Digital Advertising for Clinical Trial Patient Recruitment

Henning Semat, Head of Online Marketing
Henning Semat, Head of Online Marketing

Many of us (even the most seasoned digital marketers) sometimes struggle to keep pace with not only the many channels of, but also the ever-changing ecosystem of digital media. This five-part blog series aims to de-mystify digital media by focusing on how to optimize digital advertising for clinical trial patient recruitment. We share insights from our experience and offer advice from online resources we trust.

Part 1: Targeting Your Audience

As with any marketing program, the first step involves building a buyer persona of your target customer; or patient in this case. Often, this exercise is becomes overly generalized. As a starting point, we recommend answering all of the questions below:

  • What are the disease characteristics of this patient population?
  • What is the age range of these patients?
  • How would you describe the behavior of these patients?
  • Where are the locations of these patients?
  • What are their online habits and interests?
  • What are their health-related problems?
  • What does (my company) offer that helps alleviate these problems?

Some of the questions are easier to answer than others. Allowing a little time for research is always better than guesswork.

Social media research will not only help you identify which channels are most relevant for your target patients; it will also help you understand your patients and take the guesswork out of determining contextual data for your target population. You can quickly learn about levels of patient engagement (How active are they in seeking information about their conditions? What is the general sentiment about available treatments? What do they say about side effects or management of symptoms? Do many patients they act as helpers for other patients with the same condition?)

With social media, while Google+ and Facebook platforms are effective across many different regions and cultures, savvy recruiters look beyond those platforms to tap into new potential sources of willing clinical trial participants. Platforms such as Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr and Snapchat should be considered when clinical trial populations involve younger demographics. The optimal digital mix will be highly influenced by country-specific preferences, age-related preferences, disease characteristics as well as patient satisfaction with the effectiveness of currently-available treatments.

Keyword research is another avenue to better understanding patient needs. Exploring and manipulating keyword phrases your patients use will help determine habits, interests and pain points while also informing your content strategy (be sure to read our next post on Messaging and Content, Part 2 of Digital Advertising for Clinical Trials). There are many ways to get started on keyword research, but ones we especially like are Google’s AdWords Keyword Planner tool and spyfu. It not only suggests keywords and provides estimated search volume, but also predicts the cost of running paid campaigns for these terms (more about this in Digital Media Buying, Part 3 of Digital Advertising for Clinical Trials).

Additional Sources

Buyer personas:

Social media research for patient perspectives:

Keyword research: