Wednesday, January 18, 2017

"Five digital campaigns that show pharma really can do it"

This FiercePharma article showcases five digital campaigns from five different leading pharmaceutical companies that arguably prove that digital advertising not only can be done, but it can be a successful engagement tactic. As the article mentions at the outset, the pharma industry is heavily regulated, and this regulation can bog down interaction between drugmakers and patients. Having worked at Johnson & Johnson, one of the companies featured in the article, I can attest first-hand to the compliance hurdles that seek to regulate the flow of information from the drug marketing teams. I clearly remember the groundbreaking (and controversial) launch of one of our drug brand's Twritter handle. Digital marketing is nascent field within pharma, and one that may be littered with unforeseen landmines.

The article offers a variety of digital campaigns, which range from social media to mobile apps, and what I find particularly interesting among all of them is that they offer some sort of benefit to the consumer. Unlike most other industries, pharma must continually educate its potential customers to encourage to spur demand and encourage patients to speak to their doctors - indeed, unlike other industries, direct-to-consumer marketing always involves a third party, i.e. the health care provider, who actually procures the product. From this standpoint, although the end-goal of a digital campaign may be an increase in prescriptions (sales), the medium-term outcome is patient engagement and education. What I like about this from a social perspective is that the consumer still benefits from the campaign, e.g. by learning more about h/her disease and available treatment options, even if s/he does not end up choosing the advertiser's product. Although this is beneficial to the consumer, this reality poses an expensive strategic decision for the drugmaker; indeed, companies run the risk of driving consumers to their competitors (usually the market leaders in a given therapeutic area.

As with any digital campaign, the hard part is attribution. At J&J, there were constant debates about the return on investment on direct-to-consumer marketing versus traditional detailing, i.e. drug reps knocking on doctors' doors. Indeed, research has shown that TV ads, which target consumers, actually have greater positive effect on prescribers (and hence why you will continue to see them). The article mentions Novartis's Gilenya's uptick in sales after the campaign, but it is quite difficult to disentangle that uptick from other marketing activities, namely detailing (which has gone digital as well). Apps, which are a closed environment, may be the most effective in driving attention from individual patients, but advertising your app in the first place continues to be a challenge. In conclusion, digital marketing in the pharma industry continues to be the Wild Wild West, yet it offers an interesting and innovative opportunity to engage and inform consumers, patients, and doctors alike.

1 comment:

Carolyn Heisler said...

Thanks Byron! Good perspective and interesting to think that anything pharma could be the wild west. Will the regulators ever catch up...