Pharma Marketing

Text messaging in multichannel pharma marketing

Multi-channel marketing strategies usually include old tactics such as telemarketing, direct mailing and printed detail aids to accompany more fancy mobile applications, eDetailing on tablets and over the Web. Good old SMS text messaging is forgotten in the era of smartphones. Is it really so smart?

SMS in pharma marketing

Text messaging is a tactic that pharma marketers used in the past. There were successful pharma marketing campaigns with text messaging at the core of the execution.
One such example is Pfizer’s recruitment for a study that targeted teenage smokers with a radio campaign. The call to action instead of traditional “call us now” was replaced by “text us now” which allowed young audience to discreetly make a contact with researchers, even if they listened to the spot in their (unaware of teen’s deadly habit) parents’ car.

Novartis with its SMS for Life campaign allows better access to malaria treatment in Africa. A successful pilot in Tanzania that has been running since 2009, has encouraged the company to roll it out in other markets, including Kenya, Ghana and Cameroon. So far the results were very impressive, allowing company to reduce stock-outs of the antimalarial ACTs from 26% to just 1% of the facilities.
GSK is using text messaging to increase childhood vaccination rates in Mozambique and to fight counterfeit products in Tanzania. Merck is running a diabetes sms campaign in Kenya and Uganda…
But wait a moment, it is all just marginal actions, and never the core of the brand strategy in the product lifecycle. It seems that text messaging is no longer considered as a part of still trendy mobile marketing. Ask your average pharma marketing expert for mobile tactics, and you will get a standard list:
– build a mobile app
– build a mobile or responsive website
– make your e-mails mobile ready
This is all fine, but:
– a mobile app is usually a costly mistake that with limited reach and extremely short lifespan
Only 30% of apps is downloaded. Of those, only 30% is ever opened. For free apps, only 5% are still being used after one month. Astonishing 80% of mobile apps have less than 1000 downloads.
Yes, you can be lucky and make an app that is actually useful and used, as Merck was with its Clarityn’s Pollen Forecast app. But if you are in the Rx world, there is a very slight chance that a mobile app will work for you.
– a mobile or responsive website is good to have, but to convey a scientific message you need a big screen anyway. Check your current web entities for stats of mobile usage and you will be surprised how rarely HCPs are visiting it with the mobile device that is not a tablet. And for tablets, a standard website is perfectly fine.
– the e-mails are often read on mobile, that is true. Therefore, it is worth an effort to make your e-mails mobile friendly, but never stop here. If your e-mail reached a user on the mobile, the landing page should be optimized for mobile as well. Do not expect anyone to read a scientific paper on an iPhone or, even worse, Blackberry. Instead make the user journey mobile end-to-end – let them order delivery of the paper with one tap, rather than providing a download button as you would do for PC or Mac users. Limit length of the survey, make sure the landing page is light on text, etc. etc.
What your consultant probably forgot to add, a text message is much more friendly for phone users than e-mail. It can be even richer in content, especially if you decide to embed in your campaign OTT messages.
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Text message marketing vocabulary
Short Message Service (SMS) – the oldest standard for text messaging. It allows sending 160 characters, plain text. It is extremely cheap and can be very narrowly targeted. It can reach every phone, which gives you maximum potential reach. Arriving SMS is accompanied with buzz sound set by the user, thus it is important to set silent hours for SMS campaigns.
Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS) – a standard to send messages with multimedia content to and from mobile phones. MMS can convey messages much longer than SMS, up to thousands characters or up to 1MB content. Unfortunately, its implementation differs from operator to operator and from device to device. Quality of the video and its length is also restricted, so limit yourself to 30 seconds, or use OTT instead.
Push notification – a service that allows an app installed on the device alert user with a message.If a push notification is received, an app will display it with its icon on the status bar of the device. It is useful for e-commerce applications (ie. while searching for an item, you may receive a push notification with a special time-limited offer from the merchant nearby). Unfortunately, the reach is limited to smartphones. On the other hand, users are keen on accepting Push while installing an app easier than to opt-in for SMS campaigns. Push is also cheaper than SMS.
Cross-channel messaging – messaging service can be used to seamlessly put content on other channels (ie. it is possible to receive and post Facebook comments via text messages, or use MMS to upload images on Flickr).
Over-The-Top messaging (OTT) – messaging with multimedia content that is enabled by mobile applications not associated with mobile operators (ie. Apple iMessage, WhatsUp, Blackberry Messenger). Messages are downloaded via data connection. If WiFi is used to send/receive OTT messages, it allows geolocation of the device. The best practice is to combine SMS/MMS with Push and OTT services.
Instant Messaging (IM) – real time text based communication over the Internet. From a mobile device it is non-discernible from OTT, and in some applications also merged with SMS/MMS service in one application view.
Short Code – a short, 5-6 digits, number for standard and premium rate use on assigned territories. Used for mass marketing campaigns. You can use a shared short code from your vendor to launch your campaign faster, but it will limit available keywords (each can be used only once per code). The best practice is to register single short code for your brand, especially in the long term campaigns.
Long Code – 10 digits phone numbers, as used by standard subscribers in person to person communication. They may be used for campaigns that happen across different territories, but the limitation is the amount of messages that can be processed via long code at the time.

