Monday, June 2, 2014

Digital Pharma: Is There Reason to Worry?

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In the pharma industry, solid intelligence about anticipated trends gives you the chance to make your business strategy a real working tool. But guesswork isn’t the answer and assumptions do not make intel, so we conducted a survey of 119 players from pharma to find out what they believe are the top issues digital pharma will face in 2014. Here’s what we found out:

Implementing Digital Technology
The majority of respondents (92%) are unsatisfied with their companies’ current level of digital technology implementation, and many don’t seem to be sure how to go about changing that. The majority (83%) find it challenging to adopt digital technologies in their company, and given that the most of the respondents were in marketing-related positions, this seems to be a marketing issue more than an operational one. That stands to reason; operations have steadily become more automated and digitized over the years, but only since inbound marketing grew in popularity has technology begun to make inroads into the promotional arena. This needs to change—fast—if we as an industry are to reap the benefits offered by the Internet in the coming years.

What Are the Main Challenges?
Respondents to the survey generally had some knowledge about where they needed to start.  75% identified budget as the biggest challenge facing the incorporation of digital into their overall marketing strategy. Other major issues were, in order of frequency:

Issues in digital pharma

Looking at each of these in turn, the first is something the pharma industry is plagued with as a matter of course. However, the restrictions aren't as extensive as you might think, and it’s worth looking into exactly what you can and can’t do before discounting the opportunity.

Expertise, innovations and creativity are all points that can be resolved any number of ways, including outsourcing to agencies, using consultants, employing part-time staff until there are funds for full-timers or using freelance/contract workers. These areas are where we see significant opportunity for progress during the next 12 months, because the capabilities exist—you just have to find the right one for your company.

Main Focus Areas for 2014
Some of the questions we asked in the survey included “What digital activities do you plan for your company in 2014” and “Does your strategy include mobile?” Respondents confirmed that the main focus areas were going to be:

Focuses in digital pharma

Website: If 95% of pharma companies are aware of the importance of a website, why is it that so many don’t yet have sites? Or are they planning to redevelop the site to make it responsive across all devices, more interactive or to include an online commerce option? Whatever the answer, it shows increased recognition that an online presence is an absolute necessity going forward, and we’re fully in agreement with that.

Closed Loop Marketing relies on data to connect every lead and customer back to the marketing bucks spent to capture them. This helps you to understand the value of your marketing activities and determine the return on investment you get for each penny, as well as adjust your efforts according to positive and negative feedback to maximize your returns.

eTools for Sales include a range of options, such as customer relationship management (CRM), e-detailing programs, lead nurturing applications that track the prospect through the sales process to keep him warm until he’s ready to see your representative.

Mobile, of course, is huge across retail industries but has yet to find its space in pharma. The fact that 50% of respondents recognized the need for it is huge, though, and it’s a matter of figuring out how it needs to be used to get the best ROI from its implementation.

73% of respondents did not have a digital strategy in place and only 14% of respondents stated they measure their activities on a weekly to monthly basis. These statistics are deeply worrying. Pharma are literally wasting money and opportunities to engage with their consumers effectively. Without a strategy and without measurement, how do they know what is working, what is not working?
The most telling statistic we can see from the results of the survey is that very few marketers in the pharma industry believe digital technology is unnecessary, unimportant or impossible.

This survey indicates that pharma understand what they need to do, they are trying it, but they are getting it so wrong.  

Want to learn more about multichannel marketing in pharma?

We’ll have more on the latest innovation in digital pharma at ePharma West, September 22-24, San Francisco, CA. Click here to check out what’s in store.

Save $100 as a reader of this blog. Register here and use code XP1956BLOG.

About the author
Ash Rishi is Co-founder and Co-managing director of COUCH. Based in London, COUCH is an integrated digital marketing and creative healthcare communications agency focusing on the pharmaceutical, healthcare and life sciences industry. Ash has over 9 years experience in pharma marketing and has delivered activities across UK, Europe, US, Canada and Latin America. His area of expertise include: mobile, marketing tech, branding, communications, stakeholder development and digital engagement strategies. Ash is also the founder of a digital engagement group on LinkedIn. You can reach Ash at or follow him on Twitter @We_Are_Couch and @Ash_Rishi

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