How can a small or unestablished brand compete against marketplace giants? That was the challenge confronting Santarus, a specialty pharmaceutical company, as it sought to promote its heartburn medication Zegerid (omeprazole/sodium bicarbonate). A unique proton pump inhibitor, Zegerid competed in a very competitive marketplace dominated by several sizeable, well-known brands.
The marketing challenge was two-fold: first, to break through the noise and build awareness of Zegerid among healthcare professionals; and second, to motivate trial in a high-switching category.
Fortunately for Santarus, which focuses on acquiring, developing and commercializing products for the prevention and treatment of gastrointestinal diseases and disorders, big-brand budgets are no longer necessary to compete against big-name brands. The internet has leveled the playing field. Having established a branded website, a pharmaceutical company can find success by locating and acquiring targets more effectively than its competition. In short, pharmaceutical underdogs don’t need to outspend their competitors, merely, outsmart them.
In the case of Zegerid, the first step was to start at the end—assess the brand’s objectives and work backward to define measurement milestones or conversions that would determine the right amount of spending on each online channel and optimize traffic to the brand’s website. It’s important to note that online marketing isn’t an objective; it’s a channel. And good measurement is critical to defining the success of any online program.
Having defined the objectives and measurement criteria for Zegerid, a strategic decision was made to focus on three online channels: organic search, paid search and online advertising.
Organic search or search engine optimization (SEO) allows marketers to raise their website’s ranking to the top of search-results pages. With Zegerid, the SEO goals were to achieve top 10 ranking for targeted keywords, to rank above major competitors and to capture qualified customers.
To this end, an extensive architecture audit was performed of the website, addressing platform and programming issues as well as SEO best practices. From there, keyword research was conducted, metrics established and the site was audited periodically to assess keyword performance. The results of these efforts were nothing short of phenomenal. Since the start of the SEO campaign, the Zegerid website experienced a 65% increase in natural search traffic (Fig. 1) and a 59% increase in monthly coupon prints.(Fig. 2).
Zegerid became the only brand site that ranked on the first page of search engine results for 70% of the targeted keywords (heartburn medicine, acid reflux treatment, etc.), appearing in the No. 1 and No. 2 spots for many of the key category terms.
Paid search
With paid search, marketers seek to drive traffic to their sites by purchasing certain keywords or terms that they think searchers are likely to use. In leveraging the power of paid search for Zegerid, the objective was to capture qualified traffic, drive on-site conversions, and generate trial as measured by coupon prints and redemptions.
To achieve these objectives, extensive keyword research was performed that included an analysis of keywords in which competitors were investing. To optimize search results for Zegerid, the team looked beyond mere click-through rates to study actual conversions—i.e., measurable action steps that they wanted the audience to take or specific destination pages they wanted them to visit.
The results were impressive. Of those searchers who clicked through to the Zegerid site in 2008, 8% printed the trial coupon, resulting in an average of 2,478 coupons per month. The program continues to be optimized. In the first half of 2008, the brand enjoyed the equivalent number of prints as the whole of 2007 (Fig. 2).
And the number of qualified visitors to the site for the first half of 2008 equaled 82% of the entire 2007 number—with only a 27% increase in the per-month paid-search media budget. In addition, the cost per click was reduced by 18%. 
In addition to organic and paid search marketing, the team also launched a targeted online advertising plan to increase awareness of Zegerid among primary care physicians and gastroenterologists. 
After conducting a competitive review, the team developed a stable of banner advertisements. These banner ads were then placed on relevant sites, based on online target profile and behavior.
Once again, the results proved highly successful. Due to banner advertising, overall awareness of Zegerid increased by 90% among family practitioners (from 29.4% to 55.8%); and by 47% among internal medicine physicians (from 51.5% to 75.8%). Among those physicians identified as “very likely to prescribe Zegerid,” awareness increased by 234% for family practitioners and by 126% for internal medicine physicians.
Lessons learned
What lessons does the Zegerid success story have for other marketers struggling to build awareness and trial in a crowded category? First, success begins by ensuring that all players partner to understand the insights and behaviors that drive the prescription decision-making process. Second, it’s necessary to build a solid foundation—the website. This foundation must be built with the interactivity and tools to not only achieve the brand’s agreed-to goals, but also to enable measurement that demonstrates that these goals have been met. 
Finally, adopt a “prove and move” strategy that allows you to test your way to the right mix and support levels. By using strategic interactive marketing smarts to challenge your largest marketplace competitors, even “little guys” can realize big success. 
Peter H. Nalen is president and CEO of Compass Healthcare Communications. Jennifer Lundberg is product director at Santarus