Many of us have seen the standard drug ad on TV or in magazines. Or maybe you’ve heard a doctor pitch a new drug at a conference on behalf of a drug manufacturer.
Pharmaceutical companies have historically invested huge amounts of money on television, print advertising, and getting medical providers to speak on their behalf at events. These traditional approaches to pharmaceutical marketing have helped the industry reach millions, if not billions, of consumers.
Last year, the industry spent $5.2 billion on advertising. But while marketing budgets continue to increase, not every pharma brand is taking full advantage of digital. According to a Medical Marketing & Media (MM&M) survey, 59 percent of marketers say they use websites, 45 percent use social media, 32 percent use digital ads, and 20 percent use mobile apps for their marketing efforts.
These figures indicate more than half of marketers are underutilizing several key digital channels. However, digital is gradually changing the dynamics of pharma marketing and will propel the pharmaceutical industry to rethink its usual way of doing business.
Digital marketing tools, from behavior-based targeted advertising to customized healthcare portals, can help pharma marketers develop more engaging experiences for doctors and patients alike — all without using protected health information or personally identifiable information. Digital disruption is happening in every industry, but for pharma brands to successfully navigate this transformation, they must position themselves to meet changing consumer expectations and to reach both consumers and healthcare providers across channels and devices anywhere and anytime.
The shift toward personalization.
With companies like Apple, Amazon, and Netflix now setting the bar for customer experience, consumers in non-retail sectors now expect a retail-like experience whenever they engage with a brand.
These increased expectations also have taken hold in the healthcare and pharma industries, and with more digital tools at consumers’ fingertips than ever, they can be even more selective about where they access health information and to which companies they devote their loyalty.
Forty-one percent of Americans search online for health information, and digital savvy consumers are more than two times as likely to say their healthcare quality has increased due to their digital engagement, according to a 2016 Adobe Digital Insights U.S. Digital Health Survey
“If pharma companies are attempting to reach patients or consumers, digital channels are where those consumers are, where they’re conducting their research, and where they want to be engaged,” says Tom Swanson, head of Healthcare Industry Strategy at Adobe.
And it’s not only consumers who want to be engaged on these channels, healthcare providers (HCPs) do, too. Forty-nine percent of healthcare professionals spend four to five hours a day on their digital devices conducting research or engaging with their peers, according to Digital Insights data.
“If pharmaceutical companies are going to reach doctors and nurses and other practitioners, they need to do it via mobile-enabled websites, apps, and the same way that you would attempt to reach your over-the-counter consumers,” Tom says.
The challenge and promise of digital for pharma marketers.
Digital has several advantages for pharma marketers. For one, it costs considerably less than traditional marketing approaches they’ve used in the past. It’s also more targeted and has a wider reach than a print advertisement in a journal, printed sales material, or even paid speaker programs. However, research shows that even with all these advantages, many pharma marketers aren’t yet willing to let go of some of their tried-and-true marketing approaches.
According to the MM&M survey, 80 percent of marketers targeting HCPs in 2015 said they relied on meetings and events, 64 percent used printed sales materials, 57 percent used patient education materials, and 50 percent relied on paid speaker programs.
These figures aren’t entirely surprising. Pharma marketers have several specific marketing challenges. For one, the complexity of their audience makes targeting more difficult. Pharma brands have to market over-the-counter products to retail consumers, as well as reach prescription-based consumers and healthcare professionals — a group that includes everyone from physicians to nurses, biotech companies, and hospital groups.
“It’s no longer that you just have messaging to a doctor and messaging to a patient. You have to tell all kinds of different stories,” Tom says.
Add to that the friction between tailored messaging and regulatory requirements around the use of personal health information, and pharma brands are in a challenging position to deliver on the personalized interactions that consumers increasingly expect. Sixty-three percent of consumers are comfortable sharing personal information with healthcare companies to get a personalized experience. However, pharmaceutical companies are hindered around what they can market and how they can communicate with customers based on HIPAA requirements, forcing consumers to opt-in or authenticate themselves, which adds another barrier to sharing relevant information.
Still, some pharma brands are finding ways to tackle this challenge — and they’re relying on content customized healthcare portals and other digital tools to do it.
Driving digital engagement with providers and consumers.
