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Pharma: It’s Not About You

Guest Blogger

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I was delighted to co-author the below article on the patient-centric approach for Med Ad News’ DotPharma eNewsletter a few weeks ago. I thought readers here might enjoy it as well:

Pharma, it’s not about you anymore

Marketing and communications have fundamentally changed forever, and the pharmaceutical industry is no exception to this. Pharma communicators face new channels, new challenges, new rules, and seismic shifts in the way they reach both consumers and healthcare professionals.

Customers — not companies — control when and how they are communicated to.

Thanks to the Internet, the exchange of knowledge is democratized, widespread and rapid. And the expectation exists that corporate communications must be valuable, authentic, and immediate.

Dissecting social media propaganda

Just five or six years ago, search engine marketing was perceived as the next emerging promise in pharma eMarketing. Database marketing, eCRM, and emails were also becoming a focus. More recently, video emerged as the new big thing. It can be argued that all of these are still important. But today, there’s no doubt that social media is the current buzzword in pharma eMarketing. The groundswell of interest and energy around the Nov. 2009 FDA hearings was proof positive that the pharma industry is trying hard to figure out how to participate in social media. Industry publications focus on it, bloggers blog about it, conference speakers speak about it, and there are tweets aplenty. (Just search Twitter for hashtags #fdasm or #hcsm to see examples and a wealth of information on the topic.) Many personalities in the space are philosophizing, pontificating, and talking, and occasionally there will be some good advice or a helpful case study. But how can a pharma marketer decide where to even begin?

The current state of affairs

First, let’s look at where we are today. Take, for example, the role of the sales rep and his or her traditional approach to physician calls. Reps ask the physician if they can "count on them for the next five scripts." And when taking this concept into the digital realm via edetail, do we really still believe physicians will spend their own valuable time reviewing the digital equivalent of a sales aid? Compare this outdated approach to other industries, such as the auto industry. If someone is in the market to buy a car, do you think they would like to schedule time to get detailed by each company and each model? Or would they like to be in control of their own search for information and decision-making process … searching, reading reviews, asking friends, and test-driving in order to decide for themself? Physicians want to make their own decisions. And pharma companies are offering a product that patients don’t want to need, and often are in denial of needing. There are very real and serious barriers that complicate connecting with customers. You can’t sell medications online like a packaged good; it requires a new approach.

The customer-centric model

If pharmaceutical companies insist on continuing to drum the self-serving brand message, pharma’s attempt at social media will fail. Companies and agencies can be so consumed by shiny new objects like social media, they forget that, first and foremost, the approach must be customer-centric. Many prognosticators talk about the new age of a customer-centric model for pharma, but what does that really mean?

Pharmaceutical companies must marry these two fundamentals:
  • What patients and professionals really want and need
  • What the pharmaceutical company wants and needs

It’s time for pharmaceutical companies to work to repair the damage to their reputations, and step up to give back. They can afford to do many of the good deeds that will indeed turn out to help the bottom line. It’s about connecting, not broadcasting. It’s a new focus on disease education, not the old approach of disease mongering. It’s communication around payment assistance and insurance support, not dissemination of press releases. It’s deep content designed to help patients manage their disease, not a trick to get them to sign up to a database.

It’s offering help, information, support, and hope where it’s needed. Without an agenda.

Pharma marketers should work to find out what people are searching for and needing from them and their brand — from anyone, in fact, that is able to give it. And then? They should, simply, give it to them. And yes, they should also engage. With the exception of a few pilot examples, pharmaceutical companies have largely shied away from true two-way digital communications with their customers. However, patient support call centers have been around a long time. What’s so difficult about duplicating that experience online? Why not empower a corporate spokesperson to speak online on behalf of your company and your brand? Today, customers expect and demand it. Making it happen Here are some ways to start connecting with customers online in ways that are more meaningful to them:

  • Social media listening. Social media has provided a goldmine of information never before obtainable through traditional surveys and focus groups. Ongoing monitoring plus regular, deeper audits will help pharma companies identify quickly what both patients and professionals need and want.
  • Social media "asking." Social media is an excellent platform for reaching out and asking what customers need and want. Sometimes simply asking the question will open up new doors for connecting.
  • A new look at search behavior. Search analytics can provide valuable insights into how people search and what they’re looking for. In addition, marketers should watch what people are searching for on their own current properties — especially paying attention to what they aren’t finding there.
  • Design from a customer-centric viewpoint. Brand managers and their agencies should always include user experience and usability experts to ensure online properties — from websites to Facebook apps — are developed from a customer-centric viewpoint. (For an excellent explanation on the difference between user experience and usability, see this article from 2006. Other industries were discussing these disciplines years ago; it’s time for pharma to catch up.)
  • Changing the channel. Marketers often feel that a Website is a given cost of entry, should serve as the hub, and everything else online is secondary. But what if your specific customers spend more time on YouTube or blogs than on commercial Websites? User preference should drive digital channel decisions.
  • A new approach to content. Content — in the form of copy, video, audio, rich media — can be expensive to create in great quantities. But content is what your customers need, and all the better if they find it on your site and not someone else’s. Better yet, if they find it valuable, they’ll tell their friends through social sharing tools.

Think about what you really need and want. Find out what your customers need and want. And leverage the online arena — where your customers are looking for answers — to connect the dots and build those relationships in more meaningful ways.

Faruk Capan is the CEO and Wendy Blackburn is the executive VP of Intouch Solutions, a full-service interactive pharmaceutical marketing agency.

Featuring "news and views on interactive and digital pharmaceutical marketing," if you’re not signed up for DotPharma, you should be. Learn more here. Thanks to the folks at Med Ad News forthe opportunity to be featured, and for the permission to reprint.

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