How Pharmaceutical Brands Are Using Location To Target Consumers

As more medical marketers look to balance consumers' privacy issues with patients demand for greater relevance, Semcasting's CEO Ray Kingman offers a delicate approach.

The ability to connect consumers with immediate marketing messages based on where they are has become an integral part of mobile advertising and on-demand services.

But when it comes to satisfying consumers’ interests when it comes to health and wellness issues can be particularly fraught: there are regulatory issues and the concern for consumer privacy is significantly higher when it comes to medical-based marketing.

Ray Kingman, the CEO and founder of targeting and data platform Semcasting, shared some thoughts on the how marketers in the pharma and health/wellness services can make the relevant — and privacy-friendly — focus in reaching patients,

GeoMarketing: In terms of healthcare marketing, as opposed to working with consumer packaged goods, there are thorny regulatory issues you have to contend with. Could you talk briefly about those guidelines and how marketers in the space can still effectively reach their target audience?

Ray Kingman: Between HIPAA and FDA, the healthcare and pharma marketing industry is strictly regulated on marketing. Online campaigns have been discouraged in the industry since cookie-based, individualized targeting, is largely not allowed.

However, things are changing. Pharma and healthcare marketers can be effective online, if they focus on location rather than the individual patients. For example, when summarized prescription data is focused at a trade area location, rather than being linked to patients or a household addresses, individual privacy is protected. Summarized prescription data is aggregated at a level that is always compliant with any regulatory privacy concerns.

Semcasting has built out trade areas around healthcare facilities and the doctors at multiple geographic levels. Each geographic trade area ranges in size from the DMA zip code+3 level coverage to zip code+5, or zip code+1. At every level there are at least 250 households for any trade area in which a prescription is written in order to protect the privacy of the parties concerned.

Do you target the individuals and their prescription or the doctors and pharmacies that serve those people? Can you mention any brands as examples?

Semcasting is only able to focus on the trade areas and specialties of the doctors serving people in a given area. We don’t have access to any patient data or any prescriptions written to a specific patient. We don’t have the ability, nor do we want to, target any specific individuals based on their prescriptions. By focusing on the trade areas and patterns of prescription distribution we are able to give pharma companies insights as to where their new remedies may be of the most value. This level of targeting is still fairly generic but is far more precise than making a 30-second spot buy on television.

How does location targeting fit into your efforts in terms of connecting healthcare providers and consumers?

Semcasting has indexed most drug classifications, prescription and generic drugs, and doctor’s specialties by the geographic areas served. The objective is to identify high frequency distribution areas versus low coverage areas.

For example, when a pharmaceutical company comes to us and says, “I’ve got a new drug that’s for anti-inflammatory issues that competes with a particular brand,” we identify the doctors who write prescriptions for that brand, the trade areas they serve, and rank order the highest frequency distribution areas, prioritizing the areas most likely to engage with a digital outreach effort.

What are the benefits for consumers — who tend to be wary about any kind of targeting — of using location technology to deliver messages and generate analytics?

Consumers can receive more in depth information about their healthcare and pharmaceutical needs without any tracking of their online behaviors or web history. Semcasting has elected to take a

provider viewpoint for its targeting and never touches any patient, or diagnostic data, in the process. HIPAA- regulatory guidelines recommend that population data be clustered in order to eliminate individual targeting. We meet, or exceed, these guidelines at the trade area locations of the providers.

In addition, our patented audience targeting platform, Smart Zones, is uniquely appropriate for the medical and pharmaceutical marketplace because it doesn’t use cookies – ever. In a marketplace where using cookies to target and track ads to individuals is frowned upon, the use of IP-targeting provides three-times the reach without a one-to-one connection between individual households and those IPs.

Why does the blanket style of targeting not work for this industry?

In online medical and pharma marketing, you have to build a matrix of target attributes that spans multiple dimensions. The frequency of prescriptions driven per location is a primary indicator, but also the frequency of prescriptions written, associated with a particular doctor’s specialty or a common diseased state. There is an overlapping series of frequency measures that add up to identify the optimal hot spots for targeting.

Provider targeting is a more efficient method of doing outreach than buying a 30-second spot in the middle of a baseball game. With this approach, the advertiser is likely to reach 85 percent of the people intended to target over a thirty-day period rather than reaching a viewership that mainly cares about the score. Digital outreach is also relatively inexpensive by comparison.

How does IP-based targeting compare to cookie targeting, especially in pharma and healthcare?

Cookies are rarely used by the pharmaceutical and medical industries due to privacy concerns. Using IP-targeting, industries get nearly 100 percent reach of those that are online. When most lists of people are onboarded the match rate to a cookie suffers because over 50 percent block third party cookies and others time out. Match rates are typically below 30 percent. We cover over three times as many unique users as cookies. Statistically IP targeting typically runs in the area of between a 25-150 percent lift over traditional cookie segments.

What is the primary use case for Semcasting’s targeting abilities for these marketers?

For a pharmaceutical company, there might be a clinical trial for a new insulin for diabetics. To enhance distribution and exposure with the target user/buyer, they want to find the doctors with the highest frequency of diabetics in their care area.

Other use cases may involve the rollout of a new drug option for a common ailment – trying to get people to walk in to their doctor and inquire, “I heard about this XYZ drug. Is it appropriate for me?” Engaging with areas that show a high concentration of the ailment, and the doctors that treat it, is appropriate.

Health insurance companies are trying to push a portfolio of options out to consumers based on their relevant health and age combinations. Combining average age of a DMA or a zip code with our Health Index, we can provide insurers with a macroeconomic view of insurability for each population.

About The Author
David Kaplan David Kaplan @davidakaplan

A New York City-based journalist for over 20 years, David Kaplan is managing editor of A former editor and reporter at AdExchanger, paidContent, Adweek and MediaPost.