We have all seen the data: physicians are spending more time online and consumers are turning to the Internet for health information in greater numbers. At the same time sales people are spending less time with physicians, more and more magazines are going to online editions and consumers are time-shifting prime time programming to watch TV shows when THEIR schedule permits. So then is all of pharma marketing offline marketing on life support ?
I have read reports by some of our top consulting firms that say the the current pharmaceutical business model is not sustainable. While these reports are a wake-up call for senior executives simply shifting more money to digital marketing is not the answer. The digital landscape is littered with companies that spent a lot of money on digital marketing. I would argue that what’s missing, and essential, is for pharma marketers to spend as much time and effort developing their digital strategy as they do for off line marketing. Let me explain..
The best digital marketing programs that I have led started with a basic question “what do users want and how can we leverage their needs with brand objectives?”. Rather than have a lot of meetings to talk about this we went out and conducted a lot of research with physicians and consumers and tested everything from wire frames to navigation. We even, in some cases, tested the images used on a site.
In oncology we developed a patient handout for patients who were undergoing chemo which explained in simple terms what chemo and what they could do to maintain their quality of life with real-life patient testimonials.
Why were these initiatives so successful? Because I am at heart a marketing person who understands how and why people use the Internet for health information and I could communicate my excitement and possibilities to others within my brand team. No I didn’t have a pharma sales background and I was not willing to settle for the status quo. However as much as I fought for bigger budgets I also understood what digital marketing could and couldn’t do. It would have been naive, for example, to think that Cialis could have launched just online or that we could have eliminated reps in the complicated oncology environment.
While pharma moves more and more money online a master caution light should come on if they don’t have the people in house who understand the complex world of online marketing. Relying on your agency too much can quickly drain budgets and produce poor results. Pharma needs people who understand “e” coupled with a fundamental background in marketing principles.