According to an Accenture Report “reducing costs, mastering multichannel marketing and improving digital effectiveness are the top strategic priorities for pharmaceutical sales and marketing executives.” To do this among their top five business strategies are the increased use of analytics and digital and multichannel marketing. The shift is already underway as Accenture states that over the last two years, nearly one in four direct sales force interactions have migrated to digital interactions with doctors, providers, payers and patients. But are there more risks in digital marketing ?
Fleishman-Hillard thinks that there isn’t an increased risk for pharma in the digital marketing channel. According to their research
- Of the 675 violations examined during the years 2008-2012, 43 percent (n=290) involved digital media vehicles while 57 percent (n=385) involved traditional media.
- Of the 173 regulatory action letters sent to companies by FDA, less than 1 percent (actual n=1) involved a social media platform as the basis for the letter.
- A Warning Letter, the more serious type of regulatory action letter issued by OPDP, was issued nearly three times more often for violations involving traditional media vehicles than those involving digital media.
- The proportion and number of Warning Letters issued against digital media vehicles has declined every year since 2009.
There are two ways to look at this argument; on one hand the lack of Warning letter could be attributed to the small spend on the internet as a percentage of total promotional spend. The other side of the argument is that the declining number of warning letters is indicative of pharma being very cautious about digital marketing without clear and concise FDA guidelines.
Most pharma companies are using social media very conservatively. I have not been able to find a pharma product branded page on Facebook and most companies use Twitter for PR purposes. While social media plays a small part in patients healthcare decisions a lot more research is needed to determine the real impact of social media on consumers of healthcare.
Cegedim has noted that overall spending declined in established markets occurred as investment in digital channels surged in the same geographies. In the US, spending on e-detailing, e-mailing and Webinar /Webcast type promotion was up 65% over 2011. Not surprising since 10% of pharma sales forces have been laid off here in the US. However I would also argue that there is some reluctance to trust the messenger and the message as well.
During my appearance on the Huffington Post Live this week an ex-Lilly salesperson who is now in medical school mentioned how difficult it can be for pharma sales people to have a peer to peer discussion with medical professionals who have years of experience and education. Indeed some old-timers told me that there was a time when pharma salespeople had medical education backgrounds rather than business degrees. The “canned” pitch to physicians seems to have run its course.
There is business risk in everything we do but a good manager knows how to balance the risk with the potential benefit. We all have to better understand not only how people are using the Web for health but how that information is being used to make healthcare decisions. Pharma also needs to get a lot better at Internet marketing which means attracting and retaining great eMarketing people. Agencies can only provide so much and they need the expertise in house to build capabilities. The risk is there but so are the consumers. Who is willing to explore new ground ?