‘Brand Marketing’ in the pharmaceutical industry, across the world, has mostly remained tradition bound, despite its rapid embracement of modern state of the art tools and technology in most other areas of the business.
Many other industries have been demonstrating over a period of time, how innovative usage of ‘Digital Marketing’ can provide cutting edge advantages to attain business excellence.
Today, ‘Digital Marketing’ has expanded its reach much beyond just business. This is currently being adopted even by the political parties and quite successfully. Besides promoting political candidates to win elections, imaginative deployment of high-tech tools is helping these parties to create game-changing favorable ground-swell, across the world.
Now, Indians have started witnessing it, even in the hinterland. It all started with associated glamor and grandeur, to a large extent, from the last general election of the country. Extensive utilization and usage of digital platforms, ranging from social media to high tech 3-D speeches of the political power seekers, have helped heralding the dawn of a new genre of political marketing in India. It helps creating favorable public opinion, capturing a much larger pie of the voters’ mindshare much quicker than the traditional form of marketing campaigns, without even an iota of doubt.
The ‘T-Factor’ changing the operating environment:
Though pharma marketing fundamentals would mostly remain the same, the overall environment in which the industry operates is continuously evolving, at a fairly rapid pace. The ‘T- factor’ or the ‘Technology Factor’ is hastening this process of continuous change.
We are experiencing how pivotal role the mobile or smart phones and tablets are playing at this juncture, when people spend more time with these devices than PCs. Simultaneously, general engagements and interactions are growingly becoming more digital than physical.
All these are setting new trends related to doctors’ and patients’ engagement initiatives, including, seeking, managing and communicating information to achieve desired goals.
Pharma industry is slow in adopting ‘Digital Marketing’:
As I see it, some global pharma companies have started experimenting with ‘Digital Marketing’. However, that is no more than just a very small component of their overall brand or corporate marketing strategy, driven mainly by:
- High operational cost and lower commensurate returns of traditional pharma marketing.
- And, The ‘Zing Factor’ – sheer energy, enthusiasm and liveliness of it, as an in-thing.
This is vindicated by the fact, while the global digital spending by pharma industry is expected to be around US$2.2 Billion in this year, the total sales and marketing expenditure of just one global pharma major – Novartis was US$ 14.6 Billion in 2013, according to a BBC News report of November 6, 2014.
Digital space cannot be ignored:
While giving example of powerful impact of digital media on brand marketing process,
I would cite the instance of recent ban in the country of ‘Maggi Noodles’ manufactured by Nestle, as ordered by the Indian Government authorities.
The first complaint on the product quality of ‘Maggi Noodles’ was reported from Uttar Pradesh (UP).
There, a product testing laboratory allegedly detected ‘lead and MSG’ much above the permissible level in ‘Maggi’, which is mostly consumed by children. It created an immediate mass furor in the social media. The impact of public outrage in the digital space, based on this just one incident, was so intense in just 24 hours that it influenced many with the same intensity of negative emotion, almost in no time.
Absence could be very costly:
All-time active presence of a company in the digital space is important. Absence of it, at times, could invite disastrous consequences.
In the above case, Nestle management, as I understand, was rather quiet on the social media during the critical period of public fury. Consequently, the inevitable happened, as usually transpires under the fierce pressure of social media.
‘Maggi Noodle’ was immediately banned in the country, without probably following the due process of law, as the Bombay High Court ruling says. The brand image suffered a huge immediate blow. Revenue of billions of dollars vanished in the thin year, almost overnight.
What would have happened with Nestle management being alert with proactive skillful communication in the digital space during this critical time of social media outrage? Probably, the damage inflicted on ‘Maggi Noodles’ brand could have been minimized. Who knows?
That’s the power of the digital space as we experience today. Thus, it needs to be optimally leveraged by the pharma industry, without further delay, with creative ‘Digital Marketing’ engagements.
‘Digital Marketing’ in pharma – a quick look:
For the benefits of all readers let us recapitulate what does this process really entail? ‘Digital Marketing’ in pharma is construed as a targeted, measurable and interactive marketing process of brands or disease related services using digital technology. It ensures immense flexibility and offers a broad spectrum of variety, for patients’ engagements of various types, and reaching out to doctors for increasing prescription generation.
Engagements and interactions with doctors, patients and other relevant stakeholders through digital channels, such as, social media, smart phones/tablets, health applications, e-mails and e-detailing are of immense importance today, as a sizable number of them are looking for more and more instant information, which could be product, disease or any other service related and important to them for a better quality of life.
