Advertising drives traffic, and Millennials, to pharma sites: Survey

Patients today are armed with more information than ever, and they're looking for active roles in their treatment. How can pharma companies make sure they're part of the mix?

The good news: Drugmakers already are, and some--though not all--of pharma's older strategies continue to pay off. But pharma still has some work to do online.

According to an annual survey, consumers are searching more for treatment options versus symptoms, paying attention to advertising and increasingly asking for specific drugs by brand.

Among all the survey respondents, digital-native Millennials were the most engaged generation online, which isn't atypical for that group--but they were also the most receptive to advertising.

Advertising motivated more than half of Millennials (51%) to visit a pharma website, compared with 36% of Gen X and 26% of Baby Boomers, according to the sixth annual Makovsky/Kelton Pulse of Online Search Survey.

Old-school TV was the most influential media among Millennials with 26% citing it as the top ad channel, followed by 19% selecting web sites and 16% choosing social media.

Millennials are also more likely to ask for a drug by name, with 70% having done so versus 61% of all consumers surveyed.

Celebrity endorsements were also more influential when it comes to Millennials--22% trust them versus 13% of the total population--while paid search was also effective with Millennials. The younger group most often said they chose to go to Wikipedia and WebMD after online healthcare searches simply because "it was the first web link."

However, advertising also ranked as influential across all age groups for driving traffic to pharma websites. Overall, 37% of consumers said advertising motivated them to visit a pharma site, which was second only to the 51% who went to pharma websites because their doctors recommended it. Among all reasons chosen for going to pharma sites, advertising also beat out family and friend recommendations at 32%, news articles at 26% and medication discounts at 21%.

One place where advertising didn't do well, however? Pharma-sponsored disease-awareness sites. A wide majority (69%) of those surveyed said they don't trust a website about a disease that is sponsored by a pharma company.

Beyond advertising, the study also looked at healthcare and pharma website effectiveness and other consumer online behaviors.

Makovsky Health's Tom Jones

Tom Jones, senior VP and practice director of Makovsky Health said an important buzzword in health sites right now is "user experience," which includes design, information and ease of use, but takes the view of the consumer through the entire journey across a brand or organization's website.

"We're constantly looking at user experience; it's a big deal," he said. "Companies don't want to just have people come onto their website and then go away. They want to pull them in, they want them to engage, and they want them to stay on the page as long as possible."

WebMD ranked as the top healthcare website that consumers turn to first, at 53% of those in the study. The Makovsky study concluded, however, that ease-of-use trumps trustworthiness when it comes to overall website use.

For instance, only 39% of the WebMD users said they trust the most-popular site, but 56% said it was easy to use. In the case of advocacy groups, 59% said they trust those sites, but only 16% use them, with a less than resounding 29% agreeing the sites were easy to use. Pharma websites ranked last out of the top eight healthcare resources that Makovsky found consumers use most often, with just 12% of respondents saying they use them, even though 32% said they trust the sites and a similar 32% said they were easy to use.

Jones added, in a press release, "In this year's survey, we saw significant shifts in consumer use of government agency health sites--calling out these sources as highly trustworthy, yet at the same time, few feel they are easy to use. Understanding this tug-of-war between trust and ease-of-use, in which ease-of-use ultimately wins, is incredibly important for health communicators and marketers seeking to reach consumers."

- read the release

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