As pharma digital spending is flat WebMD ponders sale

KEY TAKEAWAY: WebMD is proof that having the numbers doesn’t make you a viable business.  Pharma marketers have moved to programmatic online media buys which, in most cases, leaves WebMD in the cold and possibly for sale.

Once again the rumors are swirling that WebMD could be for sale.  While they continue to be the number one health site on the web their lack of vision and failure to clearly show pharma marketers that WebMD can provide solutions to their marketing issues has led to a decline in their business as pharma digital spending remains dismal compared to offline spending.

I have sat through a lot of WebMD presentations both as a client and on behalf of clients.  To say that they are stale is a gross understatement as more and more pharma marketers rely on their media agency’s recommendation for online media placement.

WebMD has failed to take the basic steps needed to become the primary target of pharma company online media plans by talking about the numbers, but rarely providing in-depth insights on how people are using their site to make health care treatment decisions.

WebMD could have, for example, launched a WebMD insiders program that rewarded registered users with incentives to share what they did as a result of reading health information on their site.  WebMD could have formed partnerships with IMS and Manhattan Research to help pharma marketers better understand the complicated decision making process of online health seekers and presented these results at every pharma marketing conference.

On the other side of the street is Medscape who continues to be the number one physician portal and who will work with pharma HCP marketers to clearly show ROI.  Even today I have clients who want to launch programs to reach HCP’s on Medscape.

Who will buy WebMD?  My guess would be an electronic healthcare records company or even a national drugstore chain.  By integrating health content within EHR’s doctors can provide patients with a trusted resource in online health information.  Until then it will be a clear story of leadership without the vision the stay clear of the iceberg.