‘Digital Marketing’ would soon assume high priority for all round pharma business in India, just as it has already happened in many other industries. The speed of its becoming a critical center piece in the pharma marketing strategy formulation exercise is directly linked with the increasing speed of Internet and smart phone usage by people of all ages with enquiring minds.
On the other hand, rapid change in market dynamics and extremely busy schedules of the important doctors, triggering fast decline in the productivity of traditional product detailing, would hasten this process of change.
The key advantages:
The key objectives of both ‘Traditional or Physical’ and ‘Digital Marketing’ in the pharma industry are basically the same, such as, building brand perception and brand preferences, giving rise to excellence in business performance.
According to a paper of April 16, 2014, published by Salford Business School, Manchester, UK,
The key advantages of ‘Digital Marketing’ over ‘Traditional Physical Marketing’ are as follows, where the ‘Digital Marketing’:
- Helps businesses to develop a wider customer base as it does not rely on physical presence or interaction.
- Encourages customers to interact directly with businesses.
- Is not limited by conventional opening times – customers can interact at a time and place convenient for them
Calibrated increase in usage of ‘digital media’:
Both traditional and digital forms of marketing are currently important in the pharma industry, though in varying degree. Each pharma player has to carefully evaluate one’s current and future product-mix and customer base as they would decide either to initiate or scale up marketing operations in the digital space.
Well calibrated increase in the usage of contemporary ‘Digital Marketing’, keeping in mind rapidly changing aspirational mindset of young Indians, including doctors and patients, with smart phones being a key enabler, would help the Indian pharma industry, significantly, as we move on.
Starting with selective approach:
Initially a company may be selective in its ‘Digital Marketing’ approach, which could be based on digital penetration in the geographical regions or areas and its demographic configuration.
For example, if a particular region shows high smart phone usage for community or group chat within the general population, a pharma company may explore the possibility of creatively designing a smart phone based ‘digital patient chat group’ as a part of its patient engagement initiative,
In this ‘digital patient chat group’, the members suffering from chronic or even serious ailments can discuss with each other the issues for which one is seeking a solution, where even the pharma companies can intervene, wherever they can add value and is legally permissible.
A few examples:
To add a perspective to this discussion, I would give below just a few examples, at random, of various ‘Digital Marketing’ initiatives of global pharma players:
- Merck (MSD) uses cervical cancer vaccine Gardasil ’s Facebook fan pages to drive awareness and traffic to their cervical cancer site.
- Pharma brand Cephalon promotes pain relief by creating an interactive website.
- Boehringer Ingelheim worked with Doctors.net.uk to run a 12-month campaign to raise awareness and sales for its Asasantin Retard, an antithrombotic agent which helps prevent the formation of blood clots.
- AstraZeneca’s online campaign for Nexium aimed to educate the patients and build their brand preference. The tactics included coupon downloads, driving qualified potential customers to the site and encouraging them to talk with their doctor about Nexium.
- Novartis set up a patient focused website targeting all four major organ transplants drugs.
- UCB Pharma partnered with social media platform patientslikeme.com to bring an Epilepsy community to its site.
- GSK developed a promotional website aimed at HIV specialists. The site, at www.sciencexchange.co.uk, offers HIV specialists a one-stop-shop for exchanging information on HIV and its management.
- Sanofi uses YouTube with a number of product messages
Today in India, we witness even various political parties, which used to be very traditional in their approaches, have started using a wide variety of digital marketing tools successfully by deploying astute domain experts, to achieve whatever they want to.
On the other hand, despite spectacular evolution and progress of digital technology in many verticals of the pharma industry, its marketing models, by and large, still don’t seem to find these highly productive tools much useful, as compared to a large number of different industries.
Currently, digital information and communication channels are catching growing number of eyeballs of even the doctors and patients. Despite this shifting paradigm, with large to very large field sales forces trying to reach the increasingly busy doctors, pharma industry is still relying heavily on traditional and physical marketing models, including promotion through medical journals and even the direct mailers.
Intriguingly, barring a limited number of global players, pharma industry in general, and Indian pharma companies in particular, seem to be far lagging behind in creative digital marketing initiatives.
As the pressure would keep mounting for more returns from every rupee spent on sales and marketing, pharma marketers would require to reassess the differential value addition potential of digital marketing media. While doing so, they would first feel the need to augment their traditional marketing models with selective and synergistic digital interventions and thereafter to spearhead the core communication of brand values together with customer engagement and interaction initiatives with the help of digital media.
The effectiveness in working out a game changing crafty blend of both brand and patient-centric communication package with digital tools would separate men from the boys. It would demand top quality cerebral inputs from the pharma marketers – a requirement that is not so easily available in the current space of pharmaceutical marketing, dominated by a wide variety of freebies.
By: Tapan J. 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.