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Laser Focus Your Strategy: Data-driven Marketing for Oncology and Rare Diseases

How to use audience data to take your targeting capabilities to the next level.

Key takeaways:

  • Data-driven marketing helps you reach niche audiences with highly tailored messaging.
  • This is especially important for healthcare companies serving rare disease and oncology communities.
  • Using data effectively isn’t just about demographics, it’s about engaging patients, carers, and careseekers with relevant, personalized information.
  • Data analysis can tell you more than who – it can provide details for pinpoint targeting accuracy.

Data. It’s the springboard for all modern marketing. It’s pored over and analyzed to find the perfect target audience for a product or service. When data is used correctly, it breaks through the digital noise to deliver the right message to the right person at the right time in their journey. 

For pharma, data provides high-quality insights for a high-level strategy and tailored messaging, going beyond geography and focus groups to provide a deep look into the emotional motivators that trigger engagement. Data-driven marketing informs more than targeting to illuminate effective go-to-market strategies. Data enables precise measurement and optimization by providing an understanding of your audiences’ behaviors, preferences, and influences.

How and to whom your company launches its product, service, or device is crucial for ongoing success. This means data-driven marketing for oncology and rare diseases is especially important – there’s no boilerplate and few analogs for guidance. But help is at hand. In this article, we’ll explore target audiences, data sources, analysis techniques, and the methods and benefits of personalization to help you leverage the power of data-driven marketing.

Your target audience

Fewer than 200,000 people in the United States are affected by one of the more than 6,800 rare diseases at any given time. Cancer is much more prevalent, with the expectation that about 39.5% of people in the U.S. will be diagnosed with cancer within their lifetime. 

These two patient populations share a common trait: a sense of isolation as they struggle with diagnosis and treatment. One of the contributing factors to this lack of representation is being hard to find. While HCP data can be used to locate such care-seekers, even if a healthcare company engages key HCPs there will still be patients who will be excluded. For example, a patient located in the hinterland of Alaska might not have access to an HCP within a 500-mile radius, so mechanisms need to be in place to ensure such care-seekers are getting the education and content they need to find appropriate health care.

Going beyond statistics

Cold statistics don’t tell the whole story. Patient and provider decisions aren’t made in a vacuum. When using data-driven marketing for oncology and rare diseases, you’ll also want to evaluate behavioral patterns and decision-making processes – those emotional motivators.

For patients with rare diseases and some cancers, treatment options are limited or don’t exist. Healthcare providers make treatment decisions based on consultations with disease-specific experts, clinical guidelines, and published research. The issue here, of course, is a lack of expertise.

Because of the low prevalence and need for more specialized skills, patients who normally allow their provider to dominate the decision-making process must depend on their own research. This combination provides an opportunity to leverage data, as long as that data is appropriately sourced and analyzed.

Assembling and analyzing data

The objective is to gather every piece of information that can help you identify patients experiencing symptoms of cancer or a rare disease – including those who have yet to be diagnosed. One source of data is de-identified patient information.

Rare diseases won’t have insurance claim codes, but their medical history will reveal symptoms. This opens the possibility to search for de-identified patients’ codes associated with a particular disease. 

Once you have performed this analysis, your marketing can focus on healthcare providers who likely have a patient with a rare disease or cancer. And as you gather more data, you can refine your search for better, more accurate targeting. 

Aside from de-identified patient data, there are sources for data from:

  • Clinical trials
  • Direct patient testimonials
  • Sales data on pipeline drugs
  • Disease analysis and trends
  • Incidence forecasts

Data is also available from medical journals, the FDA database, and other channels – all of which can be analyzed to inform your marketing strategies.

Analytical concepts – including text mining, natural language processing, artificial intelligence, statistics, and predictive analytics – can effectively manage, process, and analyze data from every possible source. You can use big data analytics to recognize inherent patterns, visualize outcomes, carry out correlations between entities, bring out the sentiment in text, and much more.

With analytics, you can answer marketing’s most difficult questions:

  • Who you want to reach – target patients by specific attributes
  • What your audience wants and responds to
  • Where your target audience is
  • When your target patient audiences are most accessible.

Now that you know who you are marketing to and when, it’s time to personalize your data-driven campaign to tap into the emotional motivators and drive engagement. 

How to personalize your marketing campaigns

Cutting through the ever-present marketing noise can be a real challenge, which is why personalization is essential if you want to engage the full attention of a patient.

Earlier, you read that oncology and rare disease patients feel isolated. Personalizing your marketing can make them feel seen, heard, and cared about. And by using data analytics and machine learning algorithms, you can identify trends and patterns that help refine and further personalize your messaging. 

One important consideration to make, however, is where in the care journey your careseekers are. Many oncological and rare disease states, by nature, lack educational materials. This can therefore highlight the necessity – and pertinence – for an unbranded disease-state awareness campaign to help build the knowledge of patients and caregivers, within a particular medical area. Such a campaign should precede any branded campaigns. This focus on building awareness before positioning your brand in-market will mean all stakeholders feel prepared while deriving both value and a sense of trust from you, and thus likely will resonate better with your ensuing branded messaging.

Creating successful personalized marketing

The first step to creating great personalized marketing relies on strong data analysis, including behaviors and preferences. To be effective, personalizing your data-driven marketing involves meticulous data inspection, hyper-targeted messaging, and ongoing monitoring and optimization. This means using your data analysis to develop care-seeker personas.


  • Segment patients into groups based on behaviors and interests to create an experience that will resonate
  • Develop content that speaks to each segment
  • Use the right messaging and communication channels – including email, social media, and targeted advertising – and combine them with out-of-home (OOH) and sales
  • Monitor your marketing campaigns and optimize your communications based on patient engagement metrics.

Whether you recently launched a new product or brand, are approaching launch, or want to grow your product line, sourcing, analyzing, and optimizing data is a critical component of data-driven marketing for oncology and rare diseases. 

Data analysis during product development is a mainstay of the healthcare industry, but marketing that product – or running disease education campaigns pre-launch – are quite different skill sets. And that’s where Underscore Marketing comes in, as partners in your ongoing success. 

Our research skills and audience insights ensure that your message reaches the right people at the right time, and we have the people and the industry-leading tech to achieve your strategic imperatives. Reach out today, and let’s get started. Request an expert consultation, give us a call at 646-442-4481, or send us an email at

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