How digital and social media is impacting pharmaceutical marketing

The world as we know it is changing. Our stakeholder’s way of thinking, and behaving, is changing due to 24/7 access to global information. So how does this impact our industry and what are the opportunities for pharma marketers?

Patients are engaging online around their health, and they expect to be able to engage online with other people and companies in this space. They do not understand why big pharma companies does not engage and this exacerbates the industry’s poor reputation. From a corporate marketing point of view this is an easy win. By accepting social media, rather than avoiding it, companies can start to have a positive impact on their reputation, and build corporate brand value.

This new dynamic is also impacting physicians, who face patients coming to appointments well informed, and with different questions than they used to, for example “is there an app for that”. Here again is a nice win for marketers. Rather than focusing on providing the information that they want physicians to hear, i.e. all about their product, why not look at also providing value by helping physicians with some of these real-world issues? Why not sponsor an assessment of disease apps, or ensure that the physician is kept up to date with what patients are Googling?

Another impact that the digital environment has led to is an increased pressure on people’s time. Marketing now means that you are no longer just competing with another pharma company. You now compete with a whole array of different parties to get a slice of a physician’s time. Give a person the choice to access information when they want and how they want, or to physically sit through a sales call at a specified time and it is a no-brainer which option people will increasingly choose. That is not to say that people will stop choosing the physical meeting altogether but they want a mix of options – and a choice.

Here again that word “value” comes in. As a marketer the way to grab a piece of someone’s time is to deliver value, both in terms of channel preference but also in terms of content. Digital enables us to understand individual’s areas of interest – why not then deliver your marketing information tailored to their preferences?

Of course this costs money, which is an age old problem. Again digital can help. Traditionally pharma marketing has been very siloed, by brand, function and geography. Digital provides the means to break down these siloes and generate cost efficiencies. By working in a more collaborative way, digitally facilitated, companies can reduce waste, for example in asset development and in time. Why should each brand, in each country, produce their own app? Often they have a similar end use and the backbone could be developed jointly and then adapted for local end use.

And this brings me onto the final massive change that digital, and in particular social media, has led to – namely access to information. The amount of information available on our stakeholders online is huge. Despite this I still see teams basing the bulk of their marketing plans on traditional market research with very little social media listening included. Now social media listening is not the be-all-end-all but it should be included. It provides key insights that need to be part of a modern marketing plan, for example where do your customers go for information, what topics are they talking about (and here is a hint – it is probably not about you) and what are their needs. Social media enables pharma marketers to get a better understanding of stakeholder’s emotions and behaviours, and at the end of the day it is emotions and behaviours that impact pharma sales.

Digital is no longer new and it is an integral part of daily life. Companies today should be optimising their marketing to reflect this digital impact and to start offering their stakeholder’s real value.

Social Media in Pharma Conference

Last week I had the immense pleasure of chairing the SMI conference on social media in the pharmaceutical industry.  I have to admit that I really enjoyed chairing, despite some minor hiccup with some of the name pronunciations (for which I do apologise!).

On the whole I enjoyed it and found the vast majority of presentations really interesting.  Not surprisingly Boehringer dominated the event. There was  Müge Gizem Bıçakçı Akalın from Boehringer Ingelheim Turkey who presented some great slides on what they have been doing in social media.  The first thing, that got lots of raised eyebrows, was their Facebook page targeting women with period pains for their product Buscopan.  The page is a profile page for a “retro” female character called … Buce Kopan!  To many of us this just seemed so blatantly DTC but apparently this is not seen as such in Turkey and both Buce and Kopan are well known Turkish names.  Doing a bit of research I can confirm that there are in fact numerous people called Buce Kopan so perhaps it is not quite as bad – just a tad a risky in my opinion!


 The other thing that I thought was fantastic to hear from Boehringer Turkey was that they are integrating their social media into their sales efforts – so they are encouraging sales reps to support the social media campaigns and are rewarding them for their involvement.  This to me is taking social media to the next level and it is great to see Boehringer again being a pioneer in this space. 

Another Boehringer presentation was made by John Pugh who showed some really interesting research, which I believe Silja Chouquet did for Boehringer, comparing the various pharma social media accounts.  There were some interesting points about how number of followers correlates to a degree with company size.  Reach however does not – so Novartis has far more followers that Boehringer on twitter but the same reach as Boehringer. 

Boehringer is also known for trying things out, and John talked through another example of this with the hypertension Facebook page for HCPs.  They had chosen an area where products are soon going off patent – so not a priority brand area – to test how relevant and effective a Facebook page for HCPs would be.  So far it looks like this has been a success – with some interesting learnings such as to advertise on the platform you are using rather than on other platforms (i.e. Facebook advert to a Facebook page). 

