Wednesday, July 18, 2012

ePharma West 2012: What I Saw at ePharma University

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This week, ePharma Blogger for closerlook, inc. is in San Francisco covering ePharma Summit West.  Tune in every morning for a recap of the previous day's sessions!

ePharma University: Day One of ePharmaSummit West
July 17th, 2012

It's an expectations game. It always is. If you chose to come to the University portion of this conference, you probably expected to get less high-level presentations and a lot more specifics. Tactics. Lessons learned (not the "Maybe investing in jackalope futures wasn't a great idea" lessons, but more of a "So if we change the intention of the subject line, we see a 15% increase in open rates" kind of lessons).

Data. This is not the time for Buzz Word Bingo (no one said "synergy" once as far as I could tell) or trying to impress other agencies who almost got that account. This is for the sergeants, the ground-level leaders who sweat whether or not that email did its job this month or if that banner ad was worth the placement. Should we have gone with responsive design instead of just a mobile site? Is an email every 21 days better or worse than an email every 19 days? And if these were your expectations, you probably came away satisfied. There weren't many brand folks in the room today, so it was agency-side folks who were taking the most notes. And there was a lot to take in. 

  • Bill Drummy of Healthbeat Digital made a pretty serious case for why agencies and brands should shift a far greater portion of their marketing budget to digital than they have so far. Bill focused on the amazing ROI of multi-channel digital campaigns (double digits, mostly), especially in relation to TV or print-only campaigns (where 2:1 isn't a bad day at all). When he discussed mobile, he hit a point I haven't heard in the Pharma sector: The idea that mobile creates a shared experience. The immediate parallel that came to mind was the iPad Rep detailing visit, where the Rep and the HCP aren't just talking to each other, but talking and sharing together while seeing the same content. The HCP can take charge of the engagement, or the Rep can direct the narrative much like a parent can direct a story told to a child.
  • If you took a year's worth of emails to only HCPs and separated the ones with good open and click rates from the rest, what would these emails have in common? Well, a lot it would seem. According to Terry Nugent of MMS. The best emails aren't magic, they just follow simple rules and don't get too clever. For example, a basic sales-letter format and style is far more effective than a press release or image-based emails. As Terry said repeatedly, "this isn't me saying this; this is the HCPs saying this with their mice." 
  • Chris Crichton from 5th Finger underlined a lot of points about mobile. I greatly appreciated his stated goal of not saying that 2012 was the year of mobile (especially since 2010 and 2011 were the years of mobile) and diving into the ways mobile could move and engagement forward. While his points were valid, the things that stuck came from a member of the audience, who said that the best way to make a business case for mobile was to look at the percentage of abandons that came from mobile. QED. 
  • While the phrase "content is king" has been a dead horse as far back as 2005, Jeffery Erb of Harte-Hanks, Inc. gave it some new life by talking about content strategy, focusing on video as a way to turn the brand into a character, the character into a narrative, and use the narrative to foster engagement. 
  • Interestingly, the final panel of the afternoon brought the most discussion despite it being a little farther out on the cutting edge than pharma usually ventures. The panel featured three gentlemen from three different companies that were focusing on using technology to make the most of the doctor-patient experience. David Perez of Seamless Medical showed off an iPad app that re-wrote the patient registration experience, using off-the-shelf tech to make signing in a new patient cheaper, faster, and more satisfying for all parties. Jim Kean of WellnessFX focused on using tech to help patients who want data about themselves to empower their conversation with their doctor. The amazing thing is that because his model breaks out of the insurance model, he can run tests and get patient data faster and cheaper than even many BCBS networks. Paul Willard of Practice Fusion finished up the day with a presentation on a cloud-based EHR that isn't just free for any HCP, but allows for far more opportunities for pharma to communicate with HCPs at the exact second they are thinking about what brand to prescribe. 

So what did any of this mean? Is there an underlying thread here? I was glad to hear how many people said "treat medium X like medium X, not like a re-write of your website/sales aid/poster." For example, iPads are books and TVs and computers and stereos and web browsers and books and survey tools all wrapped in one. They have cameras, GPS, gyroscopes and compasses. We shouldn't treat them like PowerPoint. I also found it very satisfying to see how many people were interested in embracing the digital model at last, one which is predicated on the idea of "Try it, test it, fix it, re-test it, optimize it, and do it again." 

This is far from the "set it and forget it" model many brands think MLR has forced them into. But none of this digital testing and optimization can be done without access to real data, a note touched on directly and indirectly by every presenter. And all the data in the world is worthless without the political will to make decisions based on it. Bill Drummy said that many brands saw the ROI of digital, but still spent huge amounts of money on low-ROI TV and print. When pressed, brands have no analytical leg to stand on, so they resort to "We need to maintain a mix of media." So close, but so far. We'll see what tomorrow brings. Full notes of the day's events can be found at and you can always Twitter me at @digital_pharma
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