Advantages of SMS marketing for pharma and mobile health

Forgotten by external consultants in the age of pharma cross-channel marketing, mobile messaging is still alive and growing. Actually, it is the most-used non-voice channel in the world, with 14.7 trillion messages sent worldwide in 2012. With the rise of OTT and IM applications the growth of this way of communication may be even faster than expected, going well beyond an estimated 28.2 trillion threshold by 2017.
Everyone gets now text messages from banks after transactions, from airlines when the flight is ready to board, from retailers who offer us their special deals. Pharma marketers could learn from their clients how to use text messaging.
Healthcare providers are sending messages to:
– manage appointments,
– provide information,
– inform on the prescriptions
– remind patients that there is some FSA money left to be spent before the end of the year.
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For non-US readers:
FSA stands for Flexible Spending Account and allows to pay for some medical and dental procedures or products and deduct it from the tax
Pharmacies are sending out pick-up notices, links to package inserts content, and allow text-to-refill service to their customers.
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SMS and mobile messaging advantages for pharma marketing:


  • Improved relevance: Message can be easily tailored for the specific recipient, embedding itself into the CLM concept with tracking capabilities.
  • Cost efficiency: Efficiency much better than e-mail notification in terms of Open Rate (~90%). Response rate is also very high ranging from 5 to 25%, around eight times better than for e-mail.
  • Always within context: Text messages are opened at the time of receipt. You can make sure that the message content is aligned to the schedule (or even location with Push and OTT) of your recipient.
  • Providing value through the whole process of customer relationship management, from the initial opt-in confirmation at an appointment, through reminders to thank you messages. Always interactive and fully tracked!
  • Compliant: SMS/Texting follows similar pharma/healthcare industry regulations as other communications channels.


Use cases for text messaging in pharma marketing and medical affairs:


  • Patient recruitment for clinical trials
  • Patient adherence (in clinical trials and after marketing authorization during therapy)
  • HCP and Sales Representative relationship: appointments, reminders, additional information in two-way communication


How to make a text messaging campaign that converts?

If you reached to this point, you are probably convinced, that text messaging is the tactic to include in your strategy. That is fine, but to make sure you are successful, we have prepared some tips and tricks, that will make your campaign better. We are all about digital marketing, so we assume you know the basics – your KPIs are already defined, and you will measure your conversion rates. So how to make sure your text message will convert?
Some of the tips are no brainers, but differ a bit in messaging campaigns from an e-mail world.
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Tips for converting text messaging campaign


  • Carefully consider timing of the campaign. With an e-mail, you targeted specific days of the week. With mobile campaigns, you need to be perfectly clear about an hour (and a time zone!) when the message buzzes in your audience pockets.
  • Targeting your audience is similar to what you do in other digital channels. However, your text message will probably come from the same code through the campaign, and your audience may respond. To ensure success, first shape your communication to the audience group (ie. cardiologists), then make a tree of possible reactions and answers to them.
  • It is somewhat similar to what you would do providing a script for telemarketers. You need to think about the message as a part of longer conversation. Never repeat the same message, always refer to the previous state, and make the user journey interesting with different call-to-action.
  • Whenever you can, do A/B testing of your messages. We are aware you need to submit them to the regulatory, thus submit different versions of the message, just in case the original one is not working as well as supposed.
  • Call to action is really important, especially if you have 160 characters, and you need to make sure that there is a Fair Balance in your message. Therefore, try to embed your messaging into other elements of the campaign. The most important will always be the landing page, but text messaging allows more response types than other channels.

