Pharma’s move to DTC shows that social analysis is more important than ever

Pharma’s move to DTC shows that social analysis is more important than ever

This month, Pfizer became the latest global pharma company to set up a DTC (Direct-to-Consumer) platform, underlining a significant and industry-wide shift driven by a demand by patients for personalised medicine and involvement in healthcare decisions and the need for pharma companies to adapt to changing market conditions. As Dr. Andrée Bates, Chairman/Founder/CEO at Eularis and AI Pharma Expert, noted recently, 'All signals point to a radically different future for pharma, where the pay-per-pill blockbuster model no longer serves pharmaceutical companies, physicians or patients... consumers are increasingly demanding more affordable and accessible healthcare options, and many are looking for greater transparency around drug pricing and clinical trial results.'

The Rise of DTC Marketing in Pharma

In the past, pharma companies primarily marketed to healthcare providers such as clinics, pharmacies, and hospitals, relying on these professionals to educate patients about their products. Patients, however, are now taking a more active role in their healthcare decisions, becoming more knowledgeable about their needs and direct access to medicines. This shift in patient behaviour has led to a rise in DTC marketing, with Pfizer’s plans to sell products like its COVID treatment, Paxlovid, and a migraine nasal spray directly to consumers serving as the latest example. Pfizer is by no means the first company to take this route: Hims, a leading online men's health platform valued at $1.7 billion, recorded a 57% revenue increase in late 2023. Based in San Francisco, the company plans to expand its prescription drug offerings. Through its digital service, men can easily obtain prescriptions for treatments like hair loss and erectile dysfunction after an online assessment by doctors. Integrating telemedicine, Hims works with pharmacies to offer competitively priced products, including cold sore kits and anti-aging creams, aiming to make men's health products more accessible and affordable, bypassing traditional doctor visits.

The trend has been met with both enthusiasm and scepticism, depending on where you look. Proponents argue that it empowers patients, promotes better patient-doctor communication, and can lead to earlier diagnosis and treatment. Critics raise concerns about potential misinformation, overemphasis on drug benefits, and impact on healthcare costs. An article by C. Lee Ventola MS for the National Library of Medicine in the US, for example, warns that 'Although only limited data exist, research suggests that DTCPA is both beneficial and detrimental to the public health,' believing that while DTCPA (Direct-to-Consumer Pharmaceutical Advertising) can inform and empower patients, encourage them to seek medical advice, and promote dialogue with healthcare providers, it may also misinform them, overemphasise drug benefits, promote unnecessary or inappropriate prescribing, and increase healthcare costs.

Such worries are having limited impact on the global trend for DTC marketing in pharma. A recent survey by OptimizeRx found that 61% of physicians believe DTC marketing impacts patient perceptions and expectations. The influence of DTC material on the patient-doctor relationship is already being felt.

Social Listening and Sentiment Analysis

As pharma companies embrace DTC marketing, it puts them in a much wider and more general marketplace, one less governed by the trends and channels of typical pharma customers — it means that Social media becomes an increasingly vital channel for engaging with consumers and gathering insights. Social listening and sentiment analysis tools allow pharma companies to tap into the wealth of data on social media platforms to inform their DTC strategies and gain a competitive edge.

Monitoring social media for mentions of a brand, product, or relevant keywords, will allow pharma companies to track conversations, identify trends, and gauge consumer sentiment in real-time. Sentiment analysis takes this further by using natural language processing (NLP) and machine learning algorithms to classify the sentiment of social media posts as positive, negative, or neutral. It’s something we’ve had great results with in our work with VIIV Healthcare, among others.

Applications of Social Listening and Sentiment Analysis in DTC Pharma Marketing

With your social listening tool humming in the background, keep a vigilant eye out for any red flags such as:

  • Brand Monitoring and Reputation Management: Social listening and sentiment analysis help pharma companies monitor their brand reputation and identify potential issues early on. By tracking mentions of their brand and products across social media, companies can quickly detect and respond to negative sentiment, misinformation, or adverse event reports, helping to mitigate the impact of negative publicity and maintain consumer trust. In pharma DTC this becomes particularly useful because it allows for rapid and effective communication with the public about the benefits and risks of products. A proactive approach to communication can significantly enhance public perception and increase consumer confidence in the brand.
  • Consumer Insights and Segmentation Analysing: Social media behaviour provides valuable insights into consumer needs, preferences, and behaviours related to health and wellness. These insights can inform the development of targeted DTC marketing campaigns, personalised content, and product innovations. For example, by analysing the age, gender, and geographical location of those discussing specific treatments or medications, companies can better understand which segments are most interested in their products and tailor their advertising accordingly.
  • Measuring effectiveness: With real-time feedback from social media, companies can measure the impact of specific DTC marketing campaigns. Monitoring increases in mentions or changes in sentiment following campaign launches provides valuable feedback that can be used to adjust strategies, improve messaging, and optimise future campaigns to meet consumer needs and preferences better.
  • Competitor Analysis: Social listening and sentiment analysis provide valuable intelligence on competitors' DTC strategies and consumer perceptions. By monitoring competitor mentions and sentiment across social media, pharma companies can benchmark their performance, identify areas for improvement, and stay ahead of industry trends.
  • Measuring Campaign Effectiveness: Social listening and sentiment analysis can measure the impact of DTC marketing campaigns on consumer perceptions and behaviours. By tracking changes in sentiment, engagement, and reach over time, pharma companies can assess the effectiveness of their campaigns and optimise their strategies accordingly.

Challenges and Considerations

While the potential benefits of DTC marketing and social listening are significant, there are specific challenges and considerations. Pharma companies must ensure that their DTC efforts are transparent, accurate, and compliant with regulatory requirements, prioritising the well-being of patients above all else. To address these challenges, pharma companies must actively engage with healthcare professionals in shaping the development and implementation of DTC strategies and technologies.

The shift towards DTC marketing in pharma presents both opportunities and challenges. As Dr. Bates emphasises, 'Change is never easy, and resistance is normal. However, disruptors to the pharmaceutical industry won't sit idly by, waiting for big players to make a change.' Pharma companies must adapt their marketing strategies to meet the evolving needs and expectations of consumers, and social listening and sentiment analysis are essential tools for navigating this new landscape.

By leveraging these tools, pharma companies can develop more targeted and effective DTC marketing campaigns, build stronger relationships with consumers, and ultimately drive better health outcomes. However, pharma companies must ensure that their DTC efforts are transparent, accurate, and compliant with regulatory requirements, prioritising the well-being of patients above all else.

As the DTC trend continues to evolve, pharma companies are going to need to keep pace with a changing market and adapt their strategies accordingly. We believe that social analysis can become a comprehensive part of a DTC approach and help pharma companies to position themselves for success in the era of patient-centric healthcare.

If you’d like to speak to us about how our expertise in social analysis can help shape your DTC strategy, drop us a line today.

Published on 2023-05-13 10:18:02