Pharma industry embraces e-mail

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Pharmaceutical marketers are rediscovering direct-response marketing.

Drawn by its cost-effectiveness and the appeal of an immediate response, pharma marketers are moving away from TV advertising and toward direct and e-mail pitches for both consumers and physicians. According to the DTC Industry Check-Up survey from Optas, Woburn, Mass., 38% of respondents in the industry plan to increasing spending on direct mail and 32% will spend more on e-mail and Internet marketing (see chart). Nearly half, 49%, said the industry needs to decrease spending on national TV advertising.

"If you think about mass media advertising vs. e-mail marketing, there's a big difference," said Robert Egert, VP-digital services for The Xchange Group, part of WPP Group's CommonHealth division. "With mass media, you're slinging this huge net and hoping it finds somebody, and hoping you find them at a time when they're ready and willing to take action. With e-mail, it's a very targeted audience."


Terry Nugent, director-marketing for Medical Marketing Service, which compiles medical lists, said the hottest trend in the pharmaceutical industry now is e-detailing, in which pharma companies reach physicians by e-mail and direct them to product information.

"A physician's biggest asset is his time, and when the sales reps come calling they're taking up that time," Mr. Nugent said. "E-detailing gives the physician an opportunity to obtain information at their convenience, and e-mail is one of the ways to initiate that transaction."

It's also cheaper. Mr. Nugent estimated that if it costs a marketer $2 a person to reach them through a print campaign, it costs 50ยข a person via e-mail.

cutting costs

"You saw in the upfront that everybody is trying to cut costs," said an e-marketing director at a major drug maker. "You can implement and distribute-and, more importantly, instantly change and update-an e-mail or Web campaign far more easily and far more inexpensively than a print campaign."

Direct marketing is also growing as the industry recognizes that forging a relationship with consumers is easier and less expensive. Julian Parreno of Harte-Hanks, a direct- and targeted-marketing company, estimated that it costs five times as much to acquire a new patient than it does to keep an existing one.

To that end, most pharma companies have made big efforts in the area of compliance, or keeping patients on their medication. Pfizer's Lita Sands, director and team leader for relationship marketing, said one of the most vexing parts of the industry is research showing that some patients stop taking prescription medication after three months, six months or a year.

Ms. Sands heads an effort for Lipitor called "Staying on Track." It includes e-mails to patients who are taking the cholesterol drug, aiming to keep them on the medication. "Staying on Track" is part of a larger campaign called the "Pfizer Experience" in which Ms. Sands and her CRM staff work to keep patients in compliance on 10 different brands.

"It's nothing heavy-handed," Ms. Sands said. "It's just a way to say, `Look, here are some compelling reasons why you need to stay on your medication.' "

There are downsides to e-mail marketing. E-mail lists need to be in accordance with HIPAA-the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act-which addresses the security and privacy of patient health issues. Three years ago, Eli Lilly was fined by the Federal Trade Commission when an e-mail sent to patients on the anti-depressant Prozac inadvertently included the e-mail address of each patient in all of the messages.

Spam is a less-pressing issue. The biggest consumer categories for spam include airlines, pornography and pharmaceutical. Most, if not all, of the pharma ads are not from drug makers but from companies touting knockoff prescriptions or ways to get medicines via Canada and the like. So now drug makers will be asking their consumers to sift through an even more cluttered in-box.

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