Pharma Strategy Blog

Commentary on Pharma & Biotech Oncology / Hematology New Product Development

This week I attended the ePharma conference in Philadelphia and thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to catch up with Twitter buddies for some extended conversation and sharing of news and views. 

One of the challenges of Twitter is that it is hard to have extended discussions around topics of interest, which Friendfeed does very well, except that hardly anyone outside of tech or science geeks is on Friendfeed.  It was therefore really delightful to meet the regulars in the digital pharma space in person at the intimate gathering on Moshulu, kindly hosted by Pixels and Pills.  Lot's of interesting conversations evolved and set the tone for a productive conference.

Having heard from several folks that 2009 was a quiet one for pharma digital conferences, it was a big surprise to see this one packed to the gills.  Many of the attendees were from eMarketing departments, digital agencies or specialist groups. 

Clearly the buzz about social media is beginning to gain momentum in Pharmaland, but there is also a sense of frustration with lack of guidelines and the conservatism of internal review committees.  I couldn't help wondering if they were preaching to the converted; what would be nice is to see more brand marketers, legal and reulatory folks attend to learn more and gain comfort around what others are doing in the space.

Rather than do a review of all the sessions, as I'm sure others will do that most admirably, I going to look at a couple of concepts and trends that appealed to me.

Over the last couple of years, video has become a firm mainstay in the general public's imagination, largely as prices have come down for things like Flip cameras and with the ease of posting and sharing videos via platforms such as YouTube, Vimeo, Viddler etc virally through social media.  In the opening session, Paul Ivans from the organisers, IIR, pointed out that:

"Video accounts 34% of time people are online. But for health information, people want to read it."

Do they?  Or is it that the videos on health and medical information aren't yet in a digestible, easily understood level? Videos on Pharma channels get very low views, so this could be a reflection of general distrust about corporate Pharma, lack of viral marketing or disinterest in the information.  Ultimately, more granular research is needed to understand patient and consumer needs before things improve. 

The neat thing about video such as YouTube though, is that it is seamless on smart phones such as the iPhone or Droid.  If you have a YouTube video on your site or someone shares a link to a YouTube with you on Twitter or via email, clicking the play button or link takes you straight into YouTube to see it on your screen and allow you to share it with others if you like it.  More and more people are surfing the web on their smartphones, making mobile an important and rapidly growing aspect of marketing.  People are social creatures, they want to share something easily with their friends or relatives.

Recently, I've noticed how many brand or comporate sites are not optimised for mobile.  There's a great opportunity to improve your image right there.  It's relatively easy to do and yet has a huge impact.  Imagine how many doctors are searching for medical information daily on their smartphones while in a hospital?  Or a patient and friend are in the hospital waiting for tests having just been told by the doctor he/she has X.  One is in shock, the other starts to Google on their iPhone for basic information.  We've all been there.  Ivans went on to say:

"Digital marketing provides health information and support to consumers and HCPs, but Mobile unlocks the opportunity for improving outcomes."

Of course, the wags will chirp, "there's an app for that!" but after the diagnosis, researching the disease, treatments, side effect management etc, improved patient outcomes are indeed what the ultimate goal is for everyone.  The brands and companies that really start to understand and focus on this aspect of education are the ones that will do well in the long term.  It won't be easy though, because it takes a) deep understanding of the disease and patient needs and b) focused strategies rather than random and haphazard tactics.

Another theme I liked at this meeting was innovation.  Dennis Urbaniak from sanofi-aventis (a client company) emphasised strongly that innovation is not creativity or shiny object syndrome.  That was music to my ears – how many of us have sat through agency meetings hearing about about some new idea or tactic that they thought 'very creative/innovative/cool (substitute words of your choice)' and you're deep down you're really wondering,

"Hmmm yes, but what impact will it have, how will it help doctors/patients/advocacy groups (or whatever is the target audience), how will it change outcomes?  How does it fit in with our overall strategy and goals?  Does it integrate well and can it scale?  It might be pretty and win an award, but what if the target group doesn't find it useful? Then it's money down the drain."

