Introduction and context
The web and email went mainstream in the UK around ten years ago. A fifth of all advertising in the UK is now online, making the web outrank television. Google has become the starting point for most people researching big decisions, and the combination of bookmarks, blogs and social media have become new tools for navigating and exploring issues. Every offline media business now has a massive online copy of their current and archived content, and the centre of gravity in publishing and broadcasting is shifting to the web.
In commerce, early adopter sectors such as insurance, ticketing, book shopping and IT hardware have shifted online almost entirely, while sectors such as real estate, new car sales and job hunting have seen the starting points in the customer journey shift while still retaining face to face contact at later stages. The journey of a customer towards purchase is now blended between traditional and digital channels.
Google, Wikipedia, Facebook and YouTube are symptoms of a massive cultural shift that is restructuring economies, social connections and the way people make decisions both in and out of work.
The pharmaceutical industry is simply a microcosm of this wider sea change, and while most pharma brands may have been surprisingly lethargic in embracing these new channels, the same isn’t true for their customers. From India to Latin America, South Africa to Scandinavia, doctors and healthcare professionals have embraced the web and email as a key tool in their everyday working lives. In many markets from North America to Western Europe, patients too have found the web so essential they are as likely to google up their symptoms as they are to ask a pharmacist. The decision-making landscape for pharmaceutical purchases today is unrecognisable compared to 2000.
Brands wanting to connect with patients, prescribers and purchase influencers have no choice but to embrace the new channels, and the given the general backwardness of the pharma sector they may even gain significant competitive advantage by moving quickly – as well as helping them cut costs by reducing their investment in classic channels.
Among professionals the switch in behaviour hasn’t finished. Every few months people find themselves spending more time online than they did before, using more sites, talking more with their friends, clocking up more hours on social networks, and shifting more of their communications.
In a world where patients turn to Google rather than their pharmacist and doctors go to online forums rather than conferences, the conservatism of the pharma industry has come at a heavy price.