despite weaker than anticipated sales, the effort has resulted in those who start the therapy tending to stick with it longer.
Upjohn also uses the database to bolster brand loyalty through better customer targeting. This will become more important as Rogaine this year faces over-the-counter certification by the Food & Drug Administration. In 1996, Upjohn loses its patent on the product.
Boehringer Mannheim-long a market leader for at-home blood glucose monitoring devices-also employed its database after it started losing customers for its Accu-Chek product when Johnson & Johnson entered the market in the late 1980s, Mr. Kardish said.
So Boehringer instituted a new warranty card program, offering buyers incentives like books and videos on healthy lifestyles and diabetes. Soon, response to warranty cards was topping 55%, and the company to date has a list with more than 1.8 million names.
Boehringer now uses the list to mail out a newsletter and taps the audience to test new-product ideas.
The company has nearly doubled the average patient's weekly testing regimen, said Paula Madsen, manager-consumer segment marketing. That means they sell more brand-specific test strips to go with the Accu-Chek product.
Some 87% of customers surveyed said the program increased their knowledge of their illness. Brand loyalty rose to 79%, with 95% of customers saying they would recommend the unit to other insulin-dependent diabetics, Mr. Kardish said.
"Customer loyalty and customer retention is the key to our business," Ms. Madsen said. "We are spending more time at retaining that customer and keeping that customer loyal to us."