Pharma Marketing

Pharma digital marketing in the U.S. Spending more and wrong.

The US Healthcare and Pharmaceutical Industry 2014: Digital Ad Spending Forecast and Trends, a new report from eMarketer shows that Pharma Marketing spending on digital remains on steady 3.0% of the total digital ad spending level. Unfortunately half of it is spent wrong.
This has been a common joke of marketers and advertisers for a long time: If I only knew which half I spend on wrong tactics I would make myself and my company rich. However, jokes aside, at K-message we can clearly see which quarter of this budget is going wrong way. We talk serious money here, healthcare and pharma ad spending is now at USD 1.41 bn level, and by 2017 we will pass the threshold of two billions.

US Healthcare and Pharma Industry Digital Ad Spending 2012-2018. Source:
US Healthcare and Pharma Industry Digital Ad Spending 2012-2018. Source:

eMarketer takes into account all healthcare and pharmaceutical digital marketing spending in the United States. It includes prescribed (Rx) and over the counter (OTC) products, specific products and services addressed to healthcare professionals, as well as direct to consumer advertising of products, services, hospitals, health insurers etc.
More than half of this budget (56%) goes for direct response advertisement. The remainder of 44% is spent on branding campaigns. This is an artificial segmentations, as the objective of campaign usually is not so clear in the American, DTC driven market. Every branding effort may bring direct response.
What is more striking in eMarketer’s report is the share of spending on healthcare and pharma digital marketing by channel. It seems that mobile is still an ugly duckling for pharma marketers, who dedicate only 26.5% of their budget to mobile formats.
It is incredible if you look at this from the perspective. The same crowd that claims “we want more direct response and we spend more than half of our budget for it” in the same time neglects the channel that is the best to accomplish this objective.
Healthcare and pharma marketing is the single industry that spends on mobile the smallest chunk of its budget. Even PC makers spend 33% of their budget on mobile, but we in Pharma remain connected to the desktop. If we go mobile, pharma marketing focus mostly on mobile search advertisement.
US Digital Ad Spending by Industry and Channel 2014, Source:
US Digital Ad Spending by Industry and Channel 2014, Source:

We can try to persuade ourselves, that there is some logical reasoning behind this inefficient budget allocation. However, at K-message we tend to believe that the only reason to avoid mobile advertising in pharma is simply change-aversion. Mobile advertisement is well regulated, rules are clear, and results are easily measurable. It allows better interaction than PC in many dimensions: it can be geo-located, instant, personalized. The only disadvantage over display ad on PC screen? It requires additional work.
Digital marketing is not a rocket science that Pharma R&D are performing. You can start simply with text messaging in your next multichannel campaign. Make sure that your next edetailing is part of the CLM. Give your audience some thrill with elements of gaming. Do not fly everyone to the remote conference site, use virtual one instead. This is pharma digital marketing, not putting banners every here and there.
We really hope that pharma marketers will surprise eMarketer by proving they know how to use digital marketing tactics efficiently. Fingers crossed!

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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 3 Key Lessons on Social Media in the Pharmaceutical Industry

On 22nd and 23rd of January in London I was honored to be a speaker at the Social Media in the Pharmaceutical Industry conference. Now back in Swiss Pharma capital city – Basel, let me summarize the key lessons on the social media in pharma industry I took back from the United Kingdom.

Social Network Analysis book cover [social media in pharmaceutical industry]
Social Network Analysis book cover (Photo credit: Matthew Burpee)
First of all, the event itself was really worth to attend. If you heard alarm bells buzzing on the bullshit bingo sequence of social media in pharma, this time it would be a false alarm. Not because of my humble presence, but because of the other participants and the content of their presentations. The chairwoman of the event, my ex-colleague at Roche, now enjoying freedoms of the external consultant, Alexandra Fulford (@pharmaguapa) made sure that we were not lost on the way. Having said that, let us digest the content of the conference.