That was not the end to the Boehringer mentions though!  I myself used them as a case example when I talked about building relationships with KOL and KOI online.  My main points were that there is value in doing this and that there is a clear process to follow.  You can see my presentation here:

Gary Monk also spoke about how human Boehringer’s approach to social media is, citing their Facebook disclaimer as a great example,  contrasting markedly with Novartis’ very legal and formal disclaimer.  Gary also made a great point that Novartis, a company based in Switzerland, a country with four official languages (none of them English) has called out in their disclaimer that they community is English language only.  Boehringer of course manages very nicely to deal with multiple languages!  You can see Gary’s presentation here.

There were also some great examples from companies other than Boehringer.  Sherri Matis-Mitchell from Astra Zeneca presented some really interesting information on how they are using social media listening in R&D.  This actually seemed to complement a theme than ran through the event – namely the move of social media from marketing and communicaitons into R&D.  There were a few other mentions of the use of social media in clinical trial recruitment.  Dr Alfred Steinhardt presented a really interesting case study where social media had been used to reduce clinical trial recruitment down from six months to five weeks.  The cost-saving implications for this are huge! 

He also mentioned a fantastic example where social media intelligence had unmasked a competitor creating multiple online profiles to negatively influence consumer behaviour via social media groups!  Sadly he would not divulge more information on this.

There was also a very brave step by Sanofi to have a lawyer come present at the conference.  Audrey Hagege presented on how legal need not be a barrier but should be a partner in social media development.  I thought it was fantastic to see someone from legal there and I really have to say hats off to Sanofi for have legal not only attend but also present.

We also had a large presence from the #hcsmeu twitterati.  There was @thibaudguymard from Merck who talked about Univadis France and some of the great work they are doing.  Having seen Shona Davis present around Univadis from the global point of view last year it was great to see the local point of view.

 We then also had a whole array of twitterati present “virtually” through video thanks to my ex-colleague Piotr Wrzosinski from Roche.  It brought back many happy memories I must say!

It was also interesting to see such a broad array of social media being presented.  Besides the Facebook and Twitter initiative already mentioned there was also a presentation by James Finney from Novozymes around their use of Linkedin and Claire Perrin from Lilly demonstrated an mhealth initiative in depression.  I was so impressed with the app that I wanted to get my father to download it to show to my brother (a GP) but sadly I could not find it in on iTunes.

Perhaps my very favourite presentation however was the one that brought us all back to the reality of social media.  Ben Furber from Asthma UK talked about having fun online and … the fact that social media is all about cats!  How true!  Yes at the end of the day social media is and always will be about cats ;)

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eDetailing – it’s more than just iPads

I like to think that most people in the pharma industry now accept that digital is an important channel that they need to think about and include in their marketing plans.  Marketeers now include digital in their brand plans and the number of dedicated digital marketeers within pharma is growing.

Another area where we are increasingly seeing digital is in sales, with more and more reps being given iPads to use in their details with physicians.  This is not, in my opinion, edetailing – this is essentially still a traditional detail but using modern, digital, detail aids.  I find it can be really confusing that some companies call a traditional detail (i.e. face to face) that uses iPads an edetail while to others an edetail is a detail delivered electronically (as opposed to face to face).

Edetails (the non -face-to-face sort) themselves also have various formats – again rather confusing.  There is the self-serve edetail which is a pre-recorded video / presentation which the physician can watch, pause and stop as needed.  There is then the rep edetail which is more like a video conference between a rep and a physician (but where you can also still have the presentation element).

This confusion also means that companies who have implemented ipad detailing (let’s call it idetailing) think they have innovated when in reality they have only moved with the times.  It also means that they are not fully optimising the opportunities that digital presents.  The value that a true edetail brings is that the doctor can schedule them at a time to suit them – not just within office hours.  From the pharma company point of view the value is that edetailing cuts costs.  Even when using a live rep to do an edetail the rep no longer has to travel, cutting down on travel expenses, and could even conceivably work from home and work part-time, opening up opportunities to people who require flexibility around work.

The other value that edetailing offers to companies is potential access to physicians who are no longer seeing reps or who are too expensive to send a physical rep to (for example in rare diseases).

There are of course concerns that edetailing of this nature will make the traditional rep (and I mean the face-to-face rep not just a rep without an ipad!) redundant.  However this should not be the case.  edetailing is often an extension opportunity to traditional detailing – and in fact it has been shown that the most effective sales technique is in fact the mix of traditional detailing with edetailing (see graphic below).   What will change however is the role of the rep and this has already started in some companies.

Source: PM360

Source: PM360

The rep of the future will become an orchestrator rep – he will provide a more concierge like service to physicians, providing them with product information but also information around the digital services that the company offers, or information from recent conferences for example.  The role of the rep will move away from the traditional hard core sales focus to a value focus – providing information rather than pushing sales messages which the physician is not interested in.  Of course sales will still be the objective but the sales message will be delivered in a more customer centric, value driven way and this will then be supported by the edetail online.

The value that edetailing provides means that more and more pharma companies will start to use it, but, as much as I am a fan of digital, I believe there will always be a place for the face-to-face rep. The future though will be totally value driven and value comes from partnering human and digital interactions.

