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All things Pharma

Taking pharma viral

 With the introduction of new mobile technologies advancing on a seemingly daily basis, David Round explains how pharmaceutical companies are perfectly placed to gain real value from the digital explosion.

Digital technologies can transform marketing from a push to a pull activity. From QR barcodes enabling healthcare professionals to request an edetail or download an app, to the use of social media to improve patient adherence, there is a huge opportunity for pharmaceutical companies to pioneer and deliver innovative solutions that provide quantifiable value to both healthcare professionals and patients.

However, it is important to remember that the technology is just a facilitator, another tool in the marketing mix, and one that must be tightly integrated with every other customer communication channel – critically, companies need to ensure that all these interactions are monitored, measured and integrated with the CRM system.

Digital audience

Digital marketing is fast becoming a core component of the overall marketing mix. But just how effectively are pharmaceutical companies exploiting both new technologies and new trends in healthcare professionals’ behaviour?

There is growing evidence that healthcare professionals are increasingly using smartphones throughout the day. A survey of 175 UK doctors by d4 revealed that 82% own a smartphone. When asked how they use the phone at work during a typical shift, 88% of respondents said they use them to communicate with other colleagues, 59% said they access information on the internet or intranet, while 30% use work related software apps.

Indeed, the global market for medical apps for mobile phones doubled in 2010, reaching almost $85 million, according to market research firm Kalorama. These apps typically focus on productivity and workflow processes, data management and information/education. Examples include apps that serve as drug references, help manage diabetes, record exercise schedules and update health records.

There are also a number of innovative solutions now being developed that are gaining huge traction with healthcare professions, from an app that allows an iPhone to operate as a single-lead electrocardiogram device, to remote diagnostics and the increasingly infamous iStethoscope app, which uses the in-built microphone to monitor patients’ heartbeats.

Creative challenge

So, just what is the value of developing such apps to the pharmaceutical industry? Considering the iStethoscope app has been downloaded by more than three million people, the opportunity is significant – and far outstrips the value of any number of pens or memory sticks. A pharmaceutical company that can come up with an app that gains that level of market traction puts any other marketing activity in the shade. But there are other opportunities. Pharmaceutical companies increasingly use social networks such as Twitter and Facebook to monitor and improve patient adherence, for example; while new technologies such as QR barcodes can be used to drive healthcare professionals towards a number of information resources and services, both online and face to face.

The challenge is to stand out from the crowd. While new technologies make it easier and cheaper to reach the audience, companies require a new level of creativity if digital marketing campaigns are to be successful. And timing is key. Look back to mid-2010 and the first iPad details gained fabulous response and recall rates from doctors fascinated by the attractive, innovative and brand new technology. But one year on, and several hundred iPad edetails later, the novelty is gone and recall rates have dropped. The challenge for pharmaceutical companies is to balance innovation and creativity against perceived value and the cost of creation.

Is it possible, for example, to leverage existing information to create an app or drive a new campaign? Will that be relevant if delivered via a smartphone or does the company need to create totally new material? Who is the target audience and what is the best way of reaching that audience – a mix of traditional and digital techniques will still apply.

Furthermore, the pharmaceutical industry must recognise that for the first time ever this information is being consumed in a very different way. In the past, a medical paper was received and read as a medical paper. But look at the figures: 82% of doctors have smartphones. They receive a massive range of offers and information – from new trainers to house details – via that device, as well as professionally relevant information. This changes the attitude and puts pressure on pharmaceutical companies to be as innovative and creative as any other business to consumer organisation: the line between consumer and healthcare professional is blurred in a digital environment.

Closing the loop

Critically, companies need to ensure that all these interactions are monitored, measured and integrated with the CRM system. A representative needs to know not only that the doctor has received a visit in the last three weeks, been sent a paper, or attended a conference, but also that he has downloaded an app or requested an edetail. Failing to link the digital channel to the rest of the organisation would undermine the investment already made in creating the 360 degree customer view.

One of the key technologies to enable this is the QR barcode, which uses a smartphone’s in-built camera capabilities to read a unique code as a way to provide a direct link to a web page or App Store. In addition, codes can include the details of a specific doctor, enabling companies to track response and automatically tie in activity to the CRM system to ensure the 360 degree customer view includes every aspect of digital activity.

Codes can be printed on a variety of surfaces and collateral, including journal ads and personalised direct marketing material. The healthcare professional simply scans the code using the smartphone, clicks the link and is automatically transported to the material, making it incredibly easy to provide access to both information and apps.

This technology can also be used to replace the traditional response card. Rather than ticking a box for a representative’s call, medical paper or patient materials and sending off the card to a fulfilment organisation, companies can use QR barcodes. Scanning the barcode will bring up a page that includes the individual’s details and an option to request a number of services, from medical information to booking a visit or an edetail. The process is streamlined, quick and easy for healthcare professionals and minimises the delay between information request and delivery.

New opportunities

For any pharmaceutical company looking to assess how best to communicate with a fast changing healthcare professional audience, digital marketing has clear value. But it is a challenge. Not only are there a raft of new channels to consider, but these are incredibly powerful ways of communicating with both professionals and patients if exploited to their full potential.

At the same time, the NHS is asking the pharmaceutical industry to take an even stronger role in defining the care pathway and drive down costs. Clearly the effective use of digital marketing could and should have a role to play – not least in improving patient adherence. Digital marketing offers pharmaceutical companies a faster way of communicating better with healthcare professionals. The key is to understand just what information/service needs to be communicated, from promotions to elearning, coaching about drugs and the use of apps for diagnostic testing.

Every company wants to leverage digital marketing; it is exciting and the opportunities are limitless. It will be those companies that can map innovation to genuine business challenge or market requirement that will truly leverage the new digital opportunity.

David Round is General Manager of Cegedim Relationship Management.

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