How-to Guide: Clinical Trial Marketing
Patient recruitment is a crucial step in the startup phase of clinical trials, and poor recruitment performance can lead to costly delays or even discontinuation of a trial. Thus, it is important to put time and forethought into optimizing recruitment efforts. One method for improving recruitment is to adopt concepts of marketing as a way to increase awareness and reach a sufficient number of eligible participants. While clinical research and marketing may seem like disparate subjects at first glance, marketing offers valuable insights and approaches that can readily be applied to patient outreach and targeting and which can be highly beneficial for achieving recruitment goals on time and within budget.
In this article, we will begin by discussing common clinical trial recruitment challenges, and then describe some effective marketing strategies that can be applied in recruitment efforts in order to overcome these challenges.
Clinical trial recruitment challenges
To provide some context for understanding why marketing approaches may be beneficial in clinical trial recruitment, we first describe common challenges in clinical trial recruitment, explaining the problem of recruitment failures from multiple angles.
It was reported that nearly 11% of clinical trial sites fail to enroll a single patient. Some of the reasons why sponsors and trial sites often run into difficulties recruiting enough patients include:
- Restrictive eligibility criteria, which makes it less likely to find enough eligible participants in specific geographic areas
- Lack of up-to-date patient databases and lack of access to broader patient pools
- Relying too heavily on physician referrals
- Lack of eligible patients living within a reasonable distance of the research sites
- Patients becoming unresponsive through the screening and recruitment process (lack of follow-up)
- Outreach efforts not reaching or generating interest from the right participants (lack of or ineffective targeting)
- Overly complex study protocols, which may be hard to understand
- Inflexible and/or demanding protocols, which may turn off prospective participants due to inability or unwillingness to manage frequent or fixed study visits amidst their already busy schedules , , 
On the other side of the same issue, a significant percentage of people are not even aware of the possibility of participating in clinical research, and even those who may wish to enroll in a trial can have difficulty finding transparent and digestible information on their own. This multifaceted issue can be conceptualized as a sort of supply-demand mismatch, where sponsors may struggle to reach recruitment targets while eligible patients find it difficult to find trials that are a good fit for them and/or understand the information they do find. At Power, we’ve designed an intuitive and patient-friendly platform designed to address that very issue by making it easy for participants to find clinical trials with clear and transparent descriptions, while simultaneously helping sponsors increase the visibility and awareness of their trial and find high-intent, eligible participants.
By conceptualizing clinical research studies as services that need to be made visible to the right audience, it becomes evident that strategies used in business marketing may represent successful tools for clinical trial enrollment and outreach efforts. At the same time, making the trial more enticing by minimizing patient burden, for example by offering flexibility in study visits, adopting aspects of decentralized clinical trials such as remote visits or reporting, and simplifying study designs so that they are easier to understand and imply less complexity for participants, can also improve enrollment., Marketing campaigns for such “patient-centric” trials should be more effective at engaging participants as they demonstrate a recognition of patients’ needs.
Even when trials have patient outreach strategies in place, time and resources can easily be wasted on reaching the wrong audience via the wrong channels if prior research and planning are not dedicated to understanding the target demographic and designing well thought-out advertising campaigns.
For these reasons, it is becoming increasingly recognized that clinical trials can benefit from marketing approaches such as thoroughly researching the target demographic and launching advertising campaigns on the right channels and designed in such a way that the ads resonate with eligible participants and accelerate and streamline enrollment.
Highly effective clinical trial marketing in 3 stages
Now that you know the potential for a well-designed clinical trial marketing strategy to help with common recruitment challenges, we will discuss tips for optimizing a clinical trial marketing campaign, split into 3 consecutive stages: planning, design, and execution (including monitoring).
Step 1. Plan your clinical trial marketing strategy
Research and plan before initiating the clinical trial marketing campaign
To begin, dedicated research and thorough planning are both essential to ensure your resources are not wasted on ineffective outreach strategies. This involves researching your target demographic and understanding their needs and values in order to be able to create content that speaks to them.
Moreover, you need to be mindful of IRB/IEC and regulatory considerations. Every part of the ad campaign must be approved by an IRB before being published. Preparing multiple ad variations and different copy from the beginning is important so that you can have everything pre-approved and ready to go.
Consult with a patient advocacy group
Patient advocacy organizations (PAOs) provide education, advocacy, and support services to patients and caregivers with a given condition. They focus on helping patients that are affected by certain medical conditions through meetings, counseling, outreach programs, and published materials. Consulting with a POA may be an excellent way for you to better understand your trial participants’ needs, how they speak about their condition, where treatments may be lacking, and where they tend to go to get information. This can help you design clever content (and trials) that address actual patient needs, which acts as an effective stand-in for targeted advertising, which is now restricted on many online platforms.
Digital marketing is the new standard
According to the Datareportal January 2023 global overview, 4.76 billion people worldwide now use social media, and the average amount of time spent on social media daily is 2.5h. This unparalleled user base means that the variety of digital marketing channels, like search engines, email messaging, and social media platforms (Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, etc.) represent amazing potential for clinical trial marketing.
By familiarizing yourself with digital marketing tactics, you can enhance your outreach efforts by reaching the right candidates through the channels where they are most active. Check out our detailed explainers on recruitment advertising on social media (in general), Google, and Facebook.
Stay up-to-date with privacy regulations and clinical trial advertising restrictions
As mentioned above, the IRB approves all clinical trial marketing and advertising content to ensure it adheres to regulatory considerations. Similarly, social media platforms have their own restrictions and patient privacy regulations. For instance, Facebook banned targeted advertising based on users’ personal and sensitive information related to health conditions, and Google restricts clinical trial advertising to certain countries and certain targeting methods.,
Ensuring that all your content adheres to both applicable legal regulations and restrictions of the specific social media channels will save you from having to redesign and wait for re-approval due to an ad being rejected or disapproved.