Pharma packaging – can you join the 21st Century please?

I was recently in a department store and was struck by the amount of effort consumer goods companies put into packaging.  The product packaging can make or break a purchase decision so it is clearly an area that warrants attention for FMCG companies – but what about pharma companies?  The first response would probably be that this is not really a relevant area of concern for a company that sells prescription products.

I, however, would disagree.  This may not have been an issue  in the last century but I think this is now no longer the case.  There are a number of reasons for this but perhaps the main is patient adherence.  This is a topic that has been a headache for the industry for some time – one that has still not been resolved.  When digital technology came to the forefront it was initially greeted as the saviour – the ideal solution for patient adherence.  Subsequently it was denounced as a disapointment – technology did not solve the patient adherence problem.  This was in part because some of the early programmes were too simplistic and did not factor in the complexity involved in patient adherence. Another issue is that technology can only solve part of the problem.  The rest of the problem needs to be addressed in other, more tangible, offline ways.

This is potentially where a greater focus on packaging, and making packaging more consumer friendly, could play a role.  If we take for example pills that a chronically ill patient has to take daily.  There are numerous digital tools now to remind patients to take their pills, but what about just simply labeling the day of the week on the package?  Contraceptive pills do this so why not for other long term medication?  Whilst it may not provide the nudge to take the medication it acts as a reminder, as well as for of documentation, that the pill has been taken for that day.  I for one would be more adherent – I often cannot remember if I have taken my pill for the day, and err on the side of caution by not taking another one (meaning I may in actual fact have missed my pill for the day). I have taken to writting the days on the packaging so that I can check if I forget – but it would be so useful if it was printed on the package.  This would be such a simple but consumer friendly and helpful thing to do – and yet it is not common practice (I have not actually seen it on any pills other than contraception – have you?)

Another area to look at is the patient insert.  This is a bulky piece of paper that comes in the box with the medication.  Whilst the text has improved over the years to be more consumer friendly, the insert itself is an issue.  For products that come in bottles, such as acne lotions, the information is not always printed on the bottle, even if there is space.  I suspect many patients are like me – they take the pills and the bottle out of the box and probably throw the box, insert included, away.  Whilst for pills it may not be possible to print the instructions on the packaging there is plenty of room on bottles.  This way a patient would be able to check and get accurate information around how to use the product once the insert has been thrown away and thereby be more compliant.

One major area where packaging is a huge concern though is for patients with disabilities or movement restrictions, such as arthritis patients.  To be developing packaging that your target market – i.e. the patients – cannot even open seems to be to be a huge issue!  There needs to be more innovation to address the needs of patients who struggle to open packages or bottles.  Packaging should be developed with the end user in mind – not just to comply with regulation or meet storage or distribution needs.  If a patient cannot access their medication then what use is it?!

A final issue I have is around the visual design of packaging itself.  Firstly very few companies give much retail space to the brand name – which differs from FMCG who place far more value in corporate branding than pharma does.  Being familiar and trusting a corporate can have a positive impact on adherence for some patients and again this could be something that companies could dedicate a little more attention to.  The final issue comes again with bottles.  I have in  my cupboard a mix of FMCG products that look good and prescrription bottles that look dreadful.  The FMCG ones I am happy to have out on display whilst the pharma ones go in the cupboard.  It is a no brainer which ones I use more simply because they are visible.  Whilst I am not suggesting pharma invests in beautifying their packaging to the extend of FMCG packaging they could perhaps just modernise their packagaing a bit and make them less ugly?  I warrant this point is very minor but it does bother me as a female patient!

Will any of the above happen?  I doubt it.  This is a very old fashioned industry and packaging is at the bottom in terms of prioritites but it would be great if someone listened and started to make packaging more customer friendly.  Until then I will continue to hide my ugly bottles and write the days on my pill packaging.

Can you guess which bottles get hidden in the cupboard?

Can you guess which bottles get hidden in the cupboard?

A patient’s point of view

I was recently involved in a workshop for a pharmaceutical product and one element we talked about was the emotional journey a patient goes on, and how digital tools played a role in that journey.  This really resonated with me as a patient.

We are of course all patients at some stage or other, but some of us are patients with chronic or long term illness which require on-going treatment.  In my case I have Hashimoto’s, which causes hypothyroidism, and I will need to take thyroid hormones the rest of my life.  My journey as a patient with a thyroid condition has been highly emotional, distressing and sometimes extremely difficult.

A patient will experience a whole array of emotions as they go through their own journey.  Mine started with joy when I was told I had hypothyroidism – I finally had a reason to my sudden and excessive weight gain.  Unlike in some other conditions I never really felt isolated, in part because I was very open on Facebook about my hypothyroidism, and this resulted in a surprising number of other friends also identifying that they had the condition. I also initially did not have many problems, it was only in the last year or so that things got worse and it was at this point that I would have been in danger of feeling very alone with my condition had it not been for Facebook.

