Digital Pharma West – as the name implies – was all about digital media’s role in pharma. I was on one panel that specifically dealt with the question: “Is digital and multi-channel marketing now one and the same?” The definitive conclusion of the panelists: no. Digital is a toolset that underpins and supports all marketing efforts. Multi-channel marketing is about the right message, to the right person, at the right place at the right time. Digital appeals because it is cost-effective, allows “fail-fast” iterations, and is highly measurable.
Reason for being
Marketing’s role is in service to the customer – marketers must provide something of value. If not, what is the reason to exist? This value is not provided by simply producing a brand-name medication, co-pay discount cards, or a fancy website. It is about providing a holistic experience for the customer.
The value experience manifests itself through: disease-state education, treatment options, medicine interactions, side effects, adherence, and community support. These are traditional customer benefits easily achieved rapidly, cost-effectively, and measurably with digital strategies and tools.
"Digital is a toolset that underpins and supports all marketing efforts."
Do they “get it?”
Pharma organizations are “brand-silos” with individual brands adopting and executing individual strategies and tactics. Senior leadership commitment to digital often dictates how pervasively and rapidly digital is embraced by the team. Digital is not appropriate for all constituent audiences, as demographics will dictate how well digital is embraced by the consumer.
Organizations are being impacted by the “digital natives” – the population who grew up with computers, mobile devices, social media and high-bandwidth connections. As consumers, the natives expect information to be available when and where they want it. As employees, the natives don’t understand why IT cannot – or will not – allow them to use media as they do in their personal lives.
IT organizations need to build policy frameworks that adhere to regulations and privacy requirements, yet support cloud computing schemas and embrace new devices and mediums. This will likely involve personnel additions of younger employees, skilled in the newer technologies and who possess an understanding of the pharma industry.
While pharma has unique characteristics (regulatory, influencer and payer models), it should learn from other industries and leading brands how to best deliver the value experience. Toyota / Scion, Nike, Cisco Systems, and Starbucks are brand leaders delivering multi-channel customer experiences using digital tools. These customer experiences have become key assets of their brand equity.
Myopia exists within companies as well as the industry overall. Best practice sharing needs to occur across industries, geographic theaters, and brands. It will help eliminate duplicative spending, allows for faster iterative learning, and will transform the organization.
"Pharma organizations are “brand-silos” with individual brands adopting and executing individual strategies and tactics."
Top of the food chain?
Unless sales representatives are “outlawed,” the sales force – one component of a multi-channel strategy – will always be at the top of the budgetary food chain. However, digital tools should be used to augment and enhance this critical and expensive channel.
Because of budgetary pressures and physician access limitations, sales forces are shrinking in size and becoming multi-specialty representatives. They need greater clinical knowledge and have access to greater numbers of and more detailed information, and, they need to be able to provide this when and where requested. Representatives need to become “information concierges.”
Sales representatives already use “digital collateral” in detailing processes. This can be enhanced by shifting work hours and providing digital tools to allow representatives to meet with physicians and stakeholders where and when they want and how they want to consume information.
Digital is no longer a “nice to have” – it is the new “dial-tone” for effective marketing and sales organizations, it is a cost of entry.
Does mobile matter?
Mobility is a sea change of epic proportions. While nearly ubiquitous in the physician community, rapid adoption among consumers means patients are becoming equipped at blinding speed. Smartphones and tablet computing devices have shifted the “information balance” from a push environment to a pull environment. People –including prospective customers and patients –can now seek and consume information like never before.
Mobility will emerge within pharma companies on a brand-by-brand basis, with deployments occurring to match targeted customer demographics. Deployments will involve: developing branded and unbranded apps for devices, repurposing website content to render on mobile devices, tool kits for sales representatives, and will involve rich media such as e-detailing, mobile video and portable video conferencing.
"Smartphones and tablet computing devices have shifted the “information balance” from a push environment to a pull environment."
It is not a question of “if” pharma will mobilize, it is a question of “when” and “how.” Leap-frogging other digital strategies and entering the mobile realm can be accomplished by recruiting and employing the digital natives, especially those with experience in other industries.
Where’s the swagger?
The pharma industry has a long history of delivering for its customers. Life expectancy has consistently increased over the last century because of breakthrough medicines, quality of life has improved through lifestyle maintenance compounds, and life threatening illnesses can now be managed. Yet, the industry is timidly embracing digital.
Pharma companies need to operate with cultures of good intent, and be confident what they are doing is right and in the best interest of their customers. Waiting for guidance from the FDA about what is specifically allowed is not the most prudent course of action because the regulations will always lag technology.
The enthusiasm surrounding the success of the Apple and Google mobility platforms makes sure it is easy to get caught up in the “shiny new object” mentality and declare: “we’ve got to build an app.” It is important to remember that spreadsheets did not make better accountants, word processors did not make better writers. Good tools allow competence to be executed better and faster. Digital is a tool kit that allows great marketers to do their jobs better.
About the author:
Jeff Gaus is the CEO of Prolifiq Software, a provider of mobile applications that help pharmaceutical sales representatives find, consume, share and discuss information that supports and accelerates their sales processes. He is responsible for articulating and overseeing the execution of the company’s growth strategy.
Gaus is a veteran of the telecommunications industry having served as the VP of Marketing, eCommerce, with eFusion/ITXC, the world's leading VoIP services provider. Prior to eFusion/ITXC, Gaus was Executive Director of NEC Business Network Solutions responsible for the Healthcare, Education and Government sectors in North America. Gaus pioneered the use of computer telephony integration (CTI) in the healthcare industry and achieved double-digit market share growth.
The Digital Pharma West event was organised by ExL Pharma.
Will digital natives encourage pharma to embrace digital?