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Gartner Says U.S. Pharmaceutical Brands Must Adopt a Patient-Centric Narrative to Improve Digital Strategies

Report Ranks Digital Performance of 88 U.S. Pharmaceutical Brands; 75 Percent Rank Above Average Despite Unprecedented Scrutiny and Regulation


Very few U.S. pharmaceutical brands have transitioned from a brand-centric to patient-centric narrative to accommodate today’s savvy and skeptical consumer, according to new research from Gartner, Inc.

The inaugural Gartner L2 Digital IQ Index: Pharmaceutical Rx U.S. ranks the digital performance of 88 pharmaceutical brands operating in the U.S. market. These brands were measured across more than 1,200 data points against four critical dimensions of digital marketing, including site functionality, direct marketing, social media and mobile. From these calculations, three brands were classified as Genius (Repatha, Humira and Fasenra), 28 as Gifted, 37 as Average, 9 as Challenged and 11 as Feeble.*

“Pharmaceutical brands in the U.S. face unprecedented levels of scrutiny and regulation, including strict limitations that have a profound impact on how they market to consumers,” said Chris Beland, sector lead at Gartner. “Despite these difficulties, consumers continue to look to brands’ digital channels for credible information and guidance.”

Gartner research on decision making for healthcare reveals that 70 percent of consumers believe they have access to credible information, and 64 percent feel that they can apply that information to help improve their decision making. “It’s not enough to have average digital capabilities these days —pharmaceutical brands must ensure that their content is present, relevant and meaningful enough to take action on,” added Mr. Beland.

From the analysis, four key findings emerged that U.S. pharmaceutical brands must keep in mind moving forward:

Form Follows Function: Presently, brand websites are information-rich but content-poor. Only half of patient/caregiver sites incorporate patient stories, and conversation guides are not consistently synced with their healthcare provider (HCP) counterparts. For example, 76 percent of brands provide materials to help patients prepare for their next doctor visit, but only 41 percent have similar materials on HCP sites to help doctors prepare for the conversation with patients. This limits both the quality of those engagements and the brand’s ability to inspire discussion.

Get In or Go Home: In an environment where TV ads arguably have a neutral impact on brand awareness, winning brands generate superior ROI on their display ad efforts through efficient placement, prominent calls to action and substitution toward more effective video/mobile formats. Across the 78 brands with detected display ad activity, quarterly site traffic impressions from web ads grew by an average of 50 percent, while site traffic from display ads increased by 20 percent.

The Smart Money: Sixty-eight percent of brands engage in competitive keyword bidding, with 69 percent of those brands incurring conquest on those branded search terms. Brands that aggressively deploy budget on category search terms receive higher ROI on paid search traffic than brands focusing on conquering against competitive branded terms.

Fear of Commitment: While not universally utilized, the brands that commit to email, social and mobile efforts see significant returns with website traffic, cross linking and performance. Afterall, 83 percent of total site traffic occurs on brands’ consumer mobile sites and 80 percent on their HCP mobile sites.

Additional details on the digital performance of pharmaceuticals brands in the U.S. will be presented in an upcoming webinar on April 17, 2019 at 1:00PM Eastern Time. The full list of rankings is available to Gartner for Marketers clients in the report Gartner L2 Digital IQ Index: Pharmaceutical Rx U.S. 2019.


Companies were classified as either “Genius,” their digital competence is a point of competitive differentiation for these brands; “Gifted,” the brands are experimenting and innovating across site, mobile and social platforms; “Average,” digital presence is functional yet predictable; “Challenged,” limited or inconsistent adoption of mobile and social media platforms; and “Feeble,” investment does not match opportunity.

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