As my condition and health deteriorated, the journey became more emotional and more distressing.  I put on weight again, felt lethargic and was constantly tired, and I felt depressed and low.  I was very miserable.  I also got increasingly desperate.  As an educated woman, working in the healthcare industry, I knew that something was not right with my health – something was wrong.  As per my previous post I received absolutely no support (informational or emotional) from my then doctor.

In the days of old I would have been totally alone at this point in my journey.  I would not have known that it was not right that I was feeling this ill. I would have been totally dependent on my doctor’s response (good or bad). I have no idea how I would have coped with the despair, the depression and the fear (and believe me thinking that you may spend the rest of your life feeling exhausted and listless is very frightening).

Fortunately today we have the internet and social media.  It really was a game changer for me and my disease. I already knew that my symptoms were common for hypothyroidism but what confused me was that I was already on a very high dose and should have felt fine and full of energy.  I was terrified of lowering my dose and feeling even worse (and putting on yet more weight) and yet this is what my blood results indicated I needed to do.  I was also scared that it was just me – that other patients coped fine and it was just my body not working properly.

Through a support group on Facebook I very quickly found out I was not alone.  In fact far from it.  It turns out there are many patients on treatment but having issues with their health, their symptoms and their doctor’s response to their concerns.  It was such a huge relief to find out I was not alone and to have fellow patients to share my story with and to be able to connect with people who felt exactly like me.  The emotional support that this virtual engagement provided was immeasurable.  I no longer felt alone and the feeling of despair went down as I felt there were answers and there was hope.

It was through this support that I found the strength to question my previous doctors’ response and seek further treatment.  I paid, out of pocket, to see an endocrinologist in the UK and I armed myself for that appointment with as much knowledge as I could, from the internet, in order to ensure I received the optimal treatment for me.

My appointment with Dr Morris was like chalk and cheese compared to the Spanish endocrinologist.   He was supportive, listened to me and provided some solid advice, which included bringing my dose down.  The way he advised me took some of the fear out of lowering my dose.

The rest of the fear was taken away because, through my online searches, I had found out that in a very small minority of patients being on too high a dose can cause the same symptoms as hypo even though they are hyper.  Turns out I was one of this small minority.

The other thing Dr Morris did was confirm what I had suspected – my hypothyroidism was caused by Hashimoto’s disease.  Following the Spanish endocrinologist’s failure to tell me what was causing my hypothyroidism I had gone online and done my own research using my blood results.  Through this research I had self-diagnosed Hashimoto’s but it was also great to get it confirmed by a physician.

Armed with this confirmed diagnosis I did more research.  Through support groups and blogs I found out that most Hashimoto patients have some form of gluten intolerance and that eliminating gluten could help improve health outcomes.  Not one of the doctors I had spoken to over the last couple of years ever talked to me about my diet and the impact lifestyle changes could have on my disease.  It was only through interacting with other patients online and doing my own research that I found out about the changes I needed to make to my diet and lifestyle.

As a result of my online research, I now no longer eat gluten and I have reduced the amount of goitrogenic food such as cabbage.   I am also very careful about getting enough sleep and staying healthy.  The impact this has had has been huge.  I feel relatively normal again now, and whilst I still get tired easily I no longer feel depressed or listless.

My emotional journey has now come to a point where I feel confident and hopeful.  Some fear still remains, for example how my need for ten hours sleep will impact my work and the fear that I may feel ill again in the future.  But for now, thanks to resources and information I found online, my main emotions are relief, happiness and hope.   I do not know where my patient journey will take me to next but I am certain I will find the support and resources I will need online.

Sunrise after a dark night

New hope after the despair – just like sunrise after a dark night

#Digipharm 2013 – write up through twitter

This year I had the pleasure of not only attending Digipharm but also of chairing part of the event, including a round table discussion on engaging with stakeholders. As with many of these conferences the most enjoyable part is the networking and catching up with fellow digital evangelists, such as InVentiv’s Emma Darcy and Merck’s Shona Davies.  Content wise the event covered many of the same old, age old, topics but there were a few interesting snippets and case studies that were shared.

Some of the key themes that emerged were around the need to be more customer-centric, the importance of insights and strategy, and the potential impact of CLM and MCM.  These are topics that have been doing the rounds for a few years now so for me, and many other attendees, they were not particularly insightful.  This led to a few tweets questioning why we were still talking about this and why more digital “newbies” were not attending these conferences, as they would benefit from this content.

The answer to both these questions is that firstly we are still talking about this because much of it has still not become a mainstream reality for much of pharma.  The second point is that perhaps these “newbies” are still newbies because they are not interested in coming to these events or perhaps because the conference organisers are not targeting them.  Either way I fully agree that we need to start seeing more non-digital brand managers and pharma marketers attend these conferences.  Those of us in the know should probably be going now to non-pharma digital events as this is where the innovation is being discussed.

