Pharma Strategy Blog

Commentary on Pharma & Biotech Oncology / Hematology New Product Development

This morning I was browsing my Google Reader while deciding whether or not to go out for a bike ride before the sun scorches the park and everything that's in it, when I came across an interesting blog post from Richard Heale, a digital agency expert.  In it, he was discussing the challenges digital marketing agencies face with Pharma companies and differences in culture that may arise:

"The core problem didn’t lie in the quality of previous digital
leadership or the staff, rather it was the cultural divide between
traditional agency staff and the new kids on the block."

That singular thought also sums up the divide in Pharma incredibly well too.  We are at the cross roads between the traditionalist baby boomer generation in senior management positions and the up and coming kids who are Gen X and Y – they are think differently, not only from experience, but also from the web culture they grew up in. 

If you look at the precise years, I'm one of the last of the baby boomers, being born in the very last year with a couple of months to go, yet I often find myself more in common with Gen X than the 'old farts' as they love to label themselves, who focus on traditional media, DTC and all that goes with it.  The world has changed.  Social media and the new digital age has ensured that.  Things are much more fast paced, you can monitor and track progress by computer rather than laboriously Google by hand in a darkened cave somewhere.

The other week, I was meeting some Pharma people and we were discussing competitive intelligence.  Not the old fashioned, primary research of phoning around kind of intelligence, but using modern computing, alerts and database search techniques to find accurate, essential information at the press of a button.  They were freaked.  Completely.  Partly awed, partly wowed and partly scared because their world is changing fast and that makes them uncomfortable.  Suddenly, the vendor is in a different place, a smarter, faster, altogether wilder place with real time information.  Yes, real time.  That's the new future technology that's happening right here, right now.  Look at Google Wave, at Twitter, at Friendfeed and all sorts of other web 2.0 tools you can use to your advantage, if you know how.  A few clicks and you're done. 

If I were still on the Pharma marketing side, I'd want a cool vendor like that, getting me real time alerts and accurate, referenceable information I can trust for a much cheaper price.  Who said telephone convos or emails from sources were accurate?   Actually, they're not; they're subjective and highly susceptible to hearsay, yet traditionalists swear by this primary research approach and often make multimillion dollar campaign decisions on the back of them.  Ye gads.

Head in the sandImage by LensENVY via Flickr

Going back to digital marketing approach mentioned earlier, it occurred to me that the traditionalists see this as really just websites, branded or unbranded, and often not as something effective either.  In many ways, that's quite true because in the web 1.0 world, pushing information without engagement doesn't work very well.  Why?  It's biased, it's sponsored, it doesn't let the consumer or HCP engage in a dialogue and quite simply, they aren't fooled by push marketing anyway. When on earth are the patient advocates in this model?  Yet learn to listen, engage and work with them in new ways and they will often be your best friends and promoters.

Now imagine some of the new web 2.0 tools on Google Groups, Facebook, YouTube, blogs etc etc (assuming comments are enabled), then you can get a very different type of interaction and feedback.  Scary?  You betcha, but as more young marketers and PR people start running Pharma brands and e-marketing/digital strategy, so we will see a different type of e-marketing evolve, hopefully for the better.  I'm thinking of bright, smart and articulate young things like @shwen and @bradatpharma, who get the power and reach of these new technologies and want to help others too.

At the end of the day, after experiencing both sides of the industry, I've long since realised that the pervasive legal conservatism isn't so much of a hurdle, as an excuse, and a rather lazy one at that.  Most internal review teams are more creative and flexible than brand teams give them credit for.  In order to get what you want, you first have to give others what they want – in this case, some well thought out and reasoned reassurances and action plans for handling things than may occur.

The world is a-changing – the big question is will Pharma change with it or be left behind?

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5 Responses to “Social Pharmer – a brave new digital world”

  1. Shwen

    Thanks for this wonderful, thoughtful, blog post and also for the kind words and mention.
    First thing that strikes me is that — ironically — neither @bradatpharma or I are “officially” in the marketing department at our respective companies. We just happen to be 2 guys who love and get new/social media that also happen to work in Pharma.
    However, at least in my case (and I think in Brad’s too), the marketing group has recognized the need to engage in these new communications channels and have sought my advice and leadership in such matters. For that, I am extremely grateful and honored, but you can imagine how many “traditional marketers” would rather look outside than inside for help (if at all), even if there are “resident experts”; and as you’ve blogged about and seen first-hand, there are plenty of external agencies actually “get it”.
    Anyway, to your point about traditional market research/CI vs. the new “real time” gathering of info, I think there is also the important difference between doing a focus group vs. monitoring new/social media channels.
    Traditional focus groups function more-or-less in a close, isolated, almost “artificial” environment, where participants are paid to answer questions.
    On the other hand, private communities (i.e. social networks), for example, offer a more organic, real world approach to research, as people interact at leisure, and with a community of peers that share common interests, so many conversations and connections occur.
    And when you think about the access that people have to tools like Twitter, YouTube, blogs, etc., it is pretty easy to imagine how a sentiment from one person can quickly spread and spiral out of control in the “echo chamber” that is the internet.
    Would it be possible to account for such an effect with traditional research/CI? Probably not… And yet this is exactly what’s happening today (I can think of several recent examples that immediately come to mind).
    So, while I think traditional research and CI are still important components of marketing, I think we also have to recognize it’s limitations, particularly with the access to new/social media tolls that people have these days. And we certainly shouldn’t ignore them.
    So, to end in true pharma fashion, I will finish off by disclaiming my employer from any of the opinions or sentiments expressed in this comment, which are solely my own. 🙂
    Thanks again for the mention and for the great post.

  2. Jonathan Richman

    Great post,Sally.
    I’m right with you. I wrote about something very close to this a while back called “Pharma Needs Some Digital Natives” (

  3. MaverickNY

    Nice comment, Shwen… I love it when the comments become blog posts in themselves, that’s way cool. What I also like about Pharma and Biotech is that the discussions are becoming more of a community for debates across numerous blogs, rather than just an audience. Twitter certainly helps facilitate that otherwise we would never hear about half the blog posts we now get to read weekly.
    What’s particularly neat about what you and Brad do is that neither of you is in marketing as you rightly point out – I knew that and should have made it clearer – but this is where co’s gain in having essentially independent experts or centres of excellence to help and advise them on strategies and tactics in this area, because what works for one brand won’t always work for another so a team needs to be cognizant of its goals and objectives.
    There was a great article this morning in my feed on the change from traditional marketing thru DTC thru media planning thru to social media but starring an article on the iPhone doesn’t always mean it is saved for posterity and sharing with others >.< Perhaps someone else will recall it and share because it was very relevant to this discussion!

  4. MaverickNY

    Hah! Nice blog post, Jon. I missed that one – Twitter is great for many things but often case you can also miss interesting stuff in the real time river of information.
    Great minds think alike 😉

  5. MaverickNY

    Ah here it is…. a blog from AdAge
    I confess to being one of those who hated DTC, media planning and marketing silos so went out of my way to try and build teams that communicated with each other.
    In some companies, new silos will build up around who ‘owns’ social media – marketing, e-marketing, PR etc (sigh) while others will be smart and integrate it effectively in different ways with different people, tools and monitoring systems for different brands.
    At the end of the day, this all comes back to people – consumers, patients, HCP’s, pharma/biotech employees, vendors etc. A well coordinated small team with clear focus and goals will always out-trump a bigger, better funded but disorganised silo.
    It’s all about listening, learning, integrating and implementing programs that meets people’s needs whether they be consumers or HCP’s.
    Who will be the winners in the brave new world?

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