Category Archives: Multichannel
When I started my career in the pharmaceutical industry I was told I would never work in pharma marketing without having been a sales rep. The fact that I hold a Masters in International Marketing, grew up in the industry (I followed in my father’s footsteps) and brought a range of highly pertinent skills was irrelevant – being a sales rep was seen as more critical to being a successful marketeer than having the right qualifications or skills. I have since disproved this “fact” by spending the majority of my career working as a digital marketeer, in some shape or form, for some of the world’s top pharma companies.
During my career I have fortunately seen a shift in thinking away from this mentality but the sad reality it has not completely disappeared, as evidenced in a job application I just saw for a top pharma. There it was again – listed among the basic requirements of the job spec. In this day and age I cannot for the life of me understand why work as a sales rep should still be a pre-requisite for a marketing role. Far more critical should be a good understanding of basic marketing, multichannel engagement and a degree of creative flair or innovative thinking.
Sadly I have experienced, time and time again, the result of having sales people in marketing roles. The lack of understanding of basic marketing by pharma marketeers, including senior people, is shocking. As I try to support brand teams and companies in developing and implementing innovative multichannel strategies I often have to also train them in basic marketing before we can even consider looking at how to navigate the complex multichannel world we now live in. For example trying to explain to teams how to develop plans and strategies tailored to their customer segments I may discover that their idea of segment actually links to HCP group such as GP or Oncologists rather than actual detailed segments linking to behaviours and beliefs.
In order to be a successful marketeer today you need to understand not only basic marketing but you also need to understand the complexities that digital has driven. You need to be creative and innovative to come up with marketing strategies that actually deliver real impact and engage, and not just be able to complete a brand planning template. Our customers now face so much choice and can simply click away from pharmaceutical content and messages. In many countries the role of the rep has diminished drastically and yet we still have many companies placing an inordinate amount of effort on this channel – and this is not helped if marketeers have been hired because of their sales skills rather than marketing expertise. Whilst reps still play an important role for many brands they are now one of many channels and a marketeer needs to understand the reps role within a more complex and interconnected landscape.
We live in a noisy world where the customer has the power and the choice. If companies continue to hire marketeers who tow the old line they will never see the impact they could be achieving. Our industry needs innovators and people who will challenge the status quo. We need people who will above all else always put the customer in the centre and try their utmost to understand what that customer wants and needs, and then deliver the brand messages in such a way that it speaks to those needs and resonates with those customers. The big tech giants are already investing heavily in healthcare and if pharma companies start having to compete head to head with these companies it is pretty clear who the winner will be unless we change our approach and who we hire. Anyone can learn to fill in a brand template but coming up with successful, innovative strategies that speak to today’s customers is a very different skill that takes talent, experience and a different mindset.
This morning I was reading about the difference in opinion between Apple’s Tim Cook and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg on whether AR or VR is the future. In my opinion they are both the future in their own different ways and for different audiences.
As an owner of a Samsung Gear VR I have to say that I think VR is pretty cool and can imagine it will only get cooler with newer technology. The opportunities for VR are huge, from gaming, to education to healthcare. I particular like the way VR is bringing hope and relief to patients, for example through sensory therapy for burns patients (the use of VR therapy during bandage changing saw a significant reduction in pain).
Currently though VR is still somewhat the domain of gamers and tech “geeks” like myself. With the advent of cheaper headsets this may change but will VR ever become a mass market concept? There I am not sure given the “isolationist” nature of VR – namely that you have a headset on which immerses you in the VR world but at the same time can “remove” you from the real world and real contacts. I am not sure I can imagine the masses sitting around in their own world with their headsets.
AR on the other hand exists in the “real” world, being simply augmented over reality. AR offers benefits in the same fields as VR, namely gaming, education and to a degree health too. However the lack of full immersion can also make AR less impactful that VR. What AR does offer however is the merging of technology and real world in a way that people can potentially enjoy together. AR is no longer a new technology though and we also have not seen it take off to follow the hype that surrounded AR a few years back. We also see AR still being used by individuals in their “own” worlds like the Pokemon gamers. This could of course change with new uses and versions of AR, and AR could become something used by the masses in their daily lives, either individually or in groups.
Both technologies offer great hope and opportunity but in my opinion both will always remain more for the young or tech savvy rather than technology for the masses. Both technologies have been surrounded by masses of hype that, to date, has not lived up to expectations. I suspect both these technologies will slowly become part of the norm in certain situations, such as in sensory therapy in hospitals, quietly and without great fanfare, while much of the hype will vanish or move onto the next new technology. But who knows ….