After receiving and viewing your message, recipient can:

  • call back (make sure there is a call center ready)
  • schedule an appointment with rep
  • start remote detailing
  • order samples or research paper delivery
  • watch video, document or website content
  • download an app or bookmark page
  • share some content via social media or e-mail
  • answer a short survey
  • enroll to the program
  • opt-out from the communication (you have to always provide this possibility!)
  • probably you can imagine some other responses as well

As you can see there is a lot that you can do with simple message, and the more options you have in your campaign, the better results. You just need to test and fine-tune your campaign to select what works the best to deliver your key message and build valuable conversation with your audience.

Regulatory constraints for an SMS marketing in Pharma

As with every pharma marketing tactic, you must be aware of certain regulatory constraints while planning your text messaging campaign. The most important document to follow is CTIA Compliance Assurance Solution Mobile Commerce Compliance Handbook.
For U.S. run campaigns, you also need to be compliant with TCPA, HIPAA and (if you address children) COPPA regulations.

The key considerations from a regulatory compliance perspective for use of text messaging in pharma marketing:


  • You have a permission from the consumer to send messaging from your company (Prior Express Written Consent)
  • The short code used is the same for which consumer opted-in
  • Your campaign has been approved by carriers
  • All medical information is governed by HIPAA in terms of privacy protection
  • Consumer has always an opportunity to opt-out from all communications and is always informed about any cost that may be charged against him due to participation in your program.
  • In the U.S., according to 21 CFR 314.81(b)(3)(i), all advertisements and promotional labeling for a particular drug product must be submitted to the FDA at the time of initial publication or dissemination.  Each submission is required to be accompanied by a completed transmittal Form FDA-2253.


Rich Communication: the future of mobile marketing

Mobile messaging campaigns with SMS, MMS, Push and OTT is already very efficient channel. However, the technology is going forward, and new capabilities are being rolled out. Rich Communications Services (RCS), marketed as “joyn”,  is the platform that enables the delivery of communication experiences beyond voice and SMS, providing consumers with instant messaging or chat, live video and file sharing – across devices, on any network.

With RCS, we will be able to combine in one interaction a message, video, call, and remote detailing. Joyn does not need any additional setup from the end-user. It is provided by a carrier and ready to use within compatible devices. Supported by GSMA, the technology is already being rolled out across the globe. This new standard will be yet another reason to think “messaging” as the first option where it comes to mobile marketing.

Pharma Marketing

Hard Trends for Innovation in Pharma Marketing

Success in pharmaceutical industry depends on innovation. We are in the constant race with mutating microbes, viruses and cells. New regulations, stakeholders and disruptive competitors are changing industry landscape every day.

Innovation (Photo credit: Thomas Hawk)

At the recent Pharma Customer Experience Management Summit in Berlin, where I was one of the speakers, the innovation was a leitmotif. One particularly strong accord was played by Alexander Simidchiev from GSK. In his presentation, Customer-Centric Approach in Pharma: Future of Healthcare?, Alex has pointed out what I believe is the best approach to smart innovation in pharmaceutical marketing.
Inspired by Daniel Burrus’ methodology described in the book Flash Foresight, Alex advises pharma marketers to look for the “hard trends”.
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Hard trend is a projection based on measurable, tangible, and fully predictable facts, events, or objects. It is something that will happen: a future fact that cannot be changed.
In the day to day practice of pharma marketing we can often see urge to innovate based on the opposition of the hard trend. Something, that Burrus would call a “soft trend”, something, that only might happen.
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Soft trend is a projection based on statistics that have the appearance of being tangible, fully predictable facts. It’s something that might happen: a future maybe.
Such “soft trend” is easy to be sold by marketers and consultants. You may hear that we should go mobile (the smartphones are on the rise, aren’t they?). You may learn, that eDetailing on tablets is a must (everyone has an iPad, buy one too, quickly!).
It is not a bad thing to identify such soft trends and use them for your innovation. The thing is, however, that soft trend can be influenced and changed. It is the change of this trend that innovator should capitalize on. Followers of those soft trends risk being punished with the next disruption.
However, such approach is not enough. As Alexander Simidchiev said, basing on his experience in pharmaceutical industry, for

Most of what I currently percieve is cosmetic changes in the industry which has changed little since the hayday of anilin based medical wonders, currently addressing mainly short term priorities and tactical issues. The result is that the industry chronically suffers from suboptimal reputation, and we are always “on the back foot” trying to defend past practices, instead of treading the virgin soil (together with other partners and stakeholders) of how to overcome the current challenges facing the healthcare system, for which (my personal deep belief) pharma is one of the possible, if not dominantly positive solutions. This requires that current marketing practices refocus from talking product to joint solutions for societal needs.

