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They're often claimed to be one of the hardest groups to advertise to, but according to the sixth annual Makovsky/Kelton Pulse of Online Search survey, millennials are "by far the most receptive to pharmaceutical marketing."
How receptive? According to the survey (PDF), which polled more than 1,000 Americans over the age of 18, 51% of millennials indicated that they would be motivated by a digital, television or print ad to visit a pharma-sponsored website.
That's a significantly higher percentage than Gen X and Baby Boomers, only 36% and 26%, respectively, of whom said they'd be similarly motivated.
What's more: when performing online research, millennials were twice as likely as their older siblings and parents to click on the first link in the SERPs, "demonstrating the effectiveness of paid search with this generation."
User experience, trust crucial to digital success
While millennials appear to be more easily swayed through advertising, when it comes to the effectiveness of online resources, pharma companies are not well-positioned to capitalize because they're not delivering on user experience.
According to Makovsky Health and Kelton, "consumers are increasingly leveraging online resources to both prepare for appointments and validate physician recommendations," and not surprisingly, user experience is correlated with usage.
The most popular single resource, WebMD, was visited by 53% of survey respondents seeking health information online. It received the highest marks from consumers for ease-of-use despite lagging in trustworthiness.
Meanwhile, online resources provided by advocacy groups received the highest marks for trustworthiness but were among the least used, perhaps because they were ranked lower for ease-of-use.
Pharma websites were the least used. They received the second lowest ranking for trustworthiness and lagged WebMD by more than 20% in the ease-of-use category.
It doesn't have to be this way
With deep pockets and proprietary content, pharma companies should be in a position to deliver high-quality digital experiences that offer consumers real value.
As Deloitte Consulting and the Gerson Lehrman Group noted last year when looking at pharma's mobile and social efforts targeted at physicians, pharma companies have clinical data and insights that few others have. While this content is obviously of great value to physician marketing, some of it can also be put to good use in developing experiences for consumers.
Given that the pharma industry is spending $4.5bn a year on ads, a figure that has increased by 30% in the past two years, and appears to have a particularly receptive millennial audience, pharma companies are clearly missing out on the opportunity to play a larger role in the market for digital health information – an opportunity that would probably bolster the effectiveness of their heavy ad spending.
This could be a costly mistake that only gets costlier if the American Medical Association (AMA) has its way and regulators restrict or ban direct-to-consumer pharma ads.
For more on healthcare, read Organizing Marketing in the Digital Age (Healthcare).