Can pharma become a digital industry?

QUICK SUMMARY: Projections that pharma is going to increase its digital ad spending are premature until we have a better understanding of how they did through the pandemic. It is a good time, however, to reviews all marketing tactics and review the spending against brand objectives and patient needs.

According to eMarketer “US healthcare and pharmaceutical advertisers will increase their digital ad spending by 20.1% to $3.62 billion in 2019”. In talking with people within the industry they feel that this is more of a wish than a reality.

We won’t know how the pandemic has effected pharma until the numbers come out but I think it’s safe to say that this health crisis has had an effect on the business. Yes, people still need their medications and yes, new rugs still need to be launched but the marketing environment has changed dramatically.

Digitally pharma has always lagged behind other industries because the FDA has failed to understand how patients are making healthcare decisions. For example, fair balance shouldn’t be required in advertising because virtually no-one is going to make a treatment choice based on an ad alone.

Some seem to think that throwing more money into digital ads is the answer. They would be wrong. For starters, most marketers have no idea how deeply they’re being screwed by online ad fraud. They don’t even know where to look and agencies are providing answers. Hell most DTC marketers can’t even tell me how many pages people view when they click on ads or how long they stay on site.

While research has shown that TV ads don’t drive people into their doctors asking for an Rx they are still great at driving awareness. The disconnect, and weakness for pharma, comes in the information patients use to make treatment decisions. That information is usually obtained online and pharma product websites play a small part.

What has to happen is that pharma needs to transform into a digital organization. Companies must adapt to the digital revolution. because of changes in customer behavior. People use their phones to shop. They expect fast service and seamless transactions between the physical and electronic worlds.

Digital organizations are customer-centric. They focus on customer experience and innovate with their customers as partners.

Digital organizations are agile and fluid: They get rid of hierarchies and silos.

All companies will be competing for the same scarce digital talent, so digital organizations must have an active plan for finding and retaining skilled workers. They need people to transform antiquated processes and convince managers that digital is not the future; it’s the present.