Prescription vs OTC Medicine: Marketing Strategies for HCPs

Both prescription and over the counter (OTC) medicines are used to treat a wide range of health conditions, many of which overlap. You may have a range of painkillers that includes both prescription and OTC strengths, for example.

But if you’re slapping on the same marketing strategy for both, you are making a huge mistake. Tailoring your marketing will help your strategy remain relevant and efficient. Otherwise you’re just flushing away your marketing budget!

In this article, we’ll help you develop the building blocks for marketing strategies for both prescription and OTC products, identifying the similarities and differences along the way.

Digital vs Traditional Channels

Before we delve into creating a marketing strategy for OTC and prescription medications, one of the key differences between the two is the different channels they are suited to.

  • Digital Channels: social media, search advertising, email marketing, etc.
  • Traditional Channels: in-person visits, conferences, events, medical journals etc.

For prescription drugs, traditional channels are often more effective.

They are typically marketed to a smaller group of HCPs with prescribing authority. Strict legal and regulatory requirements can limit the channels through which they can be promoted too.

In contrast, digital channels are often more effective for promoting OTC products.

They provide the opportunity to reach a wider target audience of HCPs. Over the counter products are also subject to less stringent legal and regulatory requirements, allowing for more extensive use of digital marketing. Just keep in mind that OTC regulation on promotions varies from country to country.

Both prescription and OTC drugs benefit from a combination of digital and traditional marketing channels to effectively reach HCPs. The choice of channels will depend on various factors, including the product’s target audience, your marketing budget, and local legal and regulatory requirements.

How to Create Different Strategies for Prescription and OTC

While digital marketing strategies for both OTC and prescription medicines targeted at HCPs share some similarities, they also have some key differences. These primarily reflect the different regulatory environments, target audience, and level of evidence needed to support promotional claims.

Use this table to build the foundation of your strategy:

Prescription (Rx)Over the Counter
Legal and Regulatory RequirementsStrict – Rigorous legal and regulatory requirements ensure all claims are accurate and supported by scientific evidence.Varied – Typically less stringent, but there can be vast differences in regulation from country to country. Tailor your marketing to suit.
TargetingNarrow – Typically targeted to a specific group of HCPs who have prescribing authority in a specific niche or focus area.Broad – Target a large range of HCPs in a niche who recommend the product to patients, physicians, pharmacists and nurse educators.
Channel MixNarrow and traditional – Offers the chance to market directly to HCPs in a detail-oriented manner.Broad – As well as marketing through traditional channels, OTC plays well on digital channels.
TimingLong – Regulatory approval processes and the level of detail leads to a longer lead time.Short – Campaign lifecycles are shorter, as fewer details are more easily digested and approved.
Promotions (eg. discounts)None – Prescription meds are typically not promoted.Possible – Depending on the regulatory jurisdiction and OTC drug.
Return and AnalyticsComplex – prescribing behavior is a qualitative metric.Possible – Analysis to distinguish HCP sales/influence and patient initiative.

Pharma Marketing for Prescription Medicine

person handing a prescription for a medicine to a pharmacist

With your focus on fewer channels and a niche group of HCPs, as explained above, here is how you can begin to shape the content for your prescription medicine marketing strategy:

Level of Detail: HCPs must be fully aware of the complex mechanisms, including how the medicine works, dosing, and side effects, to prescribe safely and effectively.

Complexity of Information: Provide a high level of detail, including studies, drug interactions, and contraindications, plus warnings and precautions for use.

Educational Level: Provide extensive educational resources, e.g. online training modules, continuing medical education (CME) courses, and peer-reviewed articles.

Compliance: Adhere to the strict legal and regulatory requirements to ensure that all claims about the product are accurate and supported by the scientific evidence.

Prescription meds are prescribed by HCPs – most consumers rely on their doctor to prescribe the most appropriate drug, rather than doing the research themselves. Although HCPs do like to wooed with a good marketing campaign, it doesn’t need to have the emotional impact that you might create for an OTC medicine (see below).

To impress the HCP, having detailed educational resources available is integral. Look at Pradaxa as an example; this resource is aimed at HCPs to explain how their brand is better than warfarin for stroke risk reduction.

Pharma Marketing for OTC Medicine

woman picking otc medicine

For medicine that’s sold over the counter, you have a much broader range of options available to you. But even with less stringent compliance requirements and more channels to choose from, your approach should still be highly targeted for the HCPs and consumers you have in mind:

Level of Detail: Although a lower detail and specificity are required, it is especially important to focus on the patient’s benefits, usage instructions, and potential side effects.

Complexity of Information: Keep it simple and to the point, so it can communicate clearly with HCPs and the general public. Use, dosage, side effects and precautions.

Educational Level: Educate about the consumer’s needs. Provide general resources for self-care tips, preventive treatment importance, and self-medication precautions.

Compliance: While there are less stringent requirements, you must still comply with regulations for advertising and consumer protection. All claims must be accurate!

With over-the-counter medications, you have the opportunity to move your marketing efforts in a direction that targets emotional connections and consumer buying power. Targeting HCPs might get your product on the shelves, but it’s the consumer who Googles ‘sore throat medicine’ that decides to buy your brand of lozenge over any other.

Tylenol in the US and Nurofen in the UK are two brilliant examples of OTC medicines that have dominated the market through becoming household names for consumers, not just HCPs. Nurofen is also a good example of how you may land in hot water by pushing the limits of compliance.

5 Lessons for HCP Promotion of OTC and Prescription Medicines

Regardless of your next pharma marketing campaign, whether it’s for an OTC or prescription product, these five lessons are universally applicable.

1. Provide Comprehensive Product Information

To gain the confidence of HCPs, it is important to provide detailed information on the medicine including its benefits, risks, and potential side effects. This will help HCPs make informed decisions when prescribing or recommending products to their patients.

2. Leverage Scientific Data

Providing HCPs with scientific data, including clinical trial results and real-world evidence, can help them understand your medicine’s efficacy and safety profile.

3. Offer Training and Education to HCPs

HCPs need regular training and education to stay current with the latest developments and best practices. Online training programs, webinars, and other educational resources are valuable tools to help HCPs learn about the products they prescribe or recommend.

4. Build Relationships

Build strong relationships with HCPs to promote both drug types. Engaging with HCPs online and providing them with relevant content, such as news, research, and clinical data, will build credibility for the pharma company. In-person networking at conferences and events are also valuable for connecting with HCPs.

5. Focus on Patient Outcomes

Demonstrate how a medicine can improve patient outcomes to build credibility and trust with HCPs. Real-world examples, case studies, and patient testimonials are powerful tools that show how a medicine can positively impact patient health.

With a clearer understanding of how to market prescription and OTC medications, it could be time to start reaching out to HCPs… or DOLs. And if you aren’t sure what we are talking about, you should definitely read our article What Pharma Needs To Know About Digital Opinion Leaders next.

About the author

Photo of author

Peter Mazzi

With a background in both healthcare and marketing, Peter is a true jack-of-all-trades, able to diagnose a company's digital marketing needs and prescribe the perfect treatment plan. Data-driven marketer, Peter has extensive hands-on and strategic experience in the industry. Italian creativity meets German reliability!

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