Halloween: The ä¬∫Masksä¬∫ that Pharma Hides Behind Online (And How We Can Remove Them Via Digital Tools)

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by DJ Edgerton (@wiltonbound)

What do Lady Gaga, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Charlie Sheen have in common? Theyre some of the most popular celebrity masks for party revelers this Halloween season. While industry luminaries may not dress up for tricks and treats, many pharma brands are hiding behind their own masks, limiting the ROI in their digital initiatives.

Pharma hides behind the mask of regulatory uncertainty because the FDA has been iffy on rules for social media. Rather than looking at regulatory guidance for other mediums and instituting their own social media policies, many industry players have taken the stance of “theres not much we can do without formal guidelines.

While there is some “damned if we do, damned if we dont mentality particularly as Facebooks open pages and comment policy has increased concern about regulatory ramifications remaining stagnant in the face of fear doesnt serve stockholders or customers well.

Its time for pharma to accept that social media is where their customers are. Its the gateway to authentic conversations and brand communications and the industry needs to figure it out whether thats defining its own policies or taking calculated risks. Hiding behind the mask of “no one is telling us what to do is no longer acceptable.

Pharma also hides behind the mask of “do what the other guy is doing. There’s a lot of pack thinking in pharma marketing. While innovative creative in advertising comes along pretty regularly, true innovation at the strategic level is rarer to find.

With the expiration of about $130 billion in patented products over the next several years, pharma needs to stop playing follow the leader and devise strategies that result in better portfolio management. Reliance on blockbuster products has been what everyone has banked on, but current conditions cry for a change in business as usual.

The doctors role as gatekeeper in the prescription path has diminished as the empowered patient takes the lead. Patients are turning to apps and social interactions to learn about their conditions, treatment and care. There are many digital touch points, but if organizations want to break out of the clutter, they cant operate under a “me too philosophy. They need to innovate, take risks and adopt new ways of interacting with their target audience.

Pharma needs to come out from behind the mask of corporate-speak. Modern branding and marketing need authentic, human voices front and center. That may be scary for traditional pharma marketers who hide behind the mantra of “legal would never let us do that!” or “we’ve never done that before!” But its time to be bold and open the kimono, whether thats using social tools to strengthen connections between sales professionals and physicians or pharmaceutical companies and patients. Distrust and skepticism have long plagued the industry but authentic, open communication via digital tools can change that dichotomy and increase transparency and trust.

Pharma can no longer afford to hide behind the mask of paid media. Yes, it’s easier for a brand manager to spend X with a historic return of Y on traditional, broad-scale paid media, rather than to consider the long-term brand equity in smaller, more targeted campaigns that rely more on social or earned media.

But pharma needs to take the time to clarify its media goals and optimize its presence on the social Web. Earned media retweets, blog posts, Facebook comments, etc. can drive success for overall marketing campaigns by further empowering the patient to raise awareness, create or support interactions and impact emotions. The new model requires a patient-centric focus that requires risk, effort and innovation.

While others are donning masks for Halloween, pharma should get in the spirit of facing their fears and get comfortable using digital technologies to connect with patients and market effectively.

What mask are you hiding behind?

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