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Can Pharma Really Use Digital Marketing to Engage with Customers?

We know that everyone is using the internet these days, with more than 50% of the global population accessing it with mobile devices. Health care providers (HCPs) are part of this trend, and it is estimated that HCPs now spend more time on home computers than work computers. This means the audience is available for much more than eight hours a day.
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An observation, from listening to a number of pharma company presentations at the recent Digital Pharma Advances conference, is that the use of digital marketing is sporadic across the industry. Some companies, in some countries, use digital marketing to one degree or another, but few seem to truly integrate it fully, especially if there is the slightest possibility of an HCP or patient responding to a pharma message in a negative way.

The problem is that pharma is scared. The industry is only becoming comfortable with e-details within the last few years, but this is just an evolution from the printed detail aid and set of PowerPoint slides.

However, when we think of real digital content and platforms such as websites, apps and social media channels – where real communication could be had (and the recipients’ responses can be measured), pharma is still petrified! What if it goes wrong? Will I be fired? Will the world as we know it end?


I want to share three thoughts:

  1. Stop thinking of digital marketing – particularly social media – only to sell products.
  2. HCPs don’t go to the internet to buy stuff. They go online to find help, advice and support so that they can diagnose, treat, and serve their patients better. Only about 10% of HCPs go to pharma sites for information and even then, only 3% find the information credible, according to various research. That’s because since pharma stopped doing fun things with HCPs (like playing golf and enjoying lunch), they see very little direct value in the way that the industry peddles its wares. If pharma companies were to offer real value in the form of help, service, and support, then they could start to rebuild trust and encourage long-term loyalty to their companies and products.

    Pharma could then use digital channels to start HCPs on the journey of Awareness-Interest- Desire-Action by helping them understand things they really need to know and not just telling them to buy a product because it is better than another.


  3. Remember that there are three ways to use social media.
  4. Social media can be used to listen, broadcast and have a conversation. We all need to listen more! If the pharma industry doesn’t take the time to listen, how will it know what its customers think? Over the years, the industry got used to telling the story (broadcasting), whether the customer was listening or not. The problem is that unless you have established that your customer is already there (on your chosen social platforms), broadcasting isn’t enough for pharma.

    Having a conversation is thought to be really scary because whilst pharma can control the outward broadcast, it’s almost impossible to completely control the response. However, it shouldn’t be too difficult to ensure that responses are generally positive and damage is at worst, limited. This relies on giving information and content that is really useful to the customer, not just a sales pitch.


  5. Start using a system to manage approvals and store content for reuse.
  6. Each pharma company needs to have a process and system to approve marketing messaging and to hold all of its approved global digital content for release through the appropriate digital channels. The process and system are really easy, but we also need to remember that getting medical approval for digital content that is less overtly promotional, and therefore much more valuable to customers, is typically much easier to achieve. The risks are potentially much lower, which should mean that pharma can get involved in digital marketing after all.


Trends that make Digital Marketing Imperative for Pharma Companies

Today’s generation turns to internet and social media for almost everything in their lives, health topics would be no surprise. However, there are certain trends which are acting as driving force to make Digital Marketing for Pharma companies a must-have.

Let’s look at such key trends:

  • Patients are becoming more aware, more engaged and have more expectations

Historically, the patients have had a much passive role when it comes to their own health treatments. They would simply go and meet the doctor and rely on the medicines prescribed by her and start the treatment. This is because they have very little to no information about the treatment options, drugs on the market and the experience of other patients.

With digitization, before meeting a doctor, the patient researches everything about the disease – its symptoms, diagnosis, possible cures etc and has already interacted with other patients. Patients are also more and more aware of their rights and have high expectations from the service providers and the product companies alike.

  • More information is available about product performance and even the process

Traditionally, pharma companies controlled all the information regarding their products – and they would also control release of this information. They usually used to release this information on need basis (e.g. required by regulators).

The digitization has weakened the control that pharma companies had on information. There is abundance of information available online – people search online for solutions to all of their daily problems. Health problems are no exceptions. Patients share their experiences with drugs, doctors and companies online, which are available for other patients to see. Therefore, in this digital age, patients are increasingly less dependant on their doctors for advices. Instead they rely on plethora of information available online, on mobile apps and they use monitoring devices (e.g. fitbit) and monitoring apps too.

