July 18, 2002
How To

Three of the Best Pharmaceutical Web Sites: Why They Work and Which Ideas You Should Steal from Them

SUMMARY: Whether you market drugs or any other sort of consumer goods, you will definitely get some ideas to improve your site's impact from this article. Our favorite; a site that uses pretend \"guides\" (one for each major demographic) to get visitors to opt-in to receive email messages from a brand. Very clever. Also includes fascinating data on how getting a consumer to visit your brand's site can dramatically improve their offline lifetime purchasing patterns of your product.
Pharmaceutical companies are already big online marketers; spending an average of 9% of their ad budget online. According to Forrester, that is going to double in the next two years to 18%.

Even if you are not marketing health-related products to consumers, you should be watching the pharmaceuticals very closely for ideas you can steal.

For example, Nexium (aka "The Purple Pill") was one of the very first advertisers to test a NYTimes.com "surround-session" style-ad. After watching that test, many advertisers in other categories jumped in to try the new format too.

We contacted J.G. Sandom, Vice Chairman, RappDigital, Rapp Collins Worldwide, to get his expertise on pharmaceutical online marketing tactics. He founded the world's first interactive agency in 1984 (yes that "8" is not a typo) and has helped clients including Procter & Gamble, Pfizer and Kaiser Permanente along the way.

First Sandom shared these key facts based on research from Ad Age/Cyberdialogue, Jupiter Media Metrix, Forrester, Decision Analyst, Inc, Harris Poll, Bates USA and RxInsight:

- Estimated cost to generate a consumer request for branded Rx: Internet $54 versus TV ads $152

- 100 million adults in the US use the Internet to look for health care information. That is 85% of all Net users, 47% of the total population.

- Although 55% of online consumers will use the Internet to find out more about a specific drug, very few (possibly as low as 3%) will go directly to the drug maker's Web site to look for more information.

Sometimes it is because they do not know who makes the drug, but often it is because they just do not consider pharmaceuticals as an informational source. People are more used to asking their doctor, pharmacist and friends for advice, or reading up on health topics in the press. This has clear implications for what type of drug Web site will work best.

- Consumers who do visit specific drug Web sites fill five times more prescriptions than seekers who phone company call centers for advice. Your Web site is far more valuable than your toll free hotline.

- Consumers do not like or need Web sites with all the bells and whistles. Rich media, heavy use of Flash, wireless content delivery are not nearly as important to them as sites that load fast and contain lots of useful information. However, they do like polling, customizable layout, and live chat with a company rep who can answer questions.

- 36% of consumers visiting a drug site will spend time personalizing the content to fit their profile (if that option's available) and 8% will sign up for a medication reminder service. (That is an opt-in list that's worth its weight in gold!)

Given this data, Sandom has come up with a list of Best Practices for pharmaceutical Web sites that work.

He notes that consumers go through standard stages during the sales cycle. These are: condition awareness, brand awareness, action, compliance (getting a prescription) and persistence (purchasing the drug again and again). Web sites must contain content and interactivity that fits each of these stages.

For example, for consumers in the first stage, condition awareness, you need a site or major site section with general educational information. These consumers are not ready for a site that focuses on the particular drug quite yet.

When consumers are in the action stage, you should be ready to give them offers such as downloadable free trial coupons that they can take advantage of. When they enter compliance, you may want to offer an email-messaging program to keep in touch and increase persistence.

Sandom suggests marketers visit the following three Web sites to get inspired by best practices in action. [Note: Hotmail users, you may need to cut-and-paste links into your browser to make them work properly.]

-> Copaxone.com

Sandom says this site is highly effective because it includes a link to a condition awareness site (MSWatch.com) and a customizable interface (visitors can change the front sizes and remove all images if they desire).

Plus it includes two ways MS patients can connect with other people who they may trust more than copywriting from a drug company; an online chat room for sufferers and caregivers, and a program to connect sufferers with questions to actual patients who are taking Copaxone. Very smart.

-> My Guide to Living Better

This recommended site also features a personal-feeling connection between visitors and people just like them. The home page features photographs of six different named "guides," each from a different demographic (a black man, an older white man, a young blond woman, etc.).

Visitors are urged to click on the guide of their choice to choose them as a "virtual companion" who will send them "important information" such as emailed offers and "the kind of encouragement that can only come from someone who has succeeded in managing this difficult situation."

Sandom thinks this is an outstanding tactic to gather and sort an opt-in email list. We agree.

-> lipitor.com

One of the biggest goals for any prescription drug site is to get consumers to talk to their doctors about the drug. lipitor.com accomplishes this by offering visitors a handy customized list of questions which can be printed out and taken to the doctor's office.

We will bet many consumers who get tongue tied when meeting with a busy doctor, really appreciate this service.

Other patient-friendly site features include a member section, and a risk-assessment tool by the National Cholesterol Education Program.

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