Why your pharma brand doesn’t need a digital strategy in 2012

Last year my New Year post was 5 things I’d like to hear from pharma marketers in 2011, and you may like to know I’ve heard 4 of the 5.  (I’ll leave you to guess the one I haven’t heard yet.)  This year, 5 things I really don’t want to hear in 2012 or ever again… What do you think?

1.  I’m not sure that digital is important to my customers

There are a number of problems with this.  First, referring to ‘digital’ as if it is one channel, which it isn’t.  Second, just about everyone in the developed world, and a great proportion in the less-developed world, use some sort of digital communication.  In many countries of the developed world internet penetration is now  around 80% of the population.  When you also consider that, worldwide, 34% of people are either under 14 or over 65, you realise that almost all of the student and working population is online, together with a good proportion of older and younger people. 

It might be social media, email, SMS messaging or a variety of other types of interaction, but digital is very important to most of us.   But as I said it is not one channel, therefore it is important to find out what digital interactions are relevant for each customer and when. 

2.  We have a dedicated digital team; our marketers/medical people/reps don’t need to know digital

Once again we are making the assumption that digital is somehow a channel when it is not – it is a capability that all communicators should have.  Reputations are made (and broken) in digital spaces – therefore your PR team must be savvy and your employees require guidance.  Medical education is increasingly provided and sought online – pharma medical teams must be active here.  The ‘self-made KOL’ is emerging through blogging, HCPs reach out to each other in online forums and networks – key partnerships can be developed in these places.  Brand visibility, services, information and interaction are expected from your customers – all members of your brand team and your sales reps must have digital tools in their kit. 

Training all communicators to embrace digital in all its forms must be a top priority for companies that are re-organising for the digital economy.  This and developing and embedding best practice is the role of your digital team, who should be very busy in 2012.

3.  I tried a website and it didn’t work

Whenever I hear a ‘I tried <interaction-type> and it didn’t work’ I want to shout ‘DON’T BLAME THE CHANNEL’!

It is like saying ‘I watched Big Brother and didn’t like it, so I’m never going to watch TV again’.

There are various forms of this, often from people who were ‘bitten’ in the early 2000s when there was a lot of mediocre execution.   Companies and agencies alike had not developed best practice in pharma digital and many mistakes were made.  Email was too often spam, websites became out-of-date brochureware, banners were irritating interruptions.  Tactics didn’t ‘work’ and brand leaders, perhaps already sceptical or perhaps having fought for the budget and been proved ‘wrong’, became disillusioned.

However, if you are taking a more strategic approach to your customer, intending to interact with them at the right moment with the right content in the right format to delight and engage them, at some point websites, email, banners may indeed be the right interaction.  You just need to execute well.

Also beware of blanket advice from cross-industry digital experts.  You sometimes hear for example that ‘ email is obsolete’ and this may be the case in some sectors, but it is often not so for physicians – studies show many still use and value email from colleagues and also email news from professional associations and pharmaceutical companies.  The important thing, once again, is to understand what your customer wants and will engage with.

4.  Prove to me the ROI of that digital tactic

It is self-evident that digital interactions are more scalable than face-to-face (engage 10,000 people digitally for a similar cost to engaging 1000, not so for a F2F meeting) and therefore the cost-per-interaction can be lower than some other types of interaction.   But measuring ROI per tactic?  Think about it – what is the ROI of a single rep visit?  Taking a doctor to an international congress?  Can you measure it?  No.  Why?  Because the ROI is delivered (a) in the long-term (may be a year or two down the line) and (b) is a result of the entire relationship with the doctor, not that one tactic.  A brilliant congress impact may be completely overturned by poor service subsequently by the rep or a bad website experience.

Digital interactions are so measurable I think we sometimes get carried away with our metrics and blind people with science.  Yes, we can measure clicks, readership, time spent, where they came from, where they went, and all this is important to understand how well we executed the tactic and the overall campaign’s success.

