Is the pharma industry gearing up to focus on direct to consumer marketing?

The pharmaceutical industry is starting to embrace new technologies and online platforms with the goals of informing its marketing strategy planning and gaining a deeper level of insight into consumer behavior, according to a recent research project by Best Practices, LLC. That being said, there's still plenty of room for improvement.

A long way to go
The study, titled Innovation in the Pharma Industry: Market Research Tools, Technologies and Approaches to Improve Consumer Interactions, engaged 58 market research-leading companies, including 18 from the pharma sector. It found that while some enterprises are using valuable pharma marketing and consumer insight-gathering tools such as online behavioral tracking, many corporations within the industry have not yet begun to utilize the technology. To be specific, only half of pharma firms included in the research reported that they used online communities to inform their understanding of customers, while just 11% said they combined market research tools and technologies for a deeper dive into consumers' behavior and motivations.

Best Practices' findings come in the wake of figures released by healthcare research firm GlobalData earlier this year that revealed the lion's share of big pharma sales and marketing spending is being directed at healthcare professionals, not consumers. In fact, as The Washington Post's Wonkblog reported, drug companies invested $24 billion into physician outreach in 2012, compared to just $3 billion in direct to consumer marketing. In an eyebrow-raising twist, nine out of 10 pharma firms that had their spending assessed by GlobalData spent more on sales and marketing than research and development. Johnson & Johnson led the pack, dedicating $17.5 billion to sales and marketing, which is more than twice the $8.2 billion it spent on R&D. The New Jersey-based corporation was followed by Novartis, Pfizer, GlaxoSmithKline, Merck, Sanofi, AstraZeneca, Lilly and AbbVie. Roche, which is best known for manufacturing Avastin and Tamiflu, was the lone exception; it spent $0.3 billion more on R&D than marketing ($9.3 billion versus $9 billion, respectively).

In 2012, the majority of pharmaceutical companies spent more on sales and marketing than research and development.In 2012, the majority of pharmaceutical companies spent more on sales and marketing than research and development.

Fewer hoops to jump through
The United States Food and Drug Administration recently made it easier for enterprises in the pharma industry to reach out to consumers by finalizing new draft guidance that proposes such firms be allowed to submit promotional materials for review in an electronic format. The Regulatory Affairs Professionals Society explained that currently, all pharma advertisements must be submitted to the FDA's Office of Prescription Drug Promotion via a paper-based form. As RAPS reported, comments on the draft guidance are due by July 21. The effects of an easier drug advertising review process on the pharma industry's consumer outreach efforts remain to be seen, but a less arduous procedure may result in an increased consumer focus - and, with that, more attention being paid to consumer research.