By Casey Ferrell
Research Analyst, Cutting Edge Information
Okay, it’s been almost 24 hours since ePharma Summit 2012 wrapped. Like a good holiday feast, if you did it right you’re probably still digesting the experience like I am. Day One’s symposia offered a more intimate setting for attendees to interact with panelists, while Day Two was a big bacchanal of sessions, networking, keynotes, and panels. Day Three was a tamer affair, with more targeted sessions focusing on case studies and practical applications of the principles discussed the day before. Based on conversations with fellow attendees, Wednesday’s content was a welcome transition from the “what and why” to the “how.”
I’ll briefly recap roughly half of the day’s sessions, but before I do I wanted to share some general observations I took away from the event as a whole. First, there are some very impressive individuals working within the epharma space. I won’t open Pandora’s box and start naming names lest I inevitably overlook someone, but suffice it to say that the future of digital promotion in pharma is bright if the industry figures out how to retain the enterprising intellectual capital on hand at this conference (and that's a big if - there is a brain drain underway in digital pharma). I spend a lot of my professional time taking a long view of the role that digital can, should and is now playing in the industry, and clearly so do a great many of the people asked to speak at ePharma Summit.
A general take-away was that the industry is gradually shifting from a tactically driven approach to a one driven by strategy. Hallelujah, might I add. Companies are less and less interested in being the first kid on the block with a sweet new iPad app than they are being the kid on the block with an iPad app that has real uptake, aligns with broader marketing goals and serves the customer in some kind of meaningful way. Again, hallelujah. In my experience conducting digital pharma benchmarking research, this shift has been underway for some time, and because it is being codified by new internal structures like centralized dedicated digital departments and multidisciplinary digital task forces, you’re now starting to see how pharma is beginning to get a handle on smarter ways to execute digital promotion.
This is critically important for the following reason: in the years since the internet came onto the scene MLR has been unjustly portrayed as a monolithic, unmovable object standing in the way of digital “progress,” and as a result, an already tense relationship between it and marketers became downright antagonistic. It used to be that marketers would push to open a branded Facebook page for their product simply because everyone else had one, or because their marketing friend at Nike said it was The Future. It used to be that these things were undertaken hastily, rashly even, due to a perceived urgency that if they were not, everyone would laugh at them. And in so doing, marketers had a hell of a time justifying them to leadership and to MLR. Now, though, it seems that people in digital pharma are learning the wisdom of tying digital campaigns to an existing bedrock of marketing strategy, thereby contributing to a more collaborative and less combative approach to building digital creative and getting it out the door. In other words, the more epharmateers recognize the value (and lack thereof, in
many some cases) of digital
and how it fits within the broader
marketing strategy of a brand, be it corporate or product, the more likely it
is that it will not only get approved but have some kind of real and measurable
impact. The days of building smartphone apps to reach an elderly target
audience who don’t own smartphones are mercifully coming to an end. This shift
is painfully slow, but it is underway.
My one suggestion for next year’s ePharma Summit is simple: open the back channel up to the rest of the audience. It’s no secret that a significant proportion of attendees are active on Twitter, and actively use it during the conference sessions to communicate to one another and those following the conference-sponsored hashtag, #epharma. What would greatly add value to the conversations taking place on the stage, on the floor and online is if everyone could see the thoughts of their peers and react or respond to dissenting views, nearly all of which are as insightful and thoughtful as the ones being agreed upon on stage. Open the kimono, put the “e” in ePharma, and put up the Tweetstream next year. I guarantee a more lively and engaged audience. Because that’s what everyone here is after anyway, right? Engagement?
Okay, onto the sessions. What can I say about Andy Smith, author of The Dragonfly Effect? Smith is an able presenter with a gift for beautiful storytelling through slides. I won’t get into the nitty gritty specifics of his talk (I suggest you read the book), but his message to pharma was that when lives are on the line, you have carte blanch to invent compelling ways to engage with people on behalf of other people. He told a touching story about two friends diagnosed with Leukemia around whom a rather incredible effort was built to find suitable bone marrow donors (they were both South Asian, exacerbating the difficulty of finding a match stateside). Social media and digital channels played a massive role in organizing hundreds of marrow registration drives that led to matches for both friends. Sadly, they relapsed and lost the struggle, but the lesson Smith took away was the power of social networking to drive remarkable health outcomes. “Revolutions start by the actions of a few ordinary people. Find the ignition point and light it,” Smith said.