But real ROI comes from the overall customer experience or relationship.  For example, a physician may be invited to a webinar or online discussion by a rep, they may sign up online, receive a reminder email, attend the event and then receive another email inviting them to comment on the event and request next steps.  We must measure the success of each of these steps (e.g. uptake after the rep visit, registrants who actually attend and so forth) but the ‘ROI’ of one tactic alone is meaningless. 

What we can track is the ROI in terms of customer satisfaction and market share of those who took part in this overall campaign and those who did not.  We can also track the relative preference for our brand in terms of brand choice/brand equity studies over time, and evaluate what interactions those who prefer our brands have received.  In this way we can start building a picture of the right mix for different customers and how well we are executing.

But seeking out short-term ROI measures from individual tactics is meaningless.  We don’t demand this of other channels and should not expect it from the ‘digital’ ones.

5.  My brand needs a digital strategy

There is no such thing as a digital strategy for a brand.  In fairness, my team and I do run ‘brand digital strategy workshops’ but this is shorthand for taking a strategic approach to embedding digital into a multichannel brand plan.  And that is the way to think.  How can I put my customer truly at the centre of my planning and consider all the interactions that will be effective and how to combine them into a seamless and delightful customer experience and long-term relationship?

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer to this in pharma, there isn’t a piece of software you can plug variables in and out pops the ‘channel mix’.  You have to gather all the insight you can and take your best guess at the channel mix for your customer, execute with excellence and be ready to change the mix and iterate, iterate, iterate.   Over time you learn what works for your brand and your customers in the market in which you operate.  That’s where great measurement, analytics and CRM platforms come in – to help you ‘learn as you go’.  But your first multichannel plan will have to be your best, most educated guess, drawing on all the knowledge and experience you can access.

Brands, in summary, should have a multichannel customer engagement plan – starting with a ‘channel agnostic’ planning process that evaluates all channels – digital and traditional – equally.

Companies, on the other hand, can – and should – have a digital strategy – by which I mean a strategic approach to embedding digital expertise and processes across the organisation.  Only with the right competence in all channels can channel agnostic brand planning take place.

Congleton Town Councillor for the Women's Equality Party. CEO of Kanga Health Ltd - practical digital transformation of healthcare.

Posted in CRM, Marketing
3 comments on “Why your pharma brand doesn’t need a digital strategy in 2012
  1. Kay,
    Great post. I was recently discussing a new drug launch with a pharma brand manager who told me “We don’t need a brand, just a website because we got approved for first line treatment.” That is something I would be happy not to hear again in 2012 (or ever).

    I don’t think statements like these are because pharma doesn’t get online marketing. I thinks it runs deeper: Pharma never embraced strategic marketing and brand management in the first place. Lacking that foundation it is no wonder that so many can’t see value in the new tools that a read/write web offers.

    I hope 2012 brings an interest in proper marketing strategy and brand management as it applies to pharma brands.

    Happy New Year,
    Sean Duffy

  2. Kay Wesley says:

    How right you are! So often when digging a bit further we find that the root of the problem is the lack of a strategic approach to brand planning.

    Indeed even the concept of “target segment” is often defined as “the segment our reps visit”, without any true market segmentation at all, maybe missing out on a huge chunk of the market that might benefit from engagement in any number of channels.

    I remember not so long ago in a pharmaco we were setting brand comms objectives and it took some time to persuade the team that “Attend meeting X” or “deliver detail aid Y” were NOT brand objectives. 😀

    There are another dozen posts in this subject… but I’ll leave it there for now. Thanks for your support and Happy New Year!

  3. Kay,

    Until organizations fail to provide a proper digital training/educational programme for “traditional” marketers, a digital strategy will never be embedded into a marketing plan. It could still be integrated though but not embedded as the person or team developing the plan will not be the one developing the strategy.

    I also think that the word “strategy” is over and misused. You would be surprised by the type of information and level of details different people would expect to find in a strategy. I am not sure who’s right though.


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by Kay Wesley of Kanga Health Ltd

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