That said I still enjoyed Digipharm and there was some great content presented and shared on twitter.  Going back through the tweets from Digipharm I pulled out some great quotations and some key messages and insights.  Unfortunately I failed to copy paste most of the people who originally sent the tweets – so if you see your tweet please flag that this was your great content in the comments below!


Some Key Messages from the event:

1.      Focus on the customer

“How to be #goodpharma balance moral & commercial drivers. 1 focus on patient, 2 go beyond pill”

“Pharma must develop customer intelligence to fulfil unmet needs – a key message from the last 2 days”

“We need to use that channels that are used by the customer segment”

“Need to know your customers to know which digital channel to use”


2.      Stop being so promotional

“Recurring theme through the 2 days. Don’t start with promoting your product! Ask customer needs, engage with them, then Tailor”

“Pharma marketing – too much push, not enough pull!”


3. Digital is just part of the equation

“Dr Tim Ringrose. Digital should be used as an augmentation of existing communication channels, not a replacement. Absolutely!”

“Digital won’t replace the rep, says Tim, as docs use all channels and still value F2F for some discussions”

“Stop measuring the rep’s performance alone – measure qualitative data. Move from rep data to customer insights”

“You need to make your reps great story tellers. Make your reps amazing storytellers so the HCPs will recall the story once the rep has left”

“Still a lot of focus on the rep channel but discussions missing on cost of interaction”


4.      ROI is not the issue

“It’s hard to prove the digital ROI” disagree, it’s the easiest channel to manage ROI as long as you know what to measure and how”

“100 rep visits we set out on, only 20 talk to the physician and only 8 docs remember the meeting. WHAT’S THE ROI??!!!!”


5.      Senior Management needs to get involved – even if they are not today

“Great point Rene we spend 80% on build and 20% on promotion and mgmt when it should be the other way round! Top mgmt take note”

“The problem in pharma is that change needs to be led from the top, and snr mngt just don’t engage”


Some really interesting Ideas and Insights:

“Need to find a way to get bright, lateral thinking people to the top straight away” @nickbroughton

“It should be company policy to slap anyone that calls anyone but the patient a customer” (!)

“Docs give patients musty old mags in the waiting room – let’s give them health tools instead

“Univadis – 70% of members opt in for promo messages from MSD. That is a permission database of 1.5 million!! In some markets it’s up to 95%”@ShonaLDavies

“Univardis #merck . It may be a non commercial engagement but the value of reach and trust is clear”

“How much does Univardis cost per year? Even if €10 million, that’s less than €5 per customer. Good value!”

“Why has Univadis succeeded? It is part of the corp culture says @ShonaLDavies, in other words leaders have stayed behind it”

Univadis success due to leadership commitment and vision for long-term engagement

“24% of interactions with JP HCPs are eDetails. Highest eDetail market in the world”

“Univadis philosophy –customers expect corporations to be doing something of value originating from a core product”

“Measuring Univadis relationships – user retention, engagement levels, customer satisfaction and NPS”

“Nice segmentation of engagement levels (light, deep, extensive) as KPI’s for Univadis. Engagement on its own is too vague”

“@ShonaLDavies customer relationships aren’t a mystery, can be measured in multiple ways, challenge is translating measurement”

“82% of HCPs interested in engaging with pharma – HCP communities = great value. Obvious way to know your audience to be relevant”


My favourite Quotations from #Digipharm:

“Digital innovation = talent x time x budget x culture” @xaviolba

“Our obsession with compliance at all costs is responsible for pharma’s loss of virtue” @NickBroughton

“Engagement means getting a response” (Sorry I didn’t jot down who this came from … if it’s you please mention yourself in the comments!)

“Mobile is not a technology or a platform, it is a behaviour” @nickcampbell

Xavier Olba @Sanofi “we must provide engaging services to our Patients not just medications”

‘we are redefining MSD as a healthcare company not just a drug company’ says @ShonaLDavies

“It’s not about digital marketing, it’s about marketing in a digital world” Dr Ringrose

The changing dynamics of behaviour

In my last blog post I summed up some of the discussion points at the Fleming eMarketing conference in Barcelona.  One of the speakers, Nicolas Pokorny, talked about emotions and behaviours and this really inspired me and resonated with me.  I also believe it is an area that companies, and physicians, often underestimate.

It is well known now that changes in technology have led to changes in behaviour, for all stakeholders, including patients and physicians.  As a marketer and strategist I have long been familiar with the customer journey, a tool used in the FMCG market to get a better understanding of customer behaviours leading up to purchase.  This is a tool that I have also used with digital agencies within healthcare, looking at how the key interaction and health decision points for patients in their journey from being ill to being healthy.  However within pharma companies strategy and marketing is still often based on the traditional customer journeys, for both physicians and patients, not taking into account these new interaction points that now exist thanks to technology.  The reality today is that the customer journey for pharma stakeholders has changed dramatically thanks to new technology.

