Helping pharmaceutical brands unlock the power of the web


Danny Meadows-KlueDanny Meadows-Klue in conversation with Pharmaceutical Marketing magazine about the power and potential of digital channels in helping pharma brands reach their target customer.

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Define 'digital marketing'

We think of digital marketing as any marketing delivered through digital channels. That doesn’t imply that the marketing models themselves have to be different – and all of the classic models thrive on the internet, email and mobile – but the very nature of the new channels has created a range of new tools, approaches and models. From delivering the precision of Google’s search engine advertising, to harnessing the power of referrals through Facebook, to the role of brands as website publishers, and on to the richness of customer relationship management through email: these are techniques only possible in what I’ve called the ‘Digital Networked Society’.

Is digital marketing in widespread use within pharma now, or is it still perceived to be 'something that's coming'?

Pharma brands have missed a trick; in fact, a whole box of tricks. The pharma marketing model of combining classic media, events, and a heavyweight field sales force is pretty much the same as it was twenty years ago. In the US the growth of the direct to consumer (DTC) sector has pushed television and press consumer media further, but in most countries the media mix is pretty conservative. This means that the power of email to manage stakeholder relationships, the potential for online media to remind niche groups of customers of the brand’s benefits, and the new techniques in data analysis and profiling, are consistently underused by the pharma sector. Here at Digital, we think that’s a shame, and a natural inefficiency in sales and marketing. The pattern is true among companies large and small, and yet for firms that can break the confines of their past, rich pickings await.

Many articles on digital marketing in healthcare seem to insist that pharma companies should 'look at what their customers are doing', in terms of continuing education, communication, receiving information online etc. If pharma is currently not doing this, what do you think are the reasons for it?

The regulatory frameworks around the pharma industry have created a culture that stifles innovation. While the role of regulation is deeply understood, and the demands of compliance procedures are clear, the resulting culture has become conservative in a way that is restricting the business models of these firms.

How clear is the evidence that digital marketing is becoming more effective than traditional methods? How can pharma determine with certainty that digital marketing warrants a larger slice of the budget?

The role of digital channels is broad. They can be the sum of all marketing combined: raising awareness, building a brand, leading the customer towards a sale, closing the sale and following through with as much after sales service and relationship marketing as any marketer could ask for. In the UK the amount spent in online advertising will top the amount that goes into TV advertising by the end of the decade, and when you look at that level of change it’s not hard to see when a sector stands out as behaving against the trend.

Do you consider that digital platforms will eventually take centre stage in marketing? If so, when might this become true, and what might a typical healthcare marketing programme look like versus a 'traditional' package?

New marketing models have emerged. It doesn’t mean that the internet is at the heart of every campaign, but it does mean that there are entirely new ways of thinking about how the marketing process works. For example, a pharma brand wanting to market to GPs might use the BMJ’s online sites or a pureplay web business like to reach out with brand advertising. They might partner with one of those media companies to create videocasts that talk about their products, and as part of the GP training programme may go much deeper to create content that allows prescribing doctors to talk about the experience of the drug in the field. If they have this sort of content then they can reach out to highly targeted clusters of potential prescribers and deliver an information message along with a link to the videos, and the familiar factsheets and information. Alongside that channel the brand could reach out to the PCTs with similar messages to influence the prescribing regime among budget holders. It’s not just the web and email of course; a couple of these points could benefit from a field sales visit. However with most potential customers just too busy to see sales reps, there could be more efficient ways of making that connection. Trade shows, conferences, events sponsorship and print probably all still play a role, but this should only be part of the story.

For brands to think digital they need to be fusing their best insights of relationship marketing with the richest understanding of their customers. They’ll want to get close to the primary customer and build up enough knowledge so they can send only the most relevant of messages. That’s a big ask for many brands, and with marketing teams still over-focussed on the classic channels of communication, it’s not hard to see why there is a disconnect between where the customer has gone and where the marketing budgets remain.

What are the issues around measuring return on investment?

Digital channels are the most accountable of all media. Learning what to count, how to count it, and how to use what you count takes practice, but once you’re through the learning curve it’s easy to tell exactly what works, when and how. A few years back I started teaching the Digital Analytics Academy and quickly discovered why most web businesses are flying blind, failing to have the right key performance indicators in place, and why many more waste energy tracking the wrong thing altogether. The reality is that from each outbound email, to the click, the open rate, the follow-through and the break in a conversion process, the web can be the marketers best friend. It just takes time to find out what to trust and what to ignore. Get it right and your marketing becomes truly trackable and your KPIs really meaningful. And the biggest revelation of all? Once you’ve mastered web analytics and you know the cost per sale, revisit the value you get from marketing through your classic channels – that’s the most eye-opening lesson of all.

Where do you start in digital marketing?

Open the marketing magazines in any country and you’re greeted with a hundred demands: “your brand needs to be online, it needs a new micro-site, it needs email relationships, it needs to blog” – all of which can be daunting for the marketing team that’s just starting out on its first internet campaigns. But if the solutions the internet offers are the ‘sum of all other media’ combined, then why not harness that approach as a way of getting to grips with a firm’s first few online marketing plans?

Treating online media as a mirror to classic media will help with unbundling the marketing channel mix, selecting the right advertising formats and building the right schedule of sites. For example, if a firm traditionally gets its customers through local telephone directories, then getting your listing into their online equivalent services naturally follows. Looking more closely at the advertising model will lead the marketing managers into search engines and the pay-per-click keyword advertising of both the global search brands and the strong national players.

If postal mail is the relationship tool, then email is the starting point online. If a sponsorship positions the brand in the right environment for the right audience offline, then a similar sponsorship on a web property could probably do the same. Coupons and promotions that work well in newspapers for retailers, can be mirrored on the web too. If partnerships work well in sporting events, then building a relationship with that sporting content online is worth checking out. Even television commercials that display the elegance of a new car can now be streamed on many high traffic media sites. Sure, the audience numbers and profile need to be checked and qualified, but this approach makes for a great start.

The same is true in business-to-business marketing: most trade magazines will have their own online properties that enjoy a similar audience. They increasingly have strong email news services to support them and an editorial coverage that goes further than the print editions can, creating another good candidate for an online campaign. Trade shows are developing their online solutions and the models are transferring well.

Back in the early days of the web, there were few formats. The ‘banner’ may be the longest established shape and size, but it was only created in 1994 and is barely a teenager. However, that vacuum has now been filled as marketing formats multiplied, from tens to thousands, giving marketers the incredible choice they have today. The scope of formats has broadened too, with podcasts mirroring radio programmes, social networks providing channels for online PR, blogs creating spaces for self-expression, and television starting to be delivered effectively through the web.

This approach can work in selecting the media channels themselves. If you’re new to online marketing, it can help you start building your media plan: look for the partners you would use in a classic offline campaign and then review their online alternatives. Printed consumer magazines, broadcast radio, traditional television, business directories: they all have their equivalents on the web. Then add to your thinking online’s unique creations such as high traffic hubs provided by portals (maybe the equivalent in reach to a television station), the sales networks or affiliate networks that unite hundreds of mid-size sites, the niche ‘internet-only’ services, and the massive search engines.

There are many different ways to get started in selecting advertising formats and channels in online media, but thinking about the ‘mirror’ can be a helpful technique for extending marketing plans into the web. Savvy digital marketers will readily leap further; creating non-linear versions of television commercials, building brand image with integrated campaign marketing and using the power of search for diverse customer acquisition and branding strategies. But for starting out, the ‘mirror’ can be a great way to structure your approach.

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