Pharma Marketing 101: 5 Things Every Healthcare Marketer Should Know

Pharma marketing is unique. There are two primary audiences (healthcare providers and patients) and only two countries where you can do direct-to-consumer advertising (the U.S. and New Zealand). In addition, pharma is also one of the most highly regulated industries. This presents a variety of restrictions, considerations, and guardrails that healthcare marketers must learn to navigate. This is primarily due to HIPAA, which places limits on data access and targeting tactics to maintain consumer and patient privacy.

To do pharma marketing effectively, one must understand the industry itself, the common lingo used when planning, activating, and measuring campaigns, and the complexities of the patient journey. This is all while keeping a pulse on evolving trends within the larger marketing landscape.

Having spent more than 20 years on the healthcare agency side, I’m thrilled at the opportunity to share my knowledge with anyone who needs it. Let’s start with the five basics every healthcare marketer should know — an Intro to Pharma, if you will.

1. Know the Lifecycle of a Drug

From a consumer standpoint, most people outside of the healthcare industry aren’t aware of the amount of time, money, and effort that goes into developing each new drug, immunization, and treatment. As marketers, it’s not only critical to understand the lifecycle of a drug, which can span decades. In 2022, Deloitte found that the average cost of developing a new drug among the top 20 global biopharma companies amounted to $2.3 billion. With clinical trials, this process can take up to 15 years! Drug patent protection also holds for 20 years before any generics come into the picture. Knowing this, we can truly appreciate all of the complexities involved before we’re even tasked with coming up with a marketing strategy.

2. Know the Lingo

Whether you’re just starting out in the pharma marketing space or you’re a seasoned pro, you’re bound to encounter jargon and a variety of acronyms in your daily work. For example, when it comes to planning a campaign that will reach healthcare professionals (HCPs), you may come across “NPI,” or the National Provider Identifier, which is used to target physicians and understand their prescribing behaviors.

When it comes to measurement, pharma marketers are looking for conversion metrics such as TRx and NPS:

  • TRx = Total prescriptions
  • NPS = New prescriptions starts

3. Know the Patient Journey

I often think about how pharmaceuticals are typically the only products purchased that you don’t choose for yourself. The patient journey is much different and way more complex than any other path to purchase—especially as it concerns those privacy laws we talked about earlier.

Put it this way: The path to going on a prescription is nothing like buying a car. It’s a lifelong journey, and no single media stream influences your decision. Today, we can use privacy-safe data to help us figure out where a patient cohort is along that path—and where we can reach them with the right message at the right time—while simultaneously keeping HCPs informed.

Pharma companies are spending dollars to educate patients, and as we all know, marketing is not one-size-fits-all. Data is the key to customizing the journey for both patients and providers.

4. Know How to Reach HCPs With Your Pharma Marketing

As marketers, we tend to place a lot of our focus on the end user, which in most cases would be the patient. However, in the pharma marketing world, we view healthcare providers as an equally (if not more) important audience to reach because they are the ones who ultimately decide which patients get prescribed what.

Developing an HCP-specific strategy is absolutely essential to the success of a new drug or treatment, and most efforts are focused on education. When it comes to connecting with healthcare providers, real-world clinical data can shed light on how doctors are treating certain conditions and prescribing similar drugs, and their NPIs can help you target them accordingly.

5. Know What’s on the Horizon

According to eMarketer, healthcare and pharma digital ad spend is estimated to reach more than $19 billion this year. Digital ads are no longer just targeting patients, but also healthcare providers, and this overall shift is happening at a rapid pace.

During the pandemic, pharmaceutical brands needed an alternative way to educate physicians when in-office visits from sales reps were temporarily prohibited. As a result, healthcare marketers turned to digital advertising solutions to reach both HCPs and consumers. Digital ads, as well as programmatic CTV ads, also make it possible to help inspire more positive patient outcomes by keeping all parties informed about potential treatment options—and bridging the gap between patients and their providers.

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