Patient journey

The other element that has a role to play here is emotions.  As mentioned the impact of emotions on our decision making is huge but rarely mentioned in the far more analytical approaches to marketing and strategy development.  Generally we look at demographics and perhaps some top level behavioural elements but we never really talk about the emotional drivers.  For example if we look at a patient’s emotional reactions and feelings to a physician interaction we may actually see a number of different behavioural decisions – not necessarily rational and certainly not positive but none-the-less relevant.


Patient emotions


Looking then at behaviours from an emotional point of view we then get a clearer picture of what stakeholders really do and also of how we can influence these behaviours and decisions.  Taking a look at the patient in the example above who had the negative physician interaction, we could see that in today’s patient journey her next step may well be to go online to look for support.  Here is a great opportunity to counteract the emotional negative experience, providing positive emotional stimuli to help her modify her behaviour in the direction it would have gone post a positive physician interaction.

Who provides these positive stimuli depends of course on the situation but there is a role for everyone within healthcare here.  A physician, for example, who comes across our sad patient, may encourage her to go get a second opinion, reassuring her that not all physicians are the same and she just had a bad experience and she should not give up hope.  The physician is not providing any medical advice – purely support and direction to get formal medical advice offline.  In fact this act alone may help re-energise her to behave most positively from a health perspective. A pharmaceutical company could play a role here, for example, by sponsoring a support group who could provide the positive stimuli or directing a KOL or KOI to this discussion – with hopefully an end result of a more compliant patient.

Even if we do not take the final step in proactively engaging, as suggested above, companies and healthcare providers need to be more realistic around today’s reality and the reality of human behaviour.  Decisions need to be based on this understanding, and not on the comfort factor of sticking with the way things always have been done in the past.  By truly understanding the customer emotions, behaviours and the full customer journey, that those of us working in healthcare can bring true value and make a positive impact on our customers, and on patient’s health.

Fleming eMarketing conference 2013 – thoughts and musings

Last week I had the pleasure of attending and presenting at the Fleming eMarketing conference in Barcelona.  It turned out to be a very interesting and fun conference – great insights, great presenters, fabulous location and social focus!

Two of the fabulous presenters - the John Mack and Emma Darcy

Two of the fabulous presenters – the John Mack and Emma Darcy

First let’s start with a disclaimer – given my somewhat dodgy memory I will be writing this up based largely on my tweets (a further demonstration of the value of Twitter) so there may be some bias towards speakers who spoke while I still had battery!

The conference included the normal rhetoric around the need for the industry to change, get on board the social media train (which has now left the station) and start taking digital far more seriously.  This was nicely balanced with some great insights and case studies – showing that some companies are already very comfortably onboard the said social media train and other have already implemented the organisational changes needed to be truly effective in digital.

Shona Davies, from Merck, gave a very insightful presentation around Univadis, showing how a non-promotional digital, global presence can bring value to a pharma company.  Univadis is also a great example of a global service / tool that is localised and adapted by local markets – providing value at local value whilst following a strict global branding guideline.  There is also flexibility at local level to try out new offerings or to ignore new global offerings based around what works in the local market.  Univadis’s global klout also helps with partnerships, bringing access to global publications to local markets – as well as helping well known local publications, such as the Lancet, gain global klout and audiences.  Another important factor that came out during this presentation was that “Univadis is well placed to engage at a time when face-to-face engagement is getting harder.”

Haider Alleg from Gedeon Richter, shared some great information around global / local process and implementation and co-operation.  What I found particularly exciting was when he talked about how he had got HR involved in the digital process to look at changing the reward and recognition system to accommodate the changes needed for successful digital implementation, for example long term goals and co-operation.

There was also some emotive talks about patients and participatory medicine.  The delightful Emma Darcy gave a fascinating presentation about the changes we are seeing as a result of behavioural and technological changes.  She talked about how we have gone from information overload to engagement overload – however as an industry we are doing nothing to help physicians and patients to deal with this.    She also made a fantastic point – namely that the pharma industry is now facing new competitive pressures, not from within the industry but from outside the industry, in the shape of companies innovating to get a part of the healthcare “pie”.  As Emma said this must be a wake up call for pharma.   Another great quote from Emma was around multi-channel: “it’s not about multichannel – it’s about me!” – flagging that the essence of multichannel is about individual channel preferences.

Xavier Olba from Sanofi made a very good point when he said that at Sanofi digital is part of the value proposition – it is no longer just about the drugs.  Sanofi has been demonstrating this through some of their innovative use of digital – offering new technology products to support patient in their key therapeutic areas, such as diabetes. Cancer survivor, Andrew Schorr, gave a very powerful presentation around the power of the internet and social media for patients, highlighted by the fact that he felt he would not be alive today had it not been for the internet, and the experts he was introduced to via digital connections.  This was such a fantastic point that pharma really could learn from and should be listening to – and as John Mack said “you can’t really argue with a cancer survivor”!