Step 2. Design your clinical trial media content
Be transparent and clear
Providing marketing material that is as clear and detailed as possible can significantly improve recruitment by informing the participants about exactly what they are signing up for. This helps participants make educated decisions and prevents you from spending extra time filtering out ineligible applicants who weren’t able to understand the eligibility criteria from the marketing materials.
The content of your ads should be clear, concise, appropriate for (and sensitive to) the prospective audience, providing detailed information about the trial in the most transparent way possible. Ensure the content is free from exaggerated or forbidden claims about the safety or efficacy of the treatment, unnecessary flair, and vague details. Remember that all content needs to be approved, and violating either legal or platform-specific regulations could land you (or the trial) in trouble or even forbid you from further advertising. As targeting methods are becoming more restricted, the best way to target the right audience is by understanding them and conveying clear messages that speak to their needs in a clever way.
Diversify: Use multiple clinical trial media formats
The most-effective clinical trial marketing strategy will likely make use of multiple digital channels, such as search engines, social media platforms, email messaging, etc., since each platform offers specific strengths and fulfills different objectives, for both prior research and the actual campaign, for instance:
- Facebook may be useful for finding disease-specific community groups to learn more about your potential participants, and is one of the top social media advertising platforms
- Reddit could help you discover and understand niche topics that your target audience may be interested in, and can allow you to advertise to highly engaged participants in niche groups/communities (“subreddits”)
- Quora can offer insights into your target audience’s concerns and questions regarding clinical trials and their disease/condition
The types of digital content you might create for your campaign, depending on the specific channels you decide to use and what your audience seems most likely to resonate with could include:
- Infographics for sharing on social media, using on landing pages, or sending through email messaging campaigns
- Short descriptive texts that explain the essence of the trial, to overlay on images or use in search ads
- Social media posts, tailored to the specific platform
- Tweets (concise, 140-character texts for Twitter)
- Interactive ads, such as carousel ads, where interested users can click through a series of images to progressively obtain more information
Create a trial-specific landing page
It is important to consider what happens immediately after a potential participant is enticed by an engaging ad and clicks on it. After clicking through, prospective participants are brought to a landing page – either a dedicated website for the trial or a page/site specifically designed to provide more information and assist the interested viewer through to enrollment.
After spending time designing clever and engaging ads, it is important for these ads to click through to landing pages that are also attractive and engaging, with clear and evident calls to action (prompts for the user to fill out a sign-up form, move forward in the recruitment process, etc.). A great option is to create a website dedicated to recruitment for your unique clinical trial, and employ SEO tactics and use highly relevant keywords, so that besides acting as a landing page, prospects could land directly on the page from keyword searches in search engines.
Step 3. Execute your campaign
Keep engaging participants throughout the campaign
Once you have your media package of well-designed content in various formats approved and ready to go, remember that the advertising campaign is not static. As explained in further detail in our article dedicated to social media clinical trial recruitment, a central part of the marketing campaign is keeping the content fresh and relevant by monitoring performance metrics of specific ads and different platforms, incorporating patient feedback, and also having someone available to answer questions potential recruits may have. By having a variety of copy already designed and approved before launch, you can easily swap-out ads that are underperforming in order to progressively improve engagement and accrual – a unique strength and main feature of online marketing as compared to traditional methods.
Be responsive to patients and conscious of their experience
Patient experience is a vital factor in clinical research, and it starts with the outreach and recruitment process. The idea of patient centricity in clinical research is increasing in popularity, the goal of which is to help your participants feel valued, minimize their study-related burden, and maintain their engagement by keeping communication open and interactive. In regard to recruitment advertising, clinical trial marketing and advertising content should:
- Be clear and concise
- Be relevant, by either speaking to a real patient need or acknowledging the potential patient burden and openly aiming to minimize it
- Be respectful of and sensitive to their conditions/circumstances, using appropriate language and avoiding offensive or overly sensitive topics
- Clearly indicate how they can get answers to any concerns or questions regarding the trial
You can use multiple digital tools, like social media channels, emails, chat lines, phone lines, and FAQ lists to provide quick clarification of any potential doubts and keep lines of communication open with your participants to help them feel valued and optimize their experience. Losing a potential participant’s interest due to lack of interaction with the trial team is a common reason for recruitment failures.
Network and leverage the expertise of partners
Managing a patient-centric clinical trial marketing and recruitment campaign requires dedicated time and resources. There are innumerable digital advertising agencies and clinical trial recruitment and retention agencies/specialists around with extensive expertise and teams of professionals experienced in this area. It is always an option to outsource your clinical trial advertisement tasks to take advantage of the highly specific expertise of professionals. You may also consider partnering with various specialists/organizations, each tasked with specific aspects of the campaign, for example the design of copy for different platforms or monitoring responsibilities. Do your research on potential partners before formalizing any agreements, to make sure they have relevant experience in what you’re tasking them with and ensure that their services fit within your recruitment budget. Through such an approach to clinical trial marketing, you also build a network of professional partners which can help you expedite the start-up process for future trials.
Clinical trial marketing is a great approach to build awareness, reach your recruitment goals on-time, and kickstart a patient-centric experience where your participants feel valued and seen right from their first interaction with your trial. Consider all legal regulations and social media platform restrictions and develop content accordingly, further ensuring that it is relatable, clear, and detailed enough to provide all relevant information to the participant for them to make an informed decision. With all of the tools at your disposal, there are nearly endless variations of clinical trial marketing approaches, so have fun in the process of learning how to engage participants and finding what works for you.