“Two-thirds of people believe they could be making more decisions about personal health and wellness on their own.”

– A survey conducted by Ipsos in collaboration with the National Council on Patient Information and Education and Pfizer, 2015, multivu.com.

This number would only have gone up since 2015. Patients are increasingly turning to internet and social media not for supplemental information to add to what they got from doctors and pharma companies but as first source of information.

  • Process efficiency is improving exponentially

Process efficiency is going up across industries with data analytics and automation of complex decisions, in turn improving agility, responsiveness, accuracy and quality of business processes. Pharma industry is no exception, they would also need to apply next-generation technologies to stay in the game.

  • Tailored personalized care

With increased expectations from the whole eco-system, users not only want but rightfully expect personalized care. They are able to get personalized solutions – be it grocery shopping, electronics shopping, spa – salons, banking services, online trading services, telecom services, airline companies and a lot more.

Users expect the same from pharma companies as well. “Patient First” has become the war cry for pharma and healthcare companies, in line with Customer First for other traditional sectors.

Pharma companies can provide personalized care through the right usage of digital services, sensors, tech-enabled devices and through processing the data collected by these. This makes a really strong case for digital marketing in pharma industry.

  • Multi-channel engagement between patients and doctors

The patients are already starting to use online portals to access their medical records and to interact with their doctors. Patients are starting to use apps to fill forms online and engage with other patients in the online communities.

All of this opens up a whole new set of mediums for pharma and healthcare companies to interact with patients and other users. Using these mediums, the pharma and healthcare companies, through their sales representatives, patient-services teams and other teams, can monitor and influence patients, doctors and other healthcare professionals online through apps, social media, mobile phone messages/notifications and even in person.

Going forward, 24/7 anytime anywhere virtual healthcare is going to become a norm. Leading indicators of such norms can be seen by the developments in the early adopters of technologies.

The US Department of Defense is testing robots to engage and screen soldiers for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) –

“The military is building brain chips to treat PTSD,” Defense One, May 28, 2014, defenseone.com.

United kingdom has ambitious plans to halve the number of outpatient appointments with use of skype consultations. Follow-up advice and prescription would be sent by email.

We believe that these futuristic steps may face some teething problems, but these are definitely the way of times to come.

  • Don’t just provide drugs, provide full service and better sales practices

A pharma or a healthcare company, like any other profit making business, would want their customers to come back to them whenever they need these services. The companies have to go the extra mile and provide full service support – before (decision making process), during and after sale of product/ service. The idea is to engage the customer during the full process and keep her engaged afterwards, like a personalized healthcare solution provider. Digital marketing is poised to play key role in this arena for the pharma and healthcare sector.

  • Timely and accurate feedback for R&D

Use of digital technologies provides real-time feedback from the whole value-chain including the end-consumer to pharma and healthcare companies. It cannot be stressed enough, how important is that to their research & development centers. In effect, what I am saying is, digital marketing is going to help pharma companies in their R&D, and in turn will lead to better products and solutions for all of us. Also, it is likely to make the R&D expenditure for the pharma companies much more efficient.

And the seamless information flow will help the supply chain management better as well (remember the beer game?). The pharma companies can better predict demand and supply, security of their drugs and vendor/partner performance.

  • Better management of Risk and Compliance functions: Monitor risks and better allocation of resources to manage the same in real-time

The real time feedback from the whole supply chain and end-users, provides the pharma and healthcare companies the capabilities to monitor risks in real time. This in turn enables them to respond in real time by optimizing resource allocation to different activities.

  • Tech-enabled Competitors are Marching in

There was a time when information and insights into clinical pathways and patient’s histories were available only in the traditional healthcare establishment – in the paper records of healthcare providers. These used to remain in the clutches of pharma companies.

Today, the big technology giants such as IBM, Apple and many new startups are making in-roads into the healthcare segment. These new players engage with the patient through digital mediums – apps, fitness and health devices, online forums, video channels, live sessions etc.

They continuously collect data from their users, such as health records, drug purchases, health insurance premiums and claims etc. Then they use advanced data analytics to deliver personalized and precise medical assistance.

Pharma companies will have to tackle the competition arising from these new players. They will either have to create these capabilities themselves or collaborate with some of the new players, or think out-of-box to maintain the leadership position.

