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Looking Outside Pharma’s Walls

Intouch Team

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Looking Outside Pharma’s Walls

This was my second year attending ePharma Summit. Just like last year, it was a who’s who of pharma marketing including top industry executives, agencies and vendors. Unlike last year, I decided to take a little time after the conference to digest some of the overarching ideas and see exactly which topics would stick in clients’ minds. Of course, social media and mobile dominated the conversation and though those topics were prevalent, there was another topic that seemed to hit home with a lot of attendees I’ve spoken to since the conference: the need for pharma marketers to look outside the pharma industry for inspiration to innovate.

This is always difficult for pharma marketers. Why? Because in one breath we are asked to bring examples from outside the industry to the table, and in a second breath we are asked who else is doing this in pharma. It is an understandable catch-22. On one hand we want to provide the best possible experiences to patients, caregivers and HCPs, and on the other we need precedence to make medical, legal and regulatory teams feel comfortable that these innovative approaches are not going to receive a warning letter from the Office of Prescription Drug Promotion. Regardless of this situation, there were a few ideas presented at ePharma Summit that can safely be adapted by pharma marketers to improve customer experience.

The Quantified Self

Kevin Kelly of Wired magazine introduced us to "the quantified self." He showed how consumer interaction with technology has produced an alarming amount of personal data. With Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, Pinterest and all of the other social networks on the Internet, each of us has amassed a log of our lives. With gadgets like Fitbit, Nike+ Fuelband and Jawbone Up, we have logged our health and wellness. And with websites like Google, Microsoft HealthVault, InsideTracker and PatientsLikeMe, we have tracked our behavior. Put all of this quantifiable data together and we have a pretty accurate view of our lives.

The possibilities of what can be done with even limited access to this data are staggering. But for pharma, the implication is that this data could help us move from reactive medicine to true preventive medicine. The trends shown in the data could revolutionize the health care industry by personalizing treatments.

Of course, access to this data comes at a hefty price. Privacy is the first hurdle. The question that needs to be answered is who owns the data? Is it the property of the individual? Or, is it the property of the site being used to track the information? Or, is there some other group that needs to take control and manage the data? Kelly proposes that each of us own our personal data, but we grant access to others when there is a distinct benefit to us. I agree. If there were a distinct value in allowing someone access to my data, I would grant that access. And when I put this in the context of my health and wellness, I would definitely grant access to those who could grant me the benefits of preventive medicine versus reactive treatment—whether it is a doctor, caregiver, medical device or pharmaceutical company.

Mass Personalization

When I first heard the term "mass personalization" at ePharma Summit, I laughed. My initial response was that the term alone was an oxymoron. Just by definition, personalization doesn’t happen en masse. Charlotte McKines, global vice president, marketing communications and channel strategies at Merck, made me rethink my response. Automated mass personalization has been happening on a micro level in email for years. McKines contends that these same principles we’ve been using for email can be expanded for all digital channels … and, she’s right.

What McKines is envisioning has been dubbed "Big Data." It means creating a marketing ecosystem where data drives personalization across a multichannel platform. The most difficult part of this system would be creating the database that would act as the engine for such a marketing platform. It would mean gathering large amounts of data and understanding its relevance to each customer in order to utilize it for communications. It would mean regular data hygiene to ensure the information is accurate. It would mean understanding each customer and building the system in accordance with their preferences. Yes, it can be done. Automated personalization can be accomplished en masse. But it will take a fundamental shift in thinking when it comes to data collection and the customer continuum—the kind of thinking we are seeing from companies like Amazon, Zappos and BabyCenter. They have learned to tame the constant stream of Big Data and use it to their advantage.

Human-Centricity and "The Dragonfly Effect"

With all the discussion of data and how to use it effectively to connect with customers, another topic emerged from ePharma Summit: human-centricity. Andy Smith, author of "The Dragonfly Effect," put some of the earlier discussions about data into perspective when he talked about the very human, or emotional, tenets of his book. His theory is that social media works best when it has meaning. And meaning is driven by four factors:

  1. Focus — Companies that want to have an impact on customers using social media must focus on a single goal. They should ask themselves what single-focused goal is actionable, measurable and the mere thought of achieving it makes people happy?
  2. Grab Attention — Companies must provide messages that are personal, unexpected, visceral and visual in order to make people look and remember.
  3. Engage — Companies must tell an authentic story that customers can empathize with and be willing to spend time talking about.
  4. Take Action — Companies must get employees and customers to act. They must arm them with the tools necessary to do something beyond the message.

What Andy Smith describes is a very human-centric marketing approach. He showed a great example of how this worked with the Coca-Cola Happiness Machine where a Coke machine placed on a college campus gave away more than just one Coke per customer. From too many Cokes for one person to ever drink or carry to a 10-foot party sub, the machine surprised people all day long and allowed them to share some happiness with the people immediately around them.

And as we move toward the quantified self and mass personalization, it will take a human-centric approach to ensure marketing success. We have to take into account that our customers are human, and understanding their emotions is extremely important when we ask them to interact with our brands.

Looking back at ePharma Summit, I feel the conference showed us what companies outside pharma have done and what we’ve done inside pharma in comparison. I believe there has to be a middle ground. We cannot simply dismiss efforts by saying we could never do that in pharma. Technology is too far advanced for us not to be able to find a way. Customers expect us to innovate and evolve with them. I can’t help but feel it would be an epic tragedy for the public health if pharma can’t find a way to live up to customers’ expectations. And like many of my colleagues at ePharma Summit, I came away from the conference refocused on ensuring that doesn’t happen.


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