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Honoring Revolutions of the Past, Present & Future

Wendy Blackburn

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In the noisy world of pharma industry conferences, I Don’t normally think much about what goes into a conference name.

But I expect the people who conceived of the name “eDTC Revolution” did so purposefully. A revolution implies a transformation. It suggests fast and fundamental change — usually for the better. And in some contexts, a revolution can imply a rebellion against the status quo. As pharma marketers, we find ourselves in the midst of health, technology, and communication revolutions today. And the end result is yet to be determined.

Three major themes stood out for me from the eDTC Revolution Conference: recognizing the past, embracing present opportunities, and preparing for future revolutions

Recognizing the past

We should stop, realize, and recognize: “My, how things have changed.” It truly has been a revolution. When it comes to technology and the ways we communicate, to survive we must recognize how much has changed and how quickly it continues to evolve.

Unless you joined the workforce yesterday, you likely recognize how much has changed. As speaker Jamie Turner pointed out in his presentation, “there have been more changes in the way people access information in the past 10 years than in the past 100 years.”

It wasn’t that long ago we relied on Polaroids and film to “point and shoot.” Today we capture images with iPhone and Instagram. Do you still keep maps in your car — the ones that drive you mad when you try to fold them back up? Or do you rely on your phone or GPS device to direct you to where you need to go?

It’s okay to admit we remember using these relics of the past; after all, it really wasn’t that long ago. What’s most important is to understand how these changes affect the world of the consumer. And that — no matter how badly we may want them to — things are not standing still. Social media, mobile hyper-usage, and consumer-centric marketing are not going away.

Embracing opportunities of the present

The healthcare industry has at its fingertips an extraordinary (and relatively new) means of connecting with people to improve health outcomes. You might be surprised and even skeptical to learn I’m talking about social media. But after hearing Dr. Kevin Pho, founder of the KevinMD blog, speak about his social media journey, I am further convinced of the potential of social media to improve health outcomes.

Dr. Pho spoke of the power of helping patients through his blog. He has witnessed firsthand the positive impact of the use of social media by health patients and physicians. Social media gives patients a resource and a voice that they never had before.

His advice to the pharma industry? “The biggest risk in healthcare social media is not using it at all,” he said. By not dispelling myths (i.e., “vaccines cause autism”), by not participating in the conversation, we lose our credibility and our voice in the space. “Transparency has the potential to increase consumer trust and sway public opinion,” he advised. He also advocated for the use of social media to help with patient education and medication compliance.

It was clear social media has made a tremendous difference in Dr. Pho’s life, though it wasn’t part of the medical school curriculum. Perhaps in the future it will be.

"This is a tremendous responsibility, but we must embrace it,” Dr. Pho said. “We can’t miss out on the opportunities of social media."

One might say he sounded like a revolutionary.

Staying relevant for the future

To be relevant to consumers in the future, pharma companies must think and act in dramatically different ways, focusing on the needs of the customer. One way to begin to do this is to give much more credence to content marketing.

Content strategy is the practice of planning, creating, and managing content for one’s web presence. It extends beyond copy or text to include images, video, and other types of content. And content strategy should extend beyond the website to properties outside your control.

Content marketing is far from a new or futuristic concept. But in truth, it is an aspirational notion for many pharma companies. Many pharmas have yet to embrace social media. They struggle to keep their websites updated, let alone optimized for search, social, or mobile use. And they rarely “distribute” content other than boilerplate press releases. That’s why I appreciated Ogilvy CommonHealth’s Buddy Scalera’s convincing and entertaining argument for developing and implementing a content strategy.

Often our clients hear “content marketing” and equate that with more work, more expense, and a tremendously larger volume of legal/medical/regulatory submissions. “can’t we just repurpose what we have?” they ask. In a word — no.

Scalera outlined a roadmap, case study and tools of the trade that marketers can use to integrate content strategy into the marketing process. Central to the theme was the point that It’s not only about what content you have to use, it must also be about what your customers want.

True, our industry faces larger hurdles and heftier expenses than most to create content that resonates. But — to echo Dr. Pho — there is also an opportunity to be an authority on certain subjects. To fill informational gaps for patients hungry for knowledge. To provide content and context that no one else is providing.

Building and implementing a content strategy takes thought, effort, and time. Start preparing for your future now and maybe you’ll at least be ahead of your competition by the time your content strategy comes of age.

Wrapping up a revolution

Are we witnessing a social revolution? A technological revolution? A revolution in medical science? I expect it is all of the above and more. By recognizing the past, embracing opportunities of the present, and staying relevant for the future, pharma companies can be a part of it all. Looking backwards or standing still simply is not an option.

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