To be prepared for what will happen, you need to look at hard trends. This will not change, and it provides a solid foundation for growth. Hard trends are derived from demographics, regulations and technological advances (in terms of growth of “three digital accelerators”: processing power, storage and bandwidth).
Alexander Simidchiev in his presentation has applied this approach to look at pharmaceutical industry. Hard trends derived from demographics facts are stunning. Simple combination of current knowledge of age profiles for public expenditure on healthcare in EU countries (how much is spend for the healthcare of people in certain age), with data on ageing of the population shows, that current system cannot be sustainable in the near future.

Age profiles for public expenditure in health. Economic Policy Committee (2001) “Budgetary challenges posed by ageing populations” p. 34 [PDF]. An arrrow added by
Age profiles for public expenditure in health. Economic Policy Committee (2001) “Budgetary challenges posed by ageing populations” p. 34 [PDF]. An arrrow added by
On the other hand the same fact of ageing population affects how HCPs of today are working. 2014 was a tipping point, when the majority of HCPs in the EU is digitally native. All newly qualified doctors now, were born after 1988, and started their studied in 2005, which means they used the Internet to learn medicine (PubMed has started in 2006). They find digital more natural than printed materials for acquiring professional knowledge.
Those are hard trends, not guesses, and pharma marketers have to face it or their companies will struggle. We need to be prepared for dramatic shift in our business model, with less money for much bigger population in public healthcare system. We have to use digital channels to be understood by new generation of HCPs, and to provide information the new, digitally savvy patients.
It is not about nice mobile apps or shiny presentations on iPad. It is about the future. As Alexander Simidchiev, quoting Peter Drucker, has closed his presentation: The best way to predict the future is to create it.

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Pharma Marketing

Top 5 most expensive pharma marketing failures since 2010

Pharma marketing costs the most when it is not compliant to the regulations. Any unlawful or improper marketing campaigns in pharmaceutical can result in fines counted in billions of dollars. A report “Pharmaceutical Industry Criminal and Civil Penalties: An Update” by Public Citizen ranks the largest settlements by drugmakers, and shows these companies paid out 74 settlements to the tune of $10.2 billion from Nov. 2010 to July 2012. Public Citizen’s report does not include recent Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiary, Janssen Pharmaceuticals settlement regarding Risperdal, Wellbutrin and Avandia misleading promotion.
Basing on the report of Public Citizen and U.S. Department of Justice data, has compiled a list of top 5 most expensive failures of pharma marketing that resulted in heavy fines.
1. $3 000 000 000 – on 2nd of July 2012, GlaxoSmithKline LLC (GSK) has agreed to pay total 3 billion dollars to resolve its criminal and civil liability arising from the company’s unlawful promotion of certain prescription drugs, its failure to report certain safety data, and its civil liability for alleged false price reporting practices. There were three brands that GSK promoted against the law.

Paxil (Photo credit: ~!)

  • The first, Paxil was unlawfully promoted for treating depression in patients under age 18, even though the FDA has never approved it for pediatric use. NB. Paxil, as other antidepressants, included on its label a “black box warning” stating that antidepressants may increase the risk of suicidal thinking and behavior in short-term studies in patients under age 18.
  • The second brand included in the settlement was Wellbutrin. From January 1999 to December 2003, GSK promoted Wellbutrin, approved at that time only for Major Depressive Disorder, for weight loss, the treatment of sexual dysfunction, substance addictions and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, among other off-label uses. 
  • The last brand involved was Avandia. In this case GSK failed to include certain safety data about Avandia, a diabetes drug, in reports to the FDA.  Since 2007, the FDA has added two black box warnings to the Avandia label to alert physicians about the potential increased risk of congestive heart failure, and myocardial infarction (heart attack). [Source]

2. $ 2 200 000 000 – on 30th of August 2013, Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiary, Janssen Pharmaceuticals settled for 2.2 billion dollars in total multiple civil and criminal cases arising from allegations relating to the prescription drugs Risperdal, Invega and Natrecor, including promotion for uses not approved as safe and effective by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and payment of kickbacks to physicians and to the U.S. largest long-term care pharmacy provider.

