Pharma marketing in digital age

screenshot_106KEY TAKEAWAY: Today, 1 in 20 searches on Google is for health-related information.Digital engagement is now a fundamental part of how patients, caregivers, physicians, pharmacists, and others live their lives and there are multiple opportunities for pharma that require organizational shifts.

Pharma companies need to make a mindset shift from “telling” to “listening” and then (eventually) “engaging” because patients are no longer passive recipients of care. Rather, they are active shapers of their care.


Many pharmaceutical companies are reluctant to make full use of digital channels because they are not clear on what to do differently. Some are experimenting with new engagement models but have not yet found a good way to measure new tactics on an apples-to-apples basis with traditional approaches.

A confluence of forces, driven by technology, is changing the landscape in healthcare and the pharmaceutical industry’s role within it. The myriad forces that are changing healthcare at breakneck speed include: the explosive increase in the aging population, coupled with new, high-value innovations, are causing healthcare costs to rise much faster than the rate of inflation. At the same time, the burden for healthcare delivery is increasingly shifting to the patient. These forces have resulted in increased scrutiny by patients, their families, providers, payers, and governments of the effectiveness and actual value of new therapies.


At the heart of this is the fact that more patients are acting like true healthcare consumers, making more conscious choices and trade-offs about coverage, care, and costs. They are, in turn, tapping the explosion of healthcare information online to become more informed and engaged in their care. At the same time payers are simultaneously getting more restrictive in formularies while reducing the prescribing autonomy of many physicians and physician assistants.

Healthcare providers are, as a result, also turning to digital sources for information and to engage with one another for everything from consultation to consolation, as shown in the [inlinetweet prefix=”” tweeter=”” suffix=””]15% increase in health-related searches over the last four years.[/inlinetweet]

Decision Resources Group reports that,[inlinetweet prefix=”” tweeter=”” suffix=””] in 2015, 43% of patients searched for medical information before seeing a doctor[/inlinetweet], and 72% of patients with preexisting conditions (such as cancer, heart disease, or diabetes) searched when first experiencing symptoms to understand what condition they might have. They also report that [inlinetweet prefix=”” tweeter=”” suffix=””]60% of patients with preexisting conditions like to validate a doctor’s opinion with their own online research[/inlinetweet].

Google and Decision Resources Group conducted an online survey of more than 1,000 practicing U.S. physicians in 2015 that yielded insights into how profoundly the practice of medicine has been changed by digital tools and sources of information.  Among the key findings:

  • 73% of physicians report that they rely upon online resources for clinical information more than they did two years before.
  • Over half reported their patients are more actively involved in their treatment decisions.
  • MDs called on pharma support for key areas, including affordable treatment options, provision of relevant information, and timelier and easier-to-understand online information”

In order to survive and thrive in this new world, pharma companies will need to evolve their commercial strategy to one where companies partner with patients, providers, payers, and regulators (as appropriate) to create a patient-centric approach to communications and engagement to support positive health outcomes.

In order to accomplish this transformation, pharma needs to keep in mind three fundamental changes that have occurred. The first is that, thanks in part to mobile technology, access to healthcare information can occur anytime, anywhere.

Computer Key - Health with Stethoscope

The second is that a broad range of actors participate in and influence a patient’s experience from detection to diagnosis, and therapy through recovery.

Finally, the use of digital data, media, and distribution to accurately Discover, Design, and Deliver the right services and content to the right person at the right time is the most effective (as well as efficient) way to deliver those messages.

Mobile also has a significant effect on the way consumer acquire health information.  As consumers rely more heavily on mobile, web sessions are getting shorter and more frequent, and, as a result, consumers make more informed decisions faster.  Pharma therefor needs to focus on micro-moments, those moments when patients chose therapies.


Pharma must: 1) identify the moments to win; 2) deliver on consumers’ passions, interests, and needs in the moment in ways that are timely, relevant, and useful; and 3) measure every moment that matters. What we usually associate with a single click on a mobile device or desktop can actually span dozens of interactions with a brand before a consumer is ready to convert.

There is an opportunity for pharma companies to engage with patients and providers more meaningfully online.

  • Driving impact or ROI depends on the ability to deliver memorable and behavior-changing experiences to patients and physicians.
  • Pharma companies need to reach individuals at “micro-moments” that matter across the care model, as well as through broad-based campaigns.
  • Leveraging digital technology is the key to discovering, designing, and delivering the digital brand experience.
  • Pharma companies will need to design and rigorously test the uptake and impact of digital campaigns.

Can pharma accomplish this?  It depends.  It requires a shift in the organizational structure as well as a willingness to lead in digital marketing.  Pharma companies need to recruit top digital talent and remove barriers and obstacles that frustrate people into leaving.