Nicolas Pokorny did a great job of following this emotive presentation by giving a fascinating perspective on the impact of behaviour on the industry.  He pointed out that it is all about emotions and behaviour.  He quite rightly pointed out that everything is “based on behaviour and personal decisions, Pharma often underestimates feelings and emotions”.  I think this is so true!  Personally I often see a huge emphasis on analytics and numbers – with decisions being based purely on this highly impersonal, quantative approach, and not taking into account that we are human beings and we are very emotional beings.  There is plenty of research showing that humans often do not make rational decisions – i.e. they    do not follow the decision the numbers predict.  To be truly effective we really need to start bringing in far more of this human, emotional element to our decision making – especially in multi-channel decisions.

One final comment made by Nicolas was that smart companies invest profit into innovation.  I love this point and I think this sums up the feeling coming across from many of the presenters, myself included.  We need to start investing in the future, and not the present.  We need to start changing the way we work as an industry to be ready for the future – because before we know it the future will be now and as we stand as an industry now – we are not ready for that “today” – we are in fact not even ready for the present today – still too focused on old business practices and process.  It is time pharma leapfrogged to meet the future head on – here and now.

And finally the highlight of the event for me?  Well I think the photo says it all!

Wine at lunchtime - love it!

Wine at lunchtime – love it!

The birth of a new social media platform – Furiends

As per my previous post there has been a huge uproar on Facebook among the pet owner community as Facebook started deleting pet profiles.  One interesting result from this has been the birth of a new social media network, Furiends, set up by the owner of a dog whose profile was deleted from Facebook.  So far it looks great, and mirrors the Facebook functionalities – and it has been designed specially for all the pets whom Facebook has rejected.

There are a number of interesting elements here.  Firstly there is the fact that, yet again, Facebook has demonstrated a total lack of interest in what its users, and in this case a particularly active bunch of users, want.  It has ignored the petitions and the pleas.  It has also failed, as per usual, to communicate any clear reasoning behind this latest move.  It never fails to amaze me that a business built up on user engagement and relationships fails so miserably to engage and respect relationships.  It is rather noteworthy, IMHO, that the Facebook Facebook page does not allow for people to post directly to the wall but only comment on posts. I would have thought that Facebook of all the companies out there should have this functionality enabled to encourage the engagement on which it has been built.

The second noteworthy thing here is that pet owners, through their pet profiles, are a particularly active and engage group of users.  One of the reasons I tend to use Don’s Facebook page over my own is not only that it is more fun and interesting but also because people still engage, comment and have conversations on Facebook.  Some people argue that this is one of the signs of Facebook’s “beginning of the end” – the fact that people are no longer as active and as engaging as they used to be.  People are now splitting their time across platforms – each of which competes for a slice of our time and engagement.  Yet here is a group who blows engagement numbers through the roof! This group posts daily, comments can run into double numbers on a regular basis – just for a “bog standard” post.

This point leads into the next point – that from a revenue point of view you surely want to encourage people to stay on your platform and visit as often as possible.  You want to encourage these sorts of loyal followers – and not through them off!  When you are seeing other groups becoming less active you want to do all you can to encourage the groups that are still highly active.  You want to listen to them and make them feel welcome – not start shutting their accounts down.

The final point is that behind the pet profiles you have owners who are willing to spend money on their pets.  You have a clearly labelled audience who are sitting on your platform and who are open to spending money for their pets.  Given that one element of Facebook’s revenue generation is advertising and that the more accurately targeted the advert the better one would have thought were you have a group with a very clear, stated interest would be a god-send to Facebook.  I know from personal experience but also from many, many interactions with other pet owners and “pets” on Facebook that we are interested in seeing adverts for pet products and we are interested in buying pet products over the internet.  The only adverts I ever really click on are when they are accurately targeted at me – and on Don’s page they invariable are not!  Don’s adverts seem to be a random selection of adverts for men (Don is masculine so I get that) and other bizarre stuff (like a recent add in Arabic for some film festival).  If they were targeted at what Don really is – a cat – chances are I would not only click on them but also buy the odd thing too.

Rather than removing pet accounts, and alienating their owners in the process and cut off a potentially lucrative revenue stream, why doesn’t Facebook just simply introduce a “pet” tick box and actually enable, and encourage, pet owners to be open and engage even more on Facebook?  Instead what has happened is that Facebook has enraged a large, and active group of highly engaged and passionate users.  It has closed a door on an opportunity that now lies open for Furiends to grab with both paws.

Furiends has been set up as a refuge for all these Facebook refugees – set up not to make money but to welcome, with open arms this community.  To provide a safe refuge for these highly engage, committed and loyal group.  This is a social media network that is founded on the pure principles of engagement, based on the elements that make social media so special.  It is a network that is very open and human in it’s about us section – apologising that it is set up by one person and there will be problems.  It is a network that is actively asking its users for input – and I am sure will be reacting to this input.

