As recently as five years ago, search engine marketing was considered merely a peripheral marketing tactic by many pharmaceutical brand managers. But those times have changed, says Google's director, health sales and operations, Mary Ann Belliveau.
“Search marketing started with a 10- or 20-word search around the condition or brand,” Belliveau says. “Traffic grew and now pharma marketers realize search has become a special and unique way to get to the hand-raisers. Pharma marketers realize search is a very powerful way to reach consumers, evolving into something they can craft a campaign around. It has become much more complex than a couple of key words and one or two creative messages.”
Paying attention to search has become especially important in a marketing environment where 75% of consumers consider the Internet their most trusted source for researching drug information, according to a recent survey by marketing firm Prospectiv.
Director of the pharma category at Yahoo! search marketing Bonnie Becker told MM&M during a recent interview that in order to reach consumers and have maximum impact, pharmaceutical marketers must not only include search in their overall marketing mix, but also tailor their messages to address consumers' specific needs and concerns at critical phases during their search.
“Whether a consumer is looking online for information about a specific condition, learning about a certain stage of their illness, researching medication side effects, or finding ways to improve their health overall, search is the starting point of the online conversation,” Yahoo!'s Becker says.
Search is also crucial in the pharmaceutical marketing mix because the top advertised brands are not always the top-searched brands.
“The most heavily searched brands are for conditions considered private such as depression and sexual health, and the Web offers an ideal forum to find (that) info,” Becker says. “No amount of advertising will knock these conditions out of their top searched status.”
In recent months, the online health search space has heated up vigorously as some of the Web's consumer power players have made forays into the arena.
In October, Microsoft launched its HealthVault service offering consumers personalized health records and an Internet search engine specifically tailored toward consumer health.
That same month, Yahoo! and WebMD announced they inked a multi-year search and advertising distribution agreement. Under the deal, Yahoo! will power search-based and image display to WebMD's consumer ad sites.