Thus, both the customers and the healthcare value chain partners as a whole are moving towards digital – finding solutions/ options online, engaging with other patients/ doctors online. The traditional medical seminars, conferences, magazines and meet-up are evolving too with changing times.

Digital marketing is going to provide the edge required to stay ahead in the race, for pharma and healthcare companies.





Digital Marketing Trends in Pharma Industry

  • Explainer Videos

Videos are everywhere and in every form. There is no other content form that is being consumed by people like they’re lapping up videos of all kinds. Companies are making videos for behind-the-scenes, making-of videos, live from the grounds, funny, satirical, real-life situations and of course every company with a product or service to offer is going for an explainer video.

If you were a video, this would be the best time to be alive.

A pharma brand could create tons of video content for introducing their products, tutorials of safe usage of products, dos and don’t videos, pros and cons of using a particular medicine video, user review videos, real-life case study videos and what not!

If there is one industry that would really benefit from the video fever, it would no doubt be Pharma.

  • Influencer Marketing on Various Platforms

Digital Marketing has given birth to Influencer Marketing and it has become one of the leading tools for a digital marketer now. Influencer Marketing is specially useful for a content-backed niche like Pharma industry. Authentic and verified information coming from reliable influencer pool spread across niche networks like Linkedin, Quora, various healthcare forums and engagement communities, can go a long way into building a Pharma brand using Digital Marketing.

  • Educational Content

Healthcare industry players like a pharma company can use various Digital Marketing platforms for sharing educational content to help their potential and existing clientele, like explaining symptoms, causes, diagnosis, cure etc. for relevant diseases. The same educational content can then be repurposed on many formats to be distributed across Quora, Blogs, Facebook etc.

  • Online Consulting Sessions

Direct interaction with users is very useful for healthcare industry. Digital disruptions like Reddit and, latest to join the bandwagon, Facebook Live have made this seemingly daunting task like a cake walk. Plan, promote and organize Facebook Live sessions with your audience around the topics that matter to them. Answer their queries live and make brand advocates out of your regular users.

You don’t need to worry about big ticket media plans and events to reach out to your audience anymore. Go ahead and run as many Online Consulting Sessions as you want and build a name for your brand.

  • Social Media Marketing

The age of Social Media Marketing is here, and it’s here to stay. There is no denying the fact that no matter what industry you belong to, you can’t afford not to have a solid presence on relevant Social Media platforms.

Social Media platforms can be very useful for Digital Marketers in Pharma industry. The industry, by design, is full of useful content and information that can be shared with the audience. You can share useful information in various formats like educational videos, infographics, Facebook Live videos etc., to directly interact with and to answer user queries, share links of useful blogs and articles and generate leads by sharing a useful eBook etc.

There are immense opportunities for a digital marketer in Pharma industry to leave a lasting impact on your audience using Social Media Marketing. It’s time to put on your Social Media hats on and weave some marketing magic!

Digital Marketing is continuously evolving, so you have to stay updated too. Every few years, you will find following relevant –

Q – What is new in Digital Marketing ?

A – Everything !

Learn Digital Marketing Courses Specialised for Pharma Sector

By now, I believe, that you have a fair idea why Digital Marketing is important for pharma sector. Some pharma companies have not yet fully embraced the digital revolution and changing times, while others have. Well, you should understand that it doesn’t matter to the patients out there, the patients are increasingly expecting, and rightly so, and demanding the pharma and healthcare industry to engage themselves and provide end-to-end services.

The pharma companies that are aligned to changing times, and are using digital mediums, are also the ones reaping the benefits. Big prizes are waiting for those who can cut through all the digital noise and come-up with sustained competitive advantage using digital mediums. The others will also align soon or go out of business.

There are different ways to learn digital marketing. You can teach yourself using online material and tutorials, or you can learn digital marketing from a reputed training institute. These training institutes have highly experienced professionals and provide you focused and personalized training with lot of live assignments, and also provide you guidance for your placements. There are digital marketing courses specialized specifically for pharma sector.

So, go ahead, learn Digital Marketing and shine on!

Remember…

-Pharma must be in the conversation so to know how to develop better drugs.

-Digital marketing offers many ways to communicate with customers (HCPs and patients).

-Pharma must offer great content that interests customers and helps them do their jobs better. This type of content is easier to approve, less risky and leads to better long-term customer loyalty.




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Can Pharma Really Use Digital Marketing to Engage with Customers?

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