Two interesting case study panels followed. The first, I Wish I’d Done That!: Social Media, was led by Todd Kolm, director of emerging channel strategy at Pfizer, who was joined by panelists Alison Woo, director of social media, BMS and Zoe Dunn, principal, Hale Advisors. Kolm delighted in showing the audience what not to do with Twitter through non-pharma examples of social media failings, from the f-bomb drop at Chrysler to the utter ignorance showed by Kenneth Cole during Egyptian uprising. For those who aren’t familiar with these examples, I encourage you subscribe to a feed such as Mashable or TechCrunch where you will be sure not to miss the latest flub in corporate social media. There are lessons to be learned, even if it is outside pharma. Among the most important of these lessons is to know that social media is earned media — so make sure you earn it. Dunn pointed out a number of examples of pharma social media done well, including Sanofi’s Allegra OTC campaign and Pfizer’s Viagra counterfeit YouTube video. Woo offered her own take on good examples of “socpharm” as well as her social media best practices, which are simple but indispensable:
· Have a target audience; you can’t reach everyone
· Create a compelling message
· Think about value for audience
· Use the right tool for the right audience
· Measure metrics
· Think of engagement as an ongoing practice
The I Wish I’d Done That!: Mobile session was led by David Kopp, senior VP of consumer media, Healthline Networks. Joining him were Jay Appel, director of physician relationship marketing, Amgen; Scott Wolf, executive VP of sales, Everyday Health; John Viera, senior director of strategic marketing, Daiichi Sankyo; and Kate Miller, director, Evolution Road. Two things really jumped out during this session: one idea and one tactic that both have a lot to say about where mobile is going. The idea was suggested by Viera, citing Progressive’s Snapshot, which documents real-time driving behavior and incentivizes people through lowered premiums to drive more safely. The application to pharma is already happening, he said, though the quantified self movement and apps that track human biodata. Viera thinks that the future of mobile will be in passive technologies that collect health outcomes data which companies can then leverage in negotiations with payers. That will be quite interesting indeed. Another example, also pointed out by Viera, of an effective campaign was the TextInTheCity SMS initiative to reach at-risk teens. The decidedly “low-tech” tactic actually helped the campaign have a much better penetration and uptake because the target population was much more likely to have feature phones than smartphones. Just another example where knowing your audience and using the appropriate channel to reach them. Had the campaign tried to get fancy for fancy’s sake, it would have failed.
After lunch (that flan in the tall shot glasses was pretty sweet… thank you, I’m here every Wednesday night), I attended the Multichannel Consumer Marketing track again. An interesting session by Deborah Radcliffe, director, Consumer Center of Expertise at Pfizer, focused on how to open up your content to sharing and how to do so compliantly. What follows is a handy list of questions you need to have the answers to if you want to take the plunge into the world of sharing (and there is ample reason to do so: 73% of people say they process info more deeply, thoroughly and thoughtfully when it’s shared with the):
· What’s the objective?
· How does sharing help achieve that?
· What’s the target’s sharing behavior?
· How does content you want sharable align to marketing objectives?
· Is your content relevant?
· Is it valuable?
· Is it share worthy?
· If you applied the seven factors that prompt sharing (laughter, inspiration, cuteness, originality, shock, surprise and nostalgia), what would you learn? Is it touching people?
· What might you do to increase share worthiness?
· What does your target think of your stuff?
· And most critically: do you have the tool to do it?
Following this was a brilliant session by Todd Siesky, communications and external relations, Roche Diabetes Care US and Robert Muller, associate marketing manager, global marketing, Roche Diabetes Care US. They talked about the success they’ve had in developing cause marketing. The reach of their campaigns grew exponentially when they were able to gain the trust and partnerships of some 30 of the most influential diabetes bloggers, which took guts, persistence and humility on Roche’s part. To me, the essence of the session was this: vision drives strategy drives tactics, and when you start with vision and add to it a long-term, sustained commitment, the results can be remarkable.
EPharma wrapped with a session on the global marketing environment. Mark Bard of the Digital Health Coalition led a panel comprising Peter Pitts, president of the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest, Ray Chepesiuk, commissioner, PAAB, and Muller from Roche. Pitts talked about the importance of intent when dealing with cross-jurisdictional snafus. If you’re trying to be cute and skirt compliance, regulatory agencies are going to catch you, Pitts said, adding that “the .eu or .ca is not a get out of jail free card.”
So, that’s it from ePharma Summit 2012. Hope you enjoyed the tweeting and blogging! If you have any feedback, I'd love to hear it. I'm on Twitter (@Casey_CEI), and I'd love to continue there the conversations we started this week. If you loved or hated what I brought to the table, do let @epharma know so they can decide whether the should can me or bring me back next time. Hopefully it's the latter and I'll be seeing you all again soon. Thanks for reading!