Social Media in Pharmaceutical Industry Key Learning #1: Social Media is not a marketer’s toy, but a source of powerful intelligence data. A Big Data!

A diagram of a social network [social media in pharmaceutical industry]
A diagram of a social network (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
My senior colleague from Roche, Dr. Alfred R. Steinhardt now in the hat of PA Consulting Group and his own Alfred Steinhardt Consulting, showed us an incredible power of the Social Media used not for standard “what they said about us”. Dr. Steinhardt provided example of social media used by pharmaceutical industry for recruitment to clinical trials (social patient). We could also see social media as a tool to identify and engage with Key Opinion Leaders (in this new world, aren’t they rather Influencers?) who do not necessarily recruit from academia as in the past. Maybe most striking, even if not the most common usage of Social Media was tracking origin of counterfeit drugs sold online.
As we discussed after the presentation, Social Media is not such a big revolution as some pundits say and it will not replace scientific method with statistical analysis of huge amounts of data. Still it is an extremely useful tool that should be looked at out of plain pharma marketing perspective. Which was further confirmed by Dr. Sherri Matis-Mitchell, an Associate Principal Information Scientist R&D Information at AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals. Dr. Matis showed us how Social Media, when properly used, can provide important answers to R&D teams in pharma industry and help identify unmet needs of patients.

Social Media in Pharmaceutical Industry Key Learning #2: Legal Team is not a threat (and can be a savior) for social media in pharma.

Let's Make It Legal [social media in pharmaceutical industry]
Let’s Make It Legal (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
An eye opening presentation of Audrey Hagege, a Legal Manager and Todd Kolm (@toddkolm), VP and Head of Global Digital Strategy from Sanofi showed us not only what Legal Teams think about Social Media. Even more important was how distorted is an image of legal teams in the eyes of us, digital marketers working on social media in pharma. At the end it is easy – just let your legal or compliance officer know what you are going to do. They are in the organization to help and protect, and not to stop any activities.
On the other hand, while social media in pharma is becoming more and more regulated, I had an impression that some of our colleagues are going dangerously close to the line. Ms. Müge Gizem Bıçakçı Akalın (@MGizemBA), a New Promotional Models Manager at Boehringer Ingelheim’s Turkish affiliate shared with us plans to promote a Facebook page of a feminine avatar with a name very closely resembling a brand of prescribed drug for menstrual pains. Is it already promotion and communication DTC, or still just a disease awareness campaign? Let’s hope Gizem has very good friends in her legal team and they are crystal clear about their legal framework.

Social Media in Pharmaceutical Industry Key Learning #3: Social media in pharma can be measured and data driven (but not always is).

Gary Monk (@Garymonk) from Havas Lynx and John Pugh (@JohnPugh) from BI shared similar thoughts on how to measure efficiency of pharma activities in social media. As we were sitting in the UK, for obvious reasons there were not much about direct impact on sales. However, we could see important metrics on the engagement. Both speakers provided some hints on what can be improved in Facebook and Twitter presence of the analysed brands, but it is not what is the most interesting from my point of view.  
What is more important is just an attempt to step back and look at those activities and try to measure them against each other. Then track what works and what is not. How your facebook page welcomes user? How fast do you respond (do you)? How often do you tweet? Do you follow others and do you retweet or share their posts? What makes Eli Lilly or Boehringer more successful in Social Media than in the market? We can find those answers, and we should as we are no longer pioneers in the social media. It is time to treat it as a serious communication channel with real budget and real targets to meet.
The lessons on social media in pharma listed above are not a comprehensive list. I have learnt much more, and I am going to share those lessons soon on K-message in other posts. There were great examples of social media and digital in action. Mobile app helping patients to fight against depression (Claire Perrin), Catz against Asthma (Ben Furber @BenFurber), Knowledge database available online to HCPs thanks to Merck and their Univadis (Thibaud Guymard @thibaudguymard), I will not be able to mention them all now. But I can now say thank you to all participants, speakers, and SMi for making this event so inspiring. Thank you!