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The Virtual Drugstore

1 Jun, 2008 By: Jacqueline Renfrow Response

Pharmaceutical companies are projected to generate $10.6 billion in sales through direct marketing in 2008. That number is expected to reach as much as $15.2 billion by 2012, according to a study from the Direct Marketing Association (DMA).


Building Trust Through Education


DR marketing a pharmaceutical product begins well before a drug's launch, and the initial campaign focus is usually on education.

"You need to put nomenclature around a particular disease state, create common terminology in order to reference it," says Walter Capone, vice president, commercial development and operations at Progenics Pharmaceuticals Inc.

Progenics, based in Tarrytown, N.Y., recently received FDA approval and is only weeks away from launching Relistor, a drug for opioid-induced constipation (OIC) for those with terminal illnesses. Though Progenics owns the patent rights, the product is being marketed exclusively by Wyeth. Entering into a specialty market, Progenics is facing the challenge of introducing a new drug that is unlike anything on the market. So the first step was to create awareness for roughly six months prior to the FDA approval.

The Next Generation of Viral
The Next Generation of Viral


Another challenge for marketing Relistor is targeting and educating different types of healthcare providers. Most of the potential customers of Relistor are in homecare, so Wyeth has to reach out to primary care physicians, specialists, oncologists, pulmenologists and pain specialists. The marketing team tackles this issue by using several DR channels including print in healthcare journals, Web-based outreach, continuing education conferences, registered users on Wyeth and a sales force.

Another company that uses DR marketing for education and building trust is the online drug retailer In fact, Cary Byrd, the company's president, founded the pharmacy on the principal that consumers are often distrustful of the drugs they find online. The Web site is meant to be an affordable safe haven. Therefore, the site only offers partnerships with pharmacies that have passed a 10-point prescreening process.

"I'm simply giving people the means to learn more and to educate themselves by sharing their stories and experiences with others," says Byrd. "Our site gives members access to FDA data, to the latest industry and drug-specific news and to a network of consumers who have similar health-related interests and concerns."

Diplomat Pharmacy creates drug regimens for chronically ill patients. The online retailer often partners with drug manufacturers to create co-branded sales pieces for the Web site.
Diplomat Pharmacy creates drug regimens for chronically ill patients. The online retailer often partners with drug manufacturers to create co-branded sales pieces for the Web site.



Going Digital


What are some of the benefits of marketing digitally in the pharmaceutical space? It's cost effective, immediate and accessible. Moreover, nearly 60 percent of physicians in the United States use a PDA to reference clinical information.

Marketers were already using this medium as a way to push continuing medical education courses (CMEs), and now pharmaceutical companies are using the device to send relevant medical news alerts. This is effective target marketing for pharmaceuticals that have previously collected data — medical specialty, geography, insurance coverage plans — from each physician's prescription.

Progenics, through Wyeth, is using direct-to-physician marketing through digital means, such as search engine optimization (SEO), as well as E-detailing of healthcare workers that have shown interest and physicians currently prescribing drugs for OIC. Malone says the switch to digital is partly a monetary factor. As sales forces decrease, digital allows pharmaceuticals to gain an edge on releasing the latest trends in a timely manner.

Perhaps the most important digital channel is the Internet. Many companies are investing heavily in the Web for both acquisition and retention of consumers. The use of the Internet can range from posting educational and promotional content, such as sites like WebMD, Revolution Health and RealAge, to those leveraging YouTube and community sites to promote disease diagnoses and treatment.

For a Web-based business like, the burden of successful DR marketing can often be tied to the quality of the site. Byrd says the team works to create a wealth of information, social networking features, a blog and an easy to navigate site in order to get visitors to come back and spend more time.

"I think when you're an Internet retailer, virtually everything you do online should be geared to generate a direct response," says Byrd. This is definitely true for, which focuses primarily on SEO so that people searching for popular medications will find the site and stay to buy. "Later this year, we will begin an aggressive advertising program, which will include affiliate marketing, pay-per-click advertising and banner ads," says Byrd. "Many of these advertisements will feature special offers such as drug discounts or other incentives to act."

As with other online businesses, owes much of its success to the convenience and price break factor of Internet retail. Selling online empowers a consumer to "shop around" for the lowest prices and forces pharmacies to compete.

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