English: Risperdal (United Kingdom packaging)
English: Risperdal (United Kingdom packaging) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  • Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc., a J&J subsidiary, promoted the antipsychotic drug Risperdal to physicians and other prescribers who treated elderly dementia patients by urging the prescribers to use Risperdal to treat symptoms such as anxiety, agitation, depression, hostility and confusion. The medicine was approved at the time only to treat schizophrenia. Risperdal was also promoted for use for elderly, children and individuals with mental disabilities, against repeated FDA warnings (Until 2006 Risperdal was not approved for use in children for any purpose). For all this groups drug posed certain health risks that J&J was aware.
  • Similar allegations were made regarding to the newer J&J antipsychotic drug, Invega.  Although Invega was approved only for the treatment of schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder, the government alleges that, from 2006 through 2009, J&J and Janssen marketed the drug for off-label indications and made false and misleading statements about its safety and efficacy.
  • J&J and another of its subsidiaries, Scios Inc., caused false and fraudulent claims to be submitted to federal health care programs for the heart failure drug Natrecor.  In August 2001, the FDA approved Natrecor to treat patients with acutely decompensated congestive heart failure who have shortness of breath at rest or with minimal activity.  Government alleged that, shortly after Natrecor was approved, Scios launched an aggressive campaign to market the drug for scheduled, serial outpatient infusions for patients with less severe heart failure – a use not included in the FDA-approved label and not covered by federal health care programs. Scios had no sustainable evidence to support medical necessity of these outpatient infusions. [Source]

3. $1 500 000 000 – on 7th of May 2012,  Abbott Laboratories Inc. has agreed to pay $1.5 billion to resolve its criminal and civil liability arising from the company’s unlawful promotion of the prescription drug Depakote for uses not approved as safe and effective by the Food and Drug Administration.

depakote (Photo credit: JTony)

  • Abbott admits that from 1998 through 2006, the company maintained a specialized sales force trained to market Depakote in nursing homes for the control of agitation and aggression in elderly dementia patients, despite the absence of credible scientific evidence that Depakote was safe and effective for that use.   In addition, from 2001 through 2006, the company marketed Depakote in combination with atypical antipsychotic drugs to treat schizophrenia, even after its clinical trials failed to demonstrate that adding Depakote was any more effective than an atypical antipsychotic alone for that use.  The FDA approved Depakote for only three uses: epileptic seizures, bipolar mania and the prevention of migraines. [Source]

4. $1 200 000 000 – on 11th of July 2012 a judge in Arkansas ordered Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiary Janssen to pay more than $1.2 billion in fines on Wednesday, a day after a jury found that the companies had minimized or concealed the dangers associated with an antipsychotic drug Risperdal. For details of the allegations see number 2 of this list. Risperdal case generated also other, smaller fines in Texas ($158 million), South Carolina ($327 million) and Louisiana ($258 million). [Source]

5. $950 000 – on 22nd of November 2011, an american pharmaceutical company Merck, Sharp & Dohme has agreed to pay $950 million to resolve criminal charges and civil claims related to its promotion and marketing of the painkiller Vioxx® (rofecoxib).

  • Rofecoxib
    Rofecoxib (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

    Merck’s criminal plea relates to misbranding of Vioxx® by promoting the drug for treating rheumatoid arthritis, before that use was approved by the Food and Drug Administration. The FDA approved Vioxx® for three indications in May 1999, but did not approve its use against rheumatoid arthritis until April 2002.   In the interim, for nearly three years, Merck promoted Vioxx® for rheumatoid arthritis, conduct for which it was admonished in an FDA warning letter issued in September 2001.  Additionally Merck representatives  made inaccurate, unsupported, or misleading statements about Vioxx’s cardiovascular safety in order to increase sales of the drug. [Source]


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Pharma Marketing

GSK selects WPP GO Team for advertising pharma antacid brands

GlaxoSmithKline (Photo credit: Ian Wilson)

WPP’s GO Team is the new agency-of-record for advertising of two GlaxoSmithKline’s (GSK) top antacid brands.
GO – an alliance between Grey and Ogilvy – will provide integrated consumer communications, including TV, print and digital advertising, for GlaxoSmithKline’s antacid brands Tums and Eno.
Previously Grey was agency-of-record for Tums and Ogilvy was agency-of-record for Eno. The new combined account will be led out from New York, leveraging Grey and Ogilvy offices internationally.
GO’s strategic insights into the category played a large part in the selection, according to Anna Humiecka, global marketing director, GI Health, GSK. She also mentioned the team’s “compelling creative ideas and strong resources and talent”.
Available in eight varieties, Tums is the best-selling antacid in the US. Eno’s main markets are Spain, India, Mexico, Asia, Australia, UK, Middle East, Africa, Pakistan, South America, and Hong Kong.
The GO Team is part of WPP Team GSK which operates a portfolio of WPP companies working with GSK.