New DTC toolkit   //   April 18, 2023

The rise of docfluencers: Why DTC brands are increasingly tapping medical professionals

The most sought-after influencers for many DTC brands might just be local doctors.

That’s the case for vitamin brand Perelel, which taps into its network of medical practitioners to recommend products to their patients and hand out samples. Its products, including prenatal and fertility vitamins, have made their place into 250 doctors’ offices across the United States including 30 in Los Angeles. Many of Perelel’s medical professional partners are OB-GYNs and fertility specialists, and a handful are acupuncturists and naturopathic doctors.

“We thought about where [our customers] go to be influenced in terms of what to put inside of her body,” Alexandra Taylor, co-founder and co-CEO of Perelel, told Modern Retail. “It was vital for us to put the brand in an environment where she already felt naturally safe.” 

Like Perelel, many DTC brands have begun to lean into medical professionals to endorse their products either by handing out samples or by using clinics as a sales channel. Medical professionals or “docfluencers” have inherent trust from people due to their expertise — a trait that traditional content creators might struggle to have when promoting a product. Coupled with their ability to talk about the scientific benefits a product might have, medical practitioners have become popular partners for brands that want people to try their products.

Based on reviews and comments from their social media channels, Taylor said many of their customers have discovered their products through their doctors’ offices. The company does not pay doctors to hand out samples nor do these doctors pay to receive boxes of samples. However, they are given samples for free, which replenished when they run out. Its partners include Santa Monica Women’s Health, CCRM and Reproductive Partners. 

“It can take someone seven exposures to a new brand ultimately transact and we see this as another touchpoint,” Taylor said. “If we can even have that subliminal connection to Perelel being in your doctor’s office, that’s valuable because if we re-target them on social or they happen to see us on an influencers channel, we already have that trusted connection.”

The rise of docfluencers

Using medical professionals as influencers is by no means new. In fact, brands have been featuring doctors in their promotions way back when infomercials were at their peak, said Ali Fazal, vp of marketing at Grin, an influencer marketing platform. Back then, he said, marketers did so to cut through the marketing noise and brands are employing the same tactic today to win shoppers.

More recently, in the skincare category, dermatologists doing sponsored content and other forms of paid advertisements have become the norm. Dermatologist Dr. Muneeb Shah, who has nearly 18 million TikTok followers, is even serving as teledermatology platform Cortina’s medical content advisor. His role involves advising Cortina on its social media content.

“The rationale is quite similar,” Fazal said. “Things like this happen whenever it’s a very crowded marketplace and there’s a lot of different brands fighting for public attention.”

For DTC medicalwear brand Figs, its health-care professional ambassador program was instrumental in bringing its customer acquisition costs down 61% between 2018 and 2020 to $39, per its S-1. Physicians can apply to the program by filling out a form that asks for their job position and social media handles. Some of Figs’ ambassadors have over 100,000 followers.

But these medical professionals also don’t need to have a large social media following to be effective. 

Boka previously told Modern Retail that many of its dental wholesalers are individual practices that are interested in its products. “The way [dentists] tell the story and the way they get their… patients excited about it is very authentic and that authenticity is just what leads to the virality of the brand,” Nisha Karna, director of brand for Boka, said. “They do, in many ways, the hard work for me.”

Clinics can be an effective sales channel as well. Boka’s fastest-growing sales channel comes from its dental wholesale business, rising 150% year-over-year. The brand — which sells tubes of toothpaste, dental floss and toothbrushes — has 1,345 dental customers that either buy and resell Boka’s full-sized products or offer samples to patients.

While the chiropractors, physical therapists and podiatrists that partnered with shoe insoles maker Fulton don’t directly sell the products to their patients, they do direct them to the brand’s website to make a purchase. Fulton said that in January 2023, it sold just as many pairs as it did from January to August 2022. The brand’s partners don’t get paid by Fulton’s or receive a cut from sales, but they do receive free samples for displays and promotion.

These doctors’ offices can also make people feel safe enough to try a new product, Grin’s Fazal said. “When you’re buying something online, it really is in many ways the wild west,” he said. “It might feel a little bit more dangerous or a little bit less credible to us. So I think having a health care professional involved does add that extra layer of credibility.”

Like any influencer deal, brands still need to look out for red flags from a potential physician partner, said Alessandro Bogliari, CEO and co-founder of marketing firm The Influencer Marketing Factory. Looking through past products that they’ve endorsed can be a helpful indicator, he explained.

“You don’t want to look for someone that is endorsing just everything because then the value of your product is gonna go down to zero,” Bogliari said. “You want to be sure that this person didn’t have any scandals in the past.” 

In Perelel’s case, while all medical professionals can apply, they do have a vetting process where certain credentials need to be met.

“From day one, we’ve had doctors part of our actual brand,” Taylor said. “That’s been vital because they’re the ones that know best what we should put inside of our bodies to support our health outcomes.”