An MD and client we have had for over 5 years now, recently took on a research study. M.Ad was asked to help with marketing research and data collection during the preliminary stages of the study prior to submitting their proposal to the Institutional Review Board. The research study centered on eating disorders and, in particular, anorexia nervosa – a delicate topic to approach at the best of times on most digital marketing channels but particularly where recruiting for a medical research study is concerned.

The client has now successfully recruited enough candidates to conduct their study and we’ve decided to summarize what we’ve learned thus far.

1. Above all – abide by the Parameters Set by the Institutional Review Board (IRB)

There are strict requirements that must be adhered to when putting together a proposal to submit to the IRB. Furthermore, once approved, nothing beyond what was approved in the original proposal can be used. The MD had to ahdere to this policy for all areas of the submission including the recruitment/marketing. This impacted our methods which would have relied heavily on rolling data-analysis and optimization. In this instance, we had to forecast what our a/b tests would look like, submit everything for approval and make no changes once approved. This meant, for example, that our ads couldn’t be edited, landing pages couldn’t be revised, social media editorial calendars couldn’t be updated. M.Ad was responsible for building a strategy to recruit candidates who would be a fit for the research study. Under the guidance of the MD, we developed a marketing persona to have a better understanding of what demographics to target and used the persona to analyse how large the pool of potential participants was that we could reach through targeted ads. We designed content, ads and landing pages that would communicate the purpose of the research study and attract qualified candidates throughout the duration of the recruiting period (about 4 months) so that we could a/b test using pre-approved ads and landing pages. 

2. You Don’t Necessarily Have to Spend a Lot on Recruiting

While designing our recruitment marketing materials we crossed paths with groups that run recruiting campaigns for large clinical trials. In general, their budgets for digital marketing as it applied to recruitment for research studyies/clinical trials were far larger than ours. We are big advocates of keeping cost-per-clicks low while also narrowing in on targeting so volume is managed. In this instance, we wanted to attract a healthy volume of qualified candidates, but we did not want to pay for clicks and impressions from people who would not be candidates. Somehow using these strategies we were able to reach enough candidates for 30% less than larger clinical trial recruiting firms.

3. Lean on Local Location Targeting Above National

We ran campaigns targeting all of the United States and other campaigns that targeted local audiences. The majority of successful candidates were found using local location targeting. This is another area we were able to cut-costs because targeting smaller geographic regions is far more affordable.

4. Expect to Have to ‘Sift’ Through Candidates

In this instance, a successful candidate had to meet a long list of specific requirements. For this reason, we had to bring through a lot more applications to the research study than candidates needed because quite a few wouldn’t qualify for one reason or another.

5. Test Different Marketing Channels

Because this was a long term client and we had years of data across all her marketing channels to work with we were able to anticipate which marketing channels would be most successful. True to our estimates, we found that our search-based marketing efforts produced the most qualified candidates, however, content generation on the website and distribution across social media definitely helped boost credibility of the group conducting the study and increased general awareness for eating disorders and anorexia. These indirect impacts will continue to benefit our client during this research study and beyond as they continue to work in the eating disorder treatment space.