Pharma: The time is now for digital marketing

SUMMARY: Digital marketing is not a tactic. It’s a mindset. With the changes to healthcare on the horizon, the time has come to start building digital capabilities in all areas of company functions.

Global digital advertising growth is expected to accelerate to about 18% year-over-year during 2021, up from about 10% growth in 2020 — and continue to show annual growth in the low double digits over the next five years, according to Cowen’s 9th Annual Ad Outlook report. This will carry over to DTC marketing as well but simply adding more money is not going to equal success.

Digital pharma marketers have to “sell” the organization on the promise of digital marketing, but they also need to communicate that along with successes, there could be many failures. To master digital marketing, pharma needs to be prepared to fail.

Digital not only applies to DTC but to HCP marketing as well. Pharma Executive says “just as HCPs are being forced to embrace telemedicine, pharma companies are also being forced to embrace virtual interactions with HCPs. COVID-19 has stopped almost all in-person detailing by sales reps”.

But now, we are witnessing a new type of e-detailing, conducted by the reps themselves. Even though HCPs value their interactions with sales reps, we believe pharma companies will generally have fewer opportunities to engage HCPs one-on-one than before the time of the pandemic.  Identifying what makes an engaging e-detail interaction is a critical step for pharma companies – and the time to make these adjustments is now.

At present, HCPs are generally positive towards the shift to e-details. Among HCPs who had an e-detail in the past two weeks, 57% rated that e-detail interaction as “very effective.”  

To successfully implement digital marketing, it’s going to be essential for pharma companies to build digital expertise in-house. The perception that digital marketers are people who go around wearing jeans and tee-shirts and don’t like matrix bureaucracies is false. Today’s pharma digital marketers understand the challenges of implementing digital marketing within the organization and can convince senior managers that digital marketing can greatly impact ROI.

Will digital replace the sales force? No. It will allow them to cover more ground in shorter periods of time, and if implemented correctly, digital interactions can actually increase engagement.

A great example is a recent online detail I helped implement. The sales rep talked to an Oncologist about the company’s new drug when the doctor wanted to ask some specific product questions. The sales rep was able to turn the call over to an area MSL who answered all of her questions. After the detail, the physician rated the interaction as “excellent.”

In the DTC area, digital marketing has to become better at engagement. Pharma websites still have high bounce rates with fewer pages viewed than is acceptable. Digital marketers need to convince management to invest in content, multiple home pages, and email marketing. DTC managers need to get past that pharma websites are strictly a sales tactic.

Change can often be forced upon us by challenging conditions nut within these challenges lies a wealth of opportunities. I’m optimistic that pharma can make it happen.