Over the latest years, it has become ever more frequent for people to turn to the internet to seek useful information or support on almost every decision one has to make. The health issue, as expected, is not exempt from this trend, with about one-sixth of the billions of searches people undertake every day on Google revolving around health concern topics.
In this framework, Julia Walsh (CEO of Brand Medicine International) in her book “What we really ask Dr. Google” focuses on some of the possibilities pharmaceutical companies and consultants have in order to exploit this phenomenon, instead of merely discouraging it, with the aim of offering useful insights to medicals and helping patients in every step of their journey.
The book digs into the so-called Search Listening Optimization, i.e. the analysis of aggregated and anonymized search queries in order to really listen to people’s needs. The main advantages highlighted by the writer with regards to this technique are that, on one hand, these types of queries are highly representative of the population (given that nowadays almost everyone uses Google daily and for the most varied reasons), and on the other hand that, differently from social media posts, search engine queries are mostly perceived as private: therefore, its uncensored nature can offer powerful insights on patients’ and HCPs’ thoughts.
Julia Walsh then goes on to explain how the study of such information can help achieve multiple goals. Among these:
- Identifying which is the content currently influencing the narrative around almost any health-related concept and, if necessary, adjusting it
- Finding sources of misinformation (mostly spread in the shape of personal blogs, untrusted websites, etc.) to report them
- Understanding the patients’ needs along every stage of their journey in order to provide adequate support
- Individuating which are the main communication gaps existing in the pharmaceutical marketing strategies on which it would be crucial to focus future communication campaigns
- Providing pharmaceutical companies with precious insights on what HCPs are interested in, which could be useful to Sales Representatives as conversation starters for their interactions with clinicians
In order to exploit this set of information, it is foremost necessary to distinguish which queries are most searched by patients and which ones by Health-Care Professionals. This can be easily done by analyzing the wording of sentences: presumable, a medical expert will look for specific information by searching very detailed keywords (such as “rebound effect of olaparib”, for instance), while patients are more likely to use simpler words and, perhaps, formulate queries in the first person (e.g., “can diabetes kill me” or “will chemotherapy make me lose hair”).
Such a simple step can help segment the dataset and thus allows us to focus on different objectives separately.
The Patient Journey
Focusing on the patient-side advantages, using the approach of Search Listening related to health topics allows identifying a so-called Patient Journey. This refers to a path that someone who has just been diagnosed with a disease or that has just shown symptoms related to it has to deal with in order to face this new life chapter: Julia Walsh’s study proves how every stage of this journey corresponds to different types of queries searched in Google.
1. The first stage of the Patient Journey is Awareness, which is relevant when there are known genetic or environmental risks. In this case, people will likely turn to the search engine in order to understand which is the probability of getting a specific disease and the symptoms to look out for.
2. Secondly, there is the Symptoms stage. When these first occur, people often prefer to consult the internet with the aim of understanding what could be the cause and how serious it could become, before even scheduling an appointment with their doctor. Analyzing the queries searched during this phase is fundamental as it permits guiding patients towards more informed conversations with their clinician, accelerating the time of diagnosis and facilitating earlier treatment intervention.
3. Then, it is the turn of the Diagnosis. Once patients get diagnosed with a disease, they are likely going to turn to search engines seeking information about how to deal with this problem and, especially, looking for the best medicine to cure it. In this case, it is particularly important for digital media strategists to identify these queries and analyze the corresponding result pages with the aim of individuating sources of dangerous misinformation and redirecting the content that resonates toward trusted and patient-responsive results.
4. Subsequently, there is the Treatment phase. When the doctor prescribes a medication (or even before the consultation itself, in order to be prepared to ask questions about alternative treatments), patients are going to look for information about drugs on the internet: pharmaceutical companies need to have a wide gaze about the information patients will retrieve online in order to avoid misinformation about their products, balance reviews which can highly influence a patient’s opinion (regardless of the fact that these may not be evidence-based) and ease the work of Health Care Professionals, who will have to make an effort to convince their patients to take the required medication.
5. Finally, it is time for Resolution. If patients recover from the disease, they are often inspired to share their stories with others, and this could be useful to pharma who are looking for patient advocates, perhaps intercepting these queries with an invitation to join a patient advocacy group.
Julia Walsh, therefore, encourages pharmaceutical marketers to have a proactive approach towards these issues, redirecting these real-world queries to patient-responsive content which can adequately support them along every step of their journey and, at the same time, help HCPs in their daily work.
From a more strategic point of view, Search Listening plays an important role in helping pharma to deliver a personalized experience for their customers through an omnichannel marketing approach: this refers to the concept of knowing every step of the customer journey (be it linear or not) and understanding how to properly speak to them at each phase of that path. To really exploit an omnichannel strategy, it is indeed fundamental to undertake appropriate segmentation and personalization, objectives that can be achieved via Search Listening.
The book focuses on this aspect, highlighting some measures which should be taken into consideration when analyzing a company’s marketing KPI in order to pursue a similar approach:
- Rate of interest, through the analysis of Google Trend data, for instance
- Type of questions asked
- Search engine result pages corresponding to the most common queries
- Prominence of misinformation
- Return on Investment in Information (ROIII)
In particular, this last measure becomes extremely important as it has a direct influence on the Return on Investment (ROI): thus, improving the content’s power to drive engagement and convert prospects to sales allows to improve the overall ROI.
Finally, Julia Walsh provides some additional cues on how to leverage Search Listening to optimize brand and campaign performances throughout an omnichannel strategy:
1. In the Research phase, it permits to:
- Highlight the yet-unmet product needs
- Understand which are the dominant influences on the narrative (such as the bigger producers of content or the most high-profile HCPs)
2. In the Strategic planning phase, it could be useful to:
- Derive a comprehensive illustration of what patients are concerned about and offer it to HCP stakeholders and Sales Representatives for their interactions with clinicals
- Identify which are the needs of HCPs themselves by examining what questions they search the most and individuating eventual misinformation which could prevent them from prescribing the products
3. In the Tactical planning phase, it allows to:
- Study what patients see online and prioritize which areas to address with a suitable digital strategy
- Intercept HCP queries, funneling them to MSLs or into the omnichannel marketing programs
- Enhance the educational content so that it turns up in response to real-world queries
In summary, “What we really ask Dr. Google” succeeds in offering precious insights to pharmaceutical companies on how to exploit the information coming from widely-used open resources like Google in order to improve their customer experience, ease the work of Health Care Professionals in many different ways and adopt a more empathic approach towards patients.