Pharma still not spending enough on digital

Image-Disease-Health-Keys-ID-10094991At first the stat looks impressive; pharma is among the leaders in percentage increases in digital spending but when you look at how much they are spending on interactive they are near the bottom of the list.  While most CPG marketers have been experimenting with social media and spending more money on digital most pharma companies are still stuck in the dark ages and spend marketing dollars on marketing that is ignored by consumers.

I keep hearing the question, “why is pharma ignoring social media ?”.  There is more than one reason.  First the FDA has decided to act like big government and still does not acknowledge how consumers are using the internet for health.  They have not issues and guidelines but even if they did pharma marketers are ill prepared to implement social media because it would take most of them too long to develop a strategy.  Then there are the resource issues.  Pharma is getting squeezed with key drugs off patent and the government wanting deeper discounts on top drugs.

Smart companies, like are investing big bucks in new technology, much to the displeasure of Wall Street, because they know it will pay huge dividends in the future.  When it comes to pharma most will ignore suggestions from agencies to spend more and as a result their digital marketing will suffer.


How can eMarketing and agency people convey the importance of digital marketing to senior executives ?  Data !  You need to provide a wide range of data as to how many people are online, what they are doing online and how they are using online health information to make treatment decisions.  This means working with everyone from new marketers to legal and regulatory people so the light bulbs turn on.

The other challenge is to convince DTC marketers that digital marketing is not necessarily cheaper than other marketing channels.  In fact it can be more expensive to do it right.  Finally it’s time for agencies to get up in front of audiences and tell the truth about digital marketing.  They have to stop the belief that digital marketing is just buying some key words on Google, launching a website and running online ads once in a while.  It is developing a content plan to keep people coming back to the site, listening on social media so you can develop content people actually want to read and continually evaluating key words to delete the ones that don’t provide ROI and leverage the ones that do leading to separate landing pages.


There are some who understand the challenge and are experimenting and learning.  They are going to have a significant advantage in an age of consumers of healthcare while others are playing catch up.

6 thoughts on “Pharma still not spending enough on digital

  1. Antonio

    Very interesting article.
    I have my personal opinion on this topic.
    Firstly the pharma market is basically different if compared to others.
    Selling drugs is not like selling books, watches, dvds or other items you can find on Amazon or proactively promote on facebook.
    In many important countries the Companies are not allowed to directly stay in touch with patietnts and many issues may rise during the promotion of a drug, pharmacovigilance issues just as an example.
    As a consequence the “process” is much more complicated for pharma marketeers because of a lot of regulatory and HCC issues.
    There’s a second important point I would highlight, when I was a salesperson in the pharma field (more than ten years) I would have been very happy to have digital tools like a mailing campaing or a dedicated social media for my customers.
    Unfortunately I guess I am an exception, most of the Sales Executive, even perceiving the huge potential of the digital world, are currently seeing it like a threat, “is someone trying to replace sales dept with this digital stuff??”.

  2. Gianluca

    I fully agree with you Antonio regarding the fact that Pharma market is something different from other markets. Nevertheless there are a lot of opportunities that Pharma marketeers are not able to catch. I’m talking about the enormous need of reliable information about diseases that only Pharma Co. could provide, if they don’t talk about their drugs, with a positive return on Company’s brand equity and awareness. Social media listening is a fabulous opportunity for marketing but it’s not used enough because of a lack of knowledge by Pharma marketeers.
    Moreover “digital” could be leveraged not only for marketing but also to revamp and optimise a lot of old fashion processes that still exist within Pharma Co. and doesn’t allow to speed up the business, e.g. realtime processes.
    We need to make culture and encourage cross contamination with other markets, also concerning employees.

  3. Jon Toney

    Let’s face it, marketing in the digital pharma landscape is challenging. But many times it’s not the obvious regulatory issues or lack of clear guidance from the FDA that are at fault. It’s lack of vision by pharma marketers to take advantage of opportunities that this arena inherently provides only to regurgitate often stale and uninspiring content that was created for an offline audience that may have little to no realevence in a digital world. Why? Many times it’s simply the path of least resistance. Why go through the hassle and risk of coming up with something truly engaging when that other content has already been passed through legal review? I’m sure any number of you can provided similar examples. The fact is, it won’t matter all that much how much pharma spends on digital if they can’t figure out how to use it to begin with.

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