I am honoured to have been here for the birth of this network, and I am excited to be part of something that potentially will be fantastic, and finally provide something other than Facebook for me and my friends.  I also think, if this small network reaches out to all of us pet owners, and asks for help, we can build up a great platform, with a steady revenue stream, and a very happy, engaged user group.  I have been a very loyal Facebook user for years (after all I do have two accounts!) but I think finally I have to join on the bandwagon that says Facebook has had its day.   It is time for the next generation to grab the opportunities that big networks like Facebook are ignoring, and I am happy to be part of one of these communities.


Over a 1000 users by day 2

Over a 1000 users by day 2



What the heck is Facebook playing at now?!

If you have been following my blog and also my charity blog,, you will now that my cat has a Facebook page.  You may also have read about what a huge support these pet Facebook pages can be to people, including vulnerable or sick people in need of support.  If you follow my cat Don you will also now what a difference his account has made in raising awareness of animal cruelty issues and charity fundraising – Hope for Romanian Strays could never have raised over €1000 at our last auction without all the support from the “cats”.

One of Don's posts for Hope for Romanian Strays

One of Don’s posts for Hope for Romanian Strays

You can then imagine my horror when a couple of days ago I started hearing rumours that Facebook was doing yet another purge of pet profiles.  This has happened before – apparently because they are deemed “fake” profiles – but fortunately it never turned into a fully blown issue.  This time however to everyone’s horror it is really happening.

Through my cat’s Facebook page I have made some amazing connections and formed genuine friendships.  My cat’s page has also enabled me to join health related support groups where I may want to remain anonymous.  The other real tragedy of what Facebook is doing however is how much charity work and awareness raising goes on using pet profiles, and Don’s page is integral to the work I do for Hope for Romanian Strays. In fact I rarely use my personal profile anymore, but do most of my Facebooking through Don’s page – I get more interaction and more value from my cat’s page than from my own.

I know I am not alone in this.  Many of my “cat” friends also now rarely use their “human” accounts and have defaulted to using their pet accounts.  There are many reasons why this happens, but I know of at least a couple that feel they have to have a personal account for family and old friends, but they do not want to share and interact with these people in the same way they do with their more genuine, and caring, friends they have met through their cat profiles.  I for one do not want to mix my personal and my cat friends – they are two very different groups and I have two very different objectives for using my Facebook profiles.  I discuss things with my cat friends that I do not want to share with some of my business friends who I have on my personal page.

With this in mind you may then understand the anguish, horror, and huge amounts of anger, as we have now started to see some of our dearest friends being removed from Facebook simply because their profile was based around a cat and not them in person.  A few have been turned into pages – but you cannot participate in a support group as a page, you cannot engage in the same way with you close friends as a page.  We have all invested a lot of energy, love and joy into our profiles and having them removed is heartbreaking.  Today I lost one of my closest friends, Tiggi, thanks to Facebook’s purge.  I have no idea now how to contact Tiggi other than to send her a physical letter.

I am also really worried about a couple of vulnerable people who are in very bad and difficult periods of their lives, and who need our support to help them cope.  They have no similar support system offline, one of them does not want to use her personal page because she does not want her local friends to find out, and without their cat’s Facebook pages they will be cut off, left to deal with severe depression and potential suicidal thoughts, alone.

I understand Facebook’s desire to remove spam accounts but pet profiles are not spam.  These are genuine accounts, being used for genuine friendship and engagement, and legitimate activities.  If Facebook just offered us the option of a “pet” tick box they could easily segregate the genuine “pets” from the spam.  They would also be far better able to target their advertising – which potentially would be a huge financial gain for them.  Currently Don tends to get male or location related adverts which are totally inappropriate and un-interesting.  The odd time however he does get animal or pet related adverts I have a far higher click through rate, and it has led me to purchase items too.  Having asked other pet profiles I know I am  not alone on this. For a listed company always needing to be aware of revenue generation this seems like a blatant missed opportunity for a steady revenue stream.

We are now flocking to other social media platforms in droves.  I can assure you that if Don’s profile goes I will leave Facebook for good.  There are more than enough other platforms that welcome me, and my revenue.

So here is some questions for Facebook.  Why are you doing this witch hunt and attacking legitimate users?  Why are cutting off such a potentially lucrative revenue stream?  And why are you driving us away and forcing us to use competitor platforms?  But most importantly why are you risking people’s health, possibly even lives, through this action and limiting legitimate, and much needed charity activity in this space?  Have you really thought through the damage this witch hunt is causing Facebook both in terms of lost revenue potential but also in terms of image?

I sincerely hope Facebook reconsiders this witch hunt and re-instates our profiles, and in fact takes it a step further and finally acknowledges the huge pet community on Facebook and allows us to finally flag our pet pages and provide us services that meet our needs – which incidentally I suspect many of us would gladly pay for.

And if this post resonates with you and agree that Facebook should not be deleting pet profiles please support us by signing this petition:


In the meantime, just in case Don does get removed, you can find me over on which seems to want my custom.

Don's Furiends profile

Don’s Furiends profile


Addendum:  To give you an idea of the missed advertising take a look at these screen shots of the adverts “targetted” at Don’s profile!

poobook poobook2





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