I recently attended a popular conference to hear about the advances that pharma companies are making in digital marketing.
For the first two days, I heard a lot about the digital platforms that the industry is using to better understand their customers and meet their needs. After a while, however, I started to feel that the voice of the customer was missing from the debate. I wanted to ask what physicians and patients thought of pharma’s digital offerings.
Towards the end of the conference, a physician panel was posed this very question. Their collective response suggested that pharma is not always giving its customers what they need.
It turns out that many physicians rely on third-party unbranded websites, peer networks and professional bodies to get their information. One physician said that, if she needed guidance about a specific treatment or symptom, she would tweet a question to her private professional network rather than go to a pharma company’s website.
The same is true for patients. They share symptoms, treatment options and gather health guidance through social media sites and patient-empowered networks. On the whole, they do not rely on pharma-generated content. As a result, pharma often lacks a voice in what should be some of its most meaningful customer conversations.
‘Old wine, new bottles’
This resonated with me. When I used to work on pharma companies’ digital transformation programmes, their approach used to feel like ‘old wine, new bottles’.
Pharma was essentially repackaging existing paper-based promotional materials and pushing it through new digital channels (such as e-detailing and mobile) to physicians. The problem was that the messaging was still product-centric, not patient-centric, and therefore did not resonate with the customer anymore.
As a result, customers have started using a range of non-pharma information sources and digital approaches to gather essential insight (such as the twitter example above). Meanwhile, a range of healthcare professionals, patients, bloggers and tweeters have become the new opinion leaders and their voices are being heard through social media and the internet. It seems that pharma companies have been left behind.
Using digital as an enabler
So how can pharma companies evolve their digital offerings to better meet real customer needs?
They should bear in mind that physicians are inherent problem solvers and are keen to stimulate shared learning. Physicians want to advance knowledge so as to collectively address scientific, medical and patient issues. As the healthcare industry is shifting towards patient-centric care, with a focus on outcomes, pharma should therefore look to provide agile platforms, coupled with insightful content, to stimulate rich networks of healthcare providers. Together, they can help solve key healthcare challenges.
In addition, pharma should remember that, for digital offerings to be successful, they have to provide value-adding services that align with a physician’s daily workflow and ‘go where they go’. Similarly, from a patient perspective, pharma’s digital offerings must enrich lives and align with their daily routine. For some conditions, digital is a lifeline for patients. It helps patients track symptoms, share experiences across the community and ultimately better manage their condition.
There is consistent demand for pharma to incorporate new digital technologies and innovations into its marketing activities. Putting it simply, to become a voice in the digital conversation, pharma companies must evolve their approach to focus less on technology and more on developing insight-rich content that addresses real-time patient needs. The outcome will be indispensable relationships.
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