Can Pharma Really Use Digital Marketing to Engage with Customers?
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:
- Stop thinking of digital marketing – particularly social media – only to sell products.
- Remember that there are three ways to use social media.
- Start using a system to manage approvals and store content for reuse.
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.
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.
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.
-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.