Pharma brands are using digital to make their relationship with consumers more service-oriented. Novartis, for example, faced criticism for what consumers and doctors viewed as negative advertisements for its new heart failure drug.
To overcome this, the company partnered with the American Heart Association (AHA) to do media outreach events and to distribute targeted content on AHA’s website. Novartis also went a step further and created a social network specifically for heart failure patients, which provides educational resources for these patients and credible content from medical experts.
Other pharma brands are using customer relationship management systems (CRM) to get a more unified view of their customers and to deliver relevant messages, medication samples, and resources to HCPs and patients — an approach that can drive more growth, deeper customer engagement, and brand loyalty. CRMs rely on data to power customized experiences. So as pharma brands leverage new digitals tools to organize this information, data security must be a priority.
“One of the things that we’re going to see is this massive influx of data from a variety of touch points and pharmaceutical companies — like every other healthcare company — are going to have to figure out ways to use it within the bounds of regulatory compliance,” Tom says.
Fortunately, cloud-based technology solutions can help pharma brands gather, and safely store, this data. This data-driven approach can help pharma brands amass more analytics on performance and customer behavior, so they can measure and improve the effectiveness of their campaigns, and ensure they deliver the right content to the right audience.
Creating customized healthcare portals.
This customer-centric strategy is especially important as pharmaceutical companies create customized healthcare portals to reach healthcare providers and consumers.
Similar to Novartis’ social network, customized healthcare portals allow pharma brands to directly engage with their target audience. With healthcare providers, these portals allow pharma companies to gain more insight into who the provider is, their order history, and their medical specialty, so they can deliver tailored content to the provider through the portal — whether it’s information on the newest blood pressure medication for a cardiologist or upcoming clinical trials for new immunotherapy drugs that an oncologist may want to share with patients.
“One of the things that we’re seeing a lot of is that pharmaceutical companies will completely tailor the content to the individual because they are authenticated and they know exactly who it is that they’re talking to,” Tom says. “That’s playing a huge role — this idea of customized web pages within authenticated portals. Pharma companies also can achieve this same level of customization via mobile applications, where a doctor can log in to his or her portal and instantly see the stuff that interests them — such as new samples, training, or educational materials and patient adherence tools.”
Pharma companies increasingly recognize that these portals have a unique value, which is creating opportunities for authenticated engagement with healthcare providers.
Collaboration and evolving industry regulations.
The industry is also trying to address the challenge of digital transformation by creating open technology standards to make it easier for pharmaceutical companies to share treatment information with doctors. The pharmaceutical industry has created Align Biopharma, a standards group, to align identity management and authentication with rules of engagement for HCPs, so that there’s either one common portal doctors can access or a standard for customized healthcare portals so they all operate a similar way, can share authenticated identities, and are easy for HCPs to navigate.
“It’s very forward thinking in that pharmaceutical companies realize that to get better engagement, they all have to work together to provide the best possible experience for the doctor versus continuing to try to protect their proprietary approach of communication,” Tom says.
Efforts to create an industry standard are ongoing, but in the meantime we could see a shift — driven by consumer demand — that leads to a more flexible regulatory environment. The Prescription Drug User Fee Act (PDUFA), for example, which is set to be renewed in 2018, now calls for pharmaceutical companies to digitally engage with patients during clinical trials. This means these companies will need to collect patient-specific information as part of the drug approval process, and much of this information will come from digital devices. Clinical trials, technically, already have an opted-in, authenticated audience. Doing this process digitally will lead to improved monitoring, auditing, and deeper insights into healthcare outcomes,. So in the future, government regulators will become more comfortable with pharmaceutical companies relying on digital across all interactions with consumers and providers.
Like many industries, the pharmaceutical industry has an entrenched way of doing things. Want to market to healthcare providers? Engage them at conferences, send a sales rep to their office, or launch a paid speaker program. Looking to expand your customer base? Pay millions of dollars for print and TV advertising.
But as consumers and doctors alike increasingly move to digital to get their health information and connect with likeminded groups, companies also need to transition to these channels to reach these audiences. As pharmaceutical companies continue to spend billions of dollars on research and development for new drugs, increasing the effectiveness of their marketing campaigns will be critical to lowering customer acquisition and retention costs. Digital can be the means for pharmaceutical brands to accomplish this. Ultimately, they need to wholeheartedly — and strategically — embrace this transformation.