David Edelman in his article titled, “Branding in the Digital Age:You’re Spending your Money in All the Wrong Places”, published in the ‘Harvard Business Review’ dated December 2010, commented the following:
“Consumers today connect with brands in fundamentally new ways, often through media channels that are beyond manufacturers’ and retailers control. That means traditional marketing strategies must be redesigned to accord with how brand relationships have changed.”
I reckon, broadly, this is applicable to the Pharmaceutical Industry, as well, in the current scenario.
Today, we all are witnessing that the opportunities to share information within the communities and groups with effective use of social media like ‘Twitter’, ‘YouTube’, ‘Facebook’, ‘Linked-in’, blogs etc. are increasing by manifold, every passing day, with amazing speed. A very significant number of internet users across the world, are now quite actively taking part through social media in various areas of their interest.
The social networking site ‘Facebook’ claimed a few months back that it has connected over 400 million users all over the world and over 9.6 million users just in India with 20 million Indians using Internet every day. It is also interesting to note that each day about 68.5% of online population in the country visits social networking sites.
With 80% of the internet users currently searching for medical, health and product related information through cyber media, the importance of these powerful channels to engage interested stakeholders and groups in a meaningful dialogue on relevant products, services and issues, has increased by manifold. The pharmaceutical industry can no longer afford to ignore or even remain indifferent to this emerging trend.
Many global pharmaceutical majors having realized the future potential of cyber connectivity, have already started experimenting with social media, which are indeed outstanding byproducts of a disruptive innovation of the millennium, called ‘Internet’. In not too distant future, the pharmaceutical players are also expected to make the best use of social media not only to promote their products and services, but also to fulfill their obligation towards corporate social responsibilities.
The new-age marketing tool:
With more and more doctors not giving adequate time and even showing reluctance to meet the medical representatives and the important hospitals following suit, the global pharmaceutical companies are now in search of new and even more effective marketing tools.
To get the marketing communications across, to important target audiences, many of them have started experimenting, quite seriously, with the digital world. Effective networking media like ‘Facebook’ , ‘YouTube’, ‘MySpace’ and ‘Twitter’ are showing promises to become powerful online pharmaceutical marketing tools.
Global pharmaceutical companies have already started ‘testing the water’:
Examples of global pharmaceutical giants who have already started using this new age media for pharmaceutical marketing, in varying scale, are as follows:
1. Bayer uses ‘Facebook’ page to promote its Aspirin for women. For young people of the UK, suffering from diabetes, the company has also come out with an online blood glucose monitoring system.
2. Merck is using ‘Facebook’ to promote its cervical cancer vaccine, Gardasil
3. GlaxoSmithKline is using ‘YouTube’ for ‘restless-legs syndrome’ awareness film. The popularity of this video spot perhaps has prompted the company to come out with its own ‘YouTube’ channel last year with a name, ‘GSKvision’.
4. AstraZeneca is also using ‘YouTube’ for a program called ‘My Asthma Story’ related to their anti-asthma drug Symbicort.
5. Johnson & Johnson’s ‘You Tube’ channel has now over 90 videos
6. Novartis is using the social media dedicated to Chronic Myeloid Leukemia (CML) to connect to healthcare professionals, patients groups and even individual patients.
7. Recent report of Pfizer’s new RSS feed and the plan for a unique ‘Pfacebook’ site for internal communication perhaps is an important step towards this direction. The company has also been reported to have teamed up with Private Access to create a social networking website to bring clinical researchers and the patients together.
8. Boehringer Ingelheim has also started using the ‘Twitter’ since 2008
The reasons for using the social media as a marketing tool:
Social media like, ‘Facebook’, ‘Twitter’, ‘YouTube’ etc. provide a very important platform towards patients’ outreach efforts of the pharmaceutical companies exactly in a format, which will be preferred by the target group.
With the help of new-age social media these companies are now joining communities to begin a dialogue with them. It has been reported that some of these companies have already created un-branded sites like, silenceyourrooster.com or iwalkbecause.org, to foster relationship with patients’ group through online activity, the contents of which have been generated by the users themselves of the respective social medium. With the help of click-through links these sites lead to the branded sites of the concerned companies.
As reported by TNS Media Intelligence, internet media spending of the global pharmaceutical companies increased by 36% to US$137 million, in 2008, which is significantly higher than their spending in Television advertisements.
Why is the entry in the new-age social media so slow?
Pharmaceutical companies are currently delving into marketing through cyber media with a very cautious approach, though the new social media will become more central to many global marketing strategies in not too distant future. The cautious approach by the pharmaceutical companies is primarily due to evolving regulatory requirements in this new space
In the USA, very recently the FDA cautioned the major players in the industry to refrain them from publishing any misleading communication through social media. This is primarily because of absence of any published guidelines for online pharmaceutical marketing. How to use this powerful social media for maximum marketing and other benefits will indeed be quite a challenging task, at this stage. Many pharmaceutical companies are, therefore, slow to use the social media to the fullest extent.
Not only in India, even in the developed countries like, the USA, there are no specific regulatory guidelines to promote pharmaceutical brands or create brand awareness through these media. This scenario holds good for most of the countries of the world, including Europe, Japan. Thus, in this much uncharted territory, as there are not enough foot-steps follow, the pharmaceutical companies are currently just ‘testing the water’. Most probably to fathom how far regulatory authorities will allow them to explore with this new media.
Effective use of social media is expected to be financially attractive:
Low costs associated with creating internet promotional inputs will make social media quite attractive to pharmaceutical and bio-pharma companies, not only as an effective marketing tool, but also in their other outreach program for the stakeholders. Various types of social media are expected to be significantly cost-effective in creating and executing successful pharmaceutical brand awareness and brand marketing campaigns, aiming at well-defined and the specific target groups.
Use of social media in India:
In India though the social media are currently growing at around 35% annually, their overall utilization as an important marketing tool has remained rather limited, thus far, with practically no significant usage by the Indian pharmaceutical industry. I reckon, it is about time that the important pharmaceutical players in the country start creating their own network of loyalists and engage them with this important communication tool to meaningful dialogues, involving their respective brands and/or services and related issues.
‘Proof of the pudding is in the eating’:
A recent report indicates that in 2007, well reputed computer maker Dell’s ‘Twitter’ activity brought in US$ half-million in new business to the company.
Thus the innovative use of the new-age social cyber-media promises immense potential to open a goldmine of opportunities for the global pharmaceutical industry.
I reckon, the use of social media as an effective business communication tool, will start growing at a scorching pace in India, shortly.
Some large and even Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) have just initiated appropriate processes towards ‘Social Media Optimization’ involving their respective brands and related services. This is primarily aimed at improving awareness and increasing market share through significantly higher share of voice and more intense customer engagement.
With rapid increase in the numbers of such initiatives, there will probably be a sea change in the way stakeholder engagement plans are worked out by the industry in general and the pharmaceutical industry in particular, ushering a new dawn in the communication space of the business.
At the same time, we should realize that in this new ball game customers will really be the king and the quality of innovative usage of all powerful social media could well draw the decisive line between business communication success and failure.
By Tapan Ray
Disclaimer: The views/opinions expressed in this article are entirely my own, written in my individual and personal capacity. I do not represent any other person or organization for this opinion.