Back to Basics in Pharma Marketing

snakeoilBy Dan Bobear

One thing I have learned over the years is to be wary of those who promise a quick fix for anything. Its one of those things you run into in every aspect of life. I just experienced it the other day when my son tried to explain to me the “new math taught in schools today BTW, it seemed the same to me.

In the 1990s, it was the dot com bubble; the pitch was that companies didnt need value, they just needed the promise of future value. Sort of like the “dollar and dream pitch from the lottery. Investors were essentially sold a bill of goods and pretty uniformly lost their shirts.

The reason I bring this up in the context of interactive is that it is very much like this in the pharmaceutical interactive space. I cant tell you how many presentations I sit through that are tantamount to snake oil salesmen promoting their wares. So often you see the “killer app not linked to any kind of thoughtful strategy or the promise of a new “cool technology that cant be practically applied to anything relevant. Furthermore, everyone is trying to be the next interactive messiah. While we need thoughtleaders, we dont need self-proclaimed gurus making empty promises and writing checks that cant be cashed. I have to say that all the rhetoric is tiring more of the same in so many ways.

The good news is that we know so much about how to sell and market to physicians and patients. We shape behavior by leveraging fundamental beliefs about how people interact with the world and many of the products they use every day. In the pharmaceutical sector, HCPs (Healthcare Professionals) remain our primary customers as they are the ones writing the prescriptions this will not change. Consumers are important influencers who can shape the dialogue with their physicians and, in many cases, affect the prescribing decision (by overtly asking for a product or being informed enough to have a dialogue that changes the way they interact with their physician). The great news is that we know how to activate physicians and patients; we have been doing it for years in media that are more traditional and with direct selling.

So what has changed then? Well, its the way our target customers interact with the world. I just read something this week stating that 64% of physicians use “Smartphones, which is expected to rise to 81% by 2012. This is just one example of the profound change in how our target customer is interacting with the world around them. It is very similar to the first days of radio or when TV was first introduced as media. People didnt understand it and didnt know how to use it to maximum effect. Think of the Nixon-Kennedy debates¢‚Ǩ¬¶a perfect example of how new media had a major effect on our world. Interactive marketing and advertising is simply the next evolution in the natural order of things. The difference is that now it is more of a conversation and interaction versus a one-way message stream. There is a lot more noise, and interactions are now more of a selective conversation (like this blog) versus a stream of selling messages. It is such an amazing evolution that it allows us as marketers to engage and interact in a more meaningful way with our customers and for our customers to make informed decisions armed with a wealth of new information.

So heres whats odd in the Pharma space. Due to the functional and matrix structures of many Pharma companies, expertise is aligned in silos. For instance, if you need to “get smart in interactive, you hire some interactive people and form a group (usually pretty isolated) with specialized knowledge. This has spilled over to the way that Pharma companies deal with their agencies. The specialized interactive group hires a separate interactive agency instead of a single agency to help manage their brand. This dynamic has negative implications in so many ways. Brand team members often become oblivious to interactive marketing and how to use it to its optimal effect. On the agency side of things, the brand often speaks in a different voice and the efforts become disparate and nonintegrated¢‚Ǩ¬¶a disaster scenario for any brand.

Getting back to basics, we all know that the interactive space is an evolving frontier for marketing and advertising pharmaceutical brands. Our customers (physicians, patients, and the healthcare community) are engaging the world in a new way. Can any of us afford to outsource our knowledge to the next guru that walks through the door? Anyone in the business of pharmaceutical marketing and advertising needs to come up the curve now and evolve their interactive knowledge as our target customers are evolving their behavior. It isnt a revolution, it is an evolution that is good, natural, and positive. It is incumbent on us as marketers to change the way we are going about things and provide our customers with an integrated brand experience. Interactive marketing needs to become part of the way that we think and not something we can outsource and go on doing business as usual. Can you really afford to approach it any other way?

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