Pharma struggling with digital

QUICK READ: Just as I had written on this site a Chief Digital Officer for a top pharma company has left after just twenty-four months on the job. Culture destroys even the best business intentions. Digital is so important to pharma but so is old business models driven by a merry-go-round of pharma lifers.

Perhaps no other industry is struggling with digital as much as pharma. Their answer seems to be throwing money into digital ads believing that people will run to their doctor to ask for an Rx once they see the ad. Programmatic ads are a waste of money and full of click fraud and there is a mistaken belief that digital is less expensive than TV.

The loss of the Chief Digital Officer at Merck should be a warning to all pharma companies and agencies. He was on the job only two years before deciding he had enough of pharma’s “we can’t do that culture”.

Of course, the irony is that people rely on the Internet to help them make healthcare choices and pharma is playing less of a role in those decisions. As long as there are people who see the old, traditional business model as viable there isn’t any money for real digital marketing.

Pharma’s own culture is helping the industry travel down a path towards irrelevance. It’s almost impossible to get anything done without back to back meetings with people who don’t understand the value of helping online health seekers chose healthcare treatments.

There is a lot of blame to go around. As digital agencies have expanded and gotten bigger they need to do whatever is necessary to get business and don’t pushback hard enough when clients take the wrong paths. I often am asked to reviews proposals for digital strategies. The majority are more of the “same old, same old”. Basics like research long the design process are cut along with usability studies.

I’m still waiting for that game-changing digital strategy to knock my socks off but its been a long long wait. The industry desperately needs disruption with people who aren’t afraid to challenge the status quo instead of waste of time pharma digital conferences. The clock is ticking…