Therein is the rub that Dennis was alluding to that marketers constantly wonder about: "is it relevant?" and offered 5 smart rules to live by:

  1. Understand no matter how hard you try, you canʼt read your customerʼs minds. Donʼt pretend to.
  2. Optimise your mix at the customer level not the brand level.
  3. Respect channel preference and channel response, equally.
  4. Apply predictive analytics as the foundation of your approach.
  5. Content remains king. Channel optimization gets you in the game. Content optimization drives sustainable performance.

These ideas tally well with my own experience – broad ideas and tailored messages based on customer needs across multiple platforms always work better than isolated tactics with one set of messages on one channel, yet many marketers spend a lot of time and money trying to read customer's minds instead of gathering insights and using more intuition to make a bigger impact.  They forget that what people think they want today may be very different tomorrow.

In the end, great content is king, not tools and channels.  Relevance is ultimately about finding the tricky balance between expressed customer preferences and what people respond to.  How does this all fit together?  Urbaniak nailed it when he finished with:

"Let customers pick what they want and measure outcomes, then optimise progams accordingly." 

In other words, be clear on your true intent but let the customer drive the direction.  Predict, Project and Validate.

For many in Pharmaland senior management though, if they are insecure or unenlightened control freaks that might well be a very scary thought but new technologies are rapidly changing the landscape about how we communicate and interact.  We can adapt and change with them or die of ignorance.

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4 Responses to “Learnings from #ePharma conference”

  1. Fred Nelson

    Nice summary Sally. I agree with much of what you said. In fact I suggest to my Brand and eMarketing clients to ask a three simple questions about eMarketing tactics.
    1) Does the eMarketing help me execute my marketing strategy and meet my marketing objectives?
    2) Does the tactic meet my customer’s needs?
    3) Never mind the eChannel, is the content on strategy and relevant for the customer.
    Better yet… do all this work upfront and then look for an eMarketing vendor to meet your needs.

  2. Chris Iafolla

    Thanks for the high-level synopsis Sally. I sadly was unable to make it this time around but was dutifully following along as best I could on the Twitter stream. From what I can tell, it seems like it was a good show!
    I loved Dennis’ statement on “shiny object syndrome.” One gripe I continue to have is that far too many people view social media as a silver bullet that can cure all ills. The analogy I have used in the past is that rather than sweeping things under the rug as some would like to believe it can do—it merely rips the rug clean off the floor. The shiny object syndrome is often the result of social media wingnuts believing that it exists in a vacuum. As you state, any marketing program needs to be part of an integrated marketing plan that all points to a strategic vision. Otherwise, why bother?
    On the discussion on video, it’s an interesting situation. I tend to believe that the reason patients currently don’t seek health information via video is because it is not particularly well done for the most part. Therefore, they probably are seeking it, just not finding it.

  3. MaverickNY

    ‘Social media wingnuts’… what a great description, Chris!
    Actually, if you are doing a bad job with traditional marketing or operations, social media and today’s viral world will amplify any major problems you might have, as Toyota have just realised.
    One of my biggest bugbears are people who go on about a ‘social media strategy’. It’s a total fallacy and one doomed to failure. Marketing is all about optimising your messages and experience through multiple channels, some traditional, some new as part of an overall brand or company strategy.
    Totally agree with you on the video front – I have seen them done well and when that happens, they catch one and get shared and spread, but they need to be short, pithy, relevant and part of an overall series to build up the information picture for people. Healthology used to do some excellent ones, for example.

  4. MaverickNY

    Great questions, Fred, as always.
    Sometimes it may actually be better not to use social media as a channel and better results can be achieved with more traditional approaches.
    Totally agree with the last point – traditional agencies typically do not do digital well, while digital ones are totally focused on that space. I’m very much in favour of Brand and eMarketing people focusing on strategy and calling in specialist help to focus on execution once you’ve decided what your plan is.

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