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Doubling Down on Digital

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Digital technology has increased the pace of change in consumer and patient expectations, and pharma companies are looking to catch up. Patients are being more proactive about their own health care and prefer more convenient ways to get medical services and access information. One marketing director explained that “digital marketing has led pharmaceutical companies to personalize their messages by using algorithms to analyze the behavior of customer and zero in on their needs.”  

Florent Edouard, VP of marketing, commercial excellence, and IT, explains that the greatest effect digital marketing has had on our business “is a massive increase in share of voice in Japan, unlike in the rest of world. In Japan, in 2017, there will be more digital details than face-to-face interactions between the pharmaceutical industry and health-care professionals (HCPs). Digital is a critical component of everyone’s strategy.”  

Edouard’s sentiments were echoed by a former head of commercial excellence at a European pharma company, who said:  

Digital marketing’s greatest impact has been to reveal that promotion was a matter of various channels trying to reach the customer in various ways, and for various purposes, yet it requires for the sake of efficiency that the customer experience those multiple connections in a holistic fashion, integrated and leading to better knowledge, better support, and an overall “feel-good” attitude toward the company. 

However, not all executives are convinced that all platforms are equally effective. One executive suggested that the popular integrated solution for doctors, MR-kun, on which they can access products and disease information, is “not consistent and is controversial. Doctors are awarded points if they click on a video, and they can redeem those points for products on Amazon, for example. I have not been convinced of the data. MR-kun is very good for a product launch for brand awareness, but there is a big question mark about the data for more established products. It is difficult to measure the ROI.” Medical doctors have embraced web seminars. A commercial director at a US company notes, “Doctors love them. They can listen to speeches from leading key opinion leaders (KOLs). Doctors are very keen to learn.” 

Big pharma isn’t the only one looking to adopt new technology; companies focusing on rare diseases have an interest too. Philippe Auvaro, president of OrphanPacific, notes: 

If I refer to OrphanPacific, the challenge is to work on a small scale (few patients treated by even fewer doctors in a limited number of institutions), so you need to think away from mass marketing for a more tailored approach. However, when the connection is set, the contact is extremely rewarding, patients and doctors are both craving for communication, sharing; the instinct of community is immediate. 

As pharma looks to double its efforts to be nimble and agile in a digital age, challenges arise because most marketers, according to Mr. Edouard, are not digital natives: 

They are pre-millennial, and therefore they understand very little of 2017’s digital possibilities. For instance, if your average pharma marketers were given a million dollars to invest in their business, most would invest in more MRs, not digital, and never in social. Going digital on shared platforms forces fair balance and objectivity in the information delivered.  

Having the right mind-set was also emphasized by Lynette Saunders in The Economist in 2016: “For this [a digital strategy] to be effectual and for digital to thrive and to be seen as more than a one-off project, the right culture and skills need to be in place.” A director of commercial excellence highlighted other challenges with changing the mind-set of medical representatives (MRs) toward moving away from a classical way of communicating, that is, from MRs to doctors to peer-to-peer. She explained:  

Getting people to understand the change has been difficult. Society has moved; it is the way we live, everyone has a smartphone, and daily life has changed. We need to evolve whether we like it or not. We are just at the beginning of the change; artificial intelligence is making the data more accurate.  

Other challenges for all companies include how to balance improving patient outcomes and quality of life with the demands of a commercial business. All companies will look to provide more content and more answers for customers in two to three years. 

Companies have struggled to develop effective measures of return on investment (ROI). Auvaro suggests that it’s important to keep a broad, holistic, big-picture view and “set tangible, measurable objectives for each step and each channel.” He went on to say: 

Measuring the success of a call online, letting the viewer grade a content, marking referral for a content, or facilitating the link to other sites are the surrogates. How the surrogates lead you to evaluate the financial impact is a matter of trial and error. The fact is, according to Mr. Edouard, 80% of physicians use M3 and MR-Kun for medical information. And 70% of them use LINE on a daily basis. This is where they are, and where we have to be.

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