The ultimate online health consumer journey

By Paul Grant

User research informs education website

Here is a simple truth. A pharmaceutical company needs to sell its products so that it can continue to operate profitably and fund activities such as ongoing research and development.

As with any commercial organisation, customers are usually initially introduced to products via word of mouth, editorial content, or advertising. If we accept this premise, it is possible to move onto the serious business of strategically planning the ultimate customer journey, from initial exposure to the brand, through to the purchase of a pharmaceutical product through a pharmacy, albeit in full compliance with relevant regulatory constraints.

The idea of customer relationship management is old, and the customer journey is a model that goes back to early days of retail. The concept is that a customer should ideally grow in allegiance or loyalty to the brand over time. Along the way there will be peaks and troughs as they are satisfied, or inadvertently unsatisfied, with the experience of interacting with the brand.

The customer journey looks at the change in loyalty as time passes


In reality, there are many different types of customer journey, and, in the case of pharmaceutical companies, the various touch points with the brand can be very indirect. Consider a scenario such as a prescription-only medicine prescribed to a patient by a healthcare professional.

So how does a common journey transpire:

Diagram shows: initial symptom, concern, online research, discussion with trusted family and friends, research, visit the GP, prescription, purchase, research and discussion with people online, rating, review or concerns, possible visit to GP or second opinion

At each point in the journey, various sources can influence the customer’s perception of the brand. A pharmaceutical company needs to plan for optimum engagement at every one of these touch-points, and be the primary positive influence, without breaching government regulations or guidelines about pharmaceutical advertising.

Bear in mind that the specific journey will depend upon not only the individual consumer, but also factors including the regulatory frameworks within which the brand is experienced – in particular whether direct-to-consumer (DTC) marketing of prescription medicines is allowed – and whether the brand in question is a prescription-only or over-the-counter medicine. In non-DTC environments the customer might be seen as somebody other than the patient, such as the prescribing healthcare professional or the healthcare service paying for the medicine – such as an NHS Primary Care Trust (PCT) in the UK.

Yet even in a non-DTC environment such as the UK or Europe, where a pharmaceutical company is not allowed to advertise its brands to consumers, the boundary-less nature of the Internet is such that it is highly likely the consumer will have been exposed to the pharmaceutical brand when searching online for information about a health issue.

With this in mind, a digital engagement strategy will help the pharmaceutical company to set goals and develop a goal funnel which shows how and why individuals experience a change in loyalty over time.

Commercial enterprise are comfortable using customer relationship management (CRM) systems to identify leads, conversions, and ultimate revenue, and they want a tangible pipeline on which they can base other business decisions.

Sometimes the goal is not necessarily a sale as such. It could be that the pharmaceutical company needs journalists to write more editorial about the company. It could be that healthcare professionals are choosing to prescribe or recommend a competitor product because they are themselves not sufficiently loyal to the brand, or not fully aware of a product’s benefits.

Whatever the goal, there is an associated ideal customer journey and goal funnel that can be developed to measure and learn from.

Contact one of our healthcare specialists to find out how you can increase pharmaceutical sales through engagement strategy.

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Meet the Author

Paul Grant