Drugmakers Should Focus On Symptoms, Study Finds

Focusing on symptoms--rather than education or discount coupons--is the most effective tactic for health care marketers trying to find the "Holy Grail of effective advertising," promoting both consumer use and word-of-mouth marketing, according to a new study by MedTrack Alert and the Interactive Media Services Program at Miami University in Ohio.

In addition, the study found that there was no significant difference in the way influencers with high social network connections behaved compared with people who had moderately sized social networks.

The study of nearly 5,000 registered MedTrack Alert users between the ages of 35 and 65 identified eight types of health-related messages: relevance to self, symptoms of a disorder, better control over a condition, positive outcome, good results, discount coupon, ease of use and how a drug works. Other than relevance to self (which would apply to any brand marketed to anyone), messages describing symptoms of a disease provided a "double hit" of prompting consumer usage and getting people to pass the messages through their social networks, says Ted Smith, president of MedTrack Alert.



"Information about how easy a drug is to use, how a drug works, and offers of discount coupons were all rated lower in sharing in comparison to the other question categories," according to the study. "The findings here suggest that an advertisement that calls attention to the symptoms suffered by the target consumer or a member of that consumer's personal network has the most potential to be acted upon."

The study also found that targeting highly connected "influencers" with pharmaceutical messaging may not be as effective as going after a broader spectrum of moderately connected consumers. According to the study, the people who had moderately sized social network (between 11 and 99 connections) and those who had large networks (more than 99 connections) had similar responses when it came to health care advertising messages.

"These studies suggest a new convention: there are really two segments of the consumer audience to consider--the less connected (less than 5% of the population) and everyone else," concluded the study. "Once advertisers consider that most consumers can consume an ad for their own use and use it to spread the word about the product, new value can be unlocked from the creation and execution of display advertising."

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