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.
Last week I was at the GLC social media & emarketing forum in Frankfurt listening to an interesting presentation by about HCP relationships. One of the slides presented showed a KOL map, showing who the KOLs are, who the upcoming KOLs are, and where they are based. This map is developed based on an analysis of presentations at congress and publication – but it is all offline inputs. I am however happy to hear that they are also looking into doing a KOL digital map.
Personally this rings a bell a with me as one of my recommendations in the past has been to do precisely this. Pharma companies generally have a great idea of who their traditional KOLs are, but they have no idea about how active they are online (if at all) and they often have no real idea of who KOI (Key Online Influencers) are. This is a big gap in a key knowledge area. As more and more HCPs turn to digital the impact of KOI will become increasingly important. Pharma companies need to start finding out which KOL are active online, and who the KOI are that they should be building relationships with them, just as they have traditionally built relationships with KOLs. This is essentially just a new group of KOL and the process for KOL relationship development offline already exist – they just need to be adapted for online.
From experience I know however that at this point alarm bells go off with legal and compliance as this is a new area. A second issue though is that unlike KOLs who are always HCP KOI may be HCPs, but they may also be journalists, bloggers, patient advocates, etc. This raises a whole area of problems. For the HCP KOI it is relatively simple to deal with – they fit into the existing framework and the Medical teams can build the relationships here, using a different process but still essentially following the same principles and guidelines. The problem however is how to deal with the other KOI – who owns the relationship? How to deal with the various regulatory issues that then arise? So, for example, for a non-HCP KOI there is the danger of being seen to be doing promotion. How can a pharma company deal with these issues?
The answer is to be totally transparent and never, ever look at relationship building from a promotional point of view. Building relationships needs to be based on providing value, whether it be for an HCP or a patient KOI. With that thinking as a starting point you then do some research. What are the KOI interested in? What content and assets would be of value to them? Do they have a blogger outreach policy or do they give any indication of how they feel about partnering with organisations? Build up a good level of knowledge about each individual KOI, just as one would do with a traditional KOL.
You then need to identify where the relationship will sit. As mentioned Medical KOI relationships sit comfortably with medical, journalists sit well with the comms team, and patient advocates sit well with advocacy teams. Very rarely do these relationships sit in marketing – even though very often this is where the desire to have these relationships starts. The other issue is of course also that digital and social media often sits either with marketing or comms – not with Medical, and yet Medical is the area that could really provide the most value and also get some real benefits from social media. Given the lack of digital expertise in Medical there is a strong argument, in some cases, for some relationships to live with the digital or social media team, who (hopefully) understand the dynamics of digital relationships.
Once you have identified who owns the relationship you then need to start relationship building. Like any relationship it will depend on the individuals involved, what channels they use, what value you can provide etc. However in general your first step will be to start building the relationship digitally – retweet their content, comment on their blog posts, etc. Offline however also plays a pivotal role in this relationship building – just because this is a digitally focused relationship does not mean it has to only stay in the digital arena. If you know the KOI is going to be attending the same conference as you then get in touch and arrange a meeting. Or perhaps you see that the KOI is going to be in the same town as you – arrange to meet for a coffee. Alternatively invite them to a specific event you are organising.
A good example of this comes from Roche Diagnostics blogger summits which are annual events they organise with key diabetes bloggers specifically to build relationships. Roche has been very successful – partly because they were realistic in their approach and accepted that this would need to be a long term initiative and it would take time for the summits and relationships to work (in fact it took 3 years). Another reason Roche was so successful was also because they went in with a “what can we do for you” mentality – rather than a promotional “what can you do for me mentality” – they asked attendees what they needed from the organisation and what value Roche could bring to the community. The response Roche got was very positive and they now have a good relationship with the community, who blog and tweet about Roche’s initiatives and help improve the Roche name within the community.
Follow Roche’s lead then when you look at building your own KOI relationships – allow time, and focus on their needs first and not your own. As the relationship develops and builds it will turn into a win win relationship, with the KOI spreading the reach of your content and providing a more credible way of reaching your target audience. Put aside internal squabbling and politics to focus on the relationship and share knowledge and process internally. Building KOI relationships will increasingly become a key part of the “KOL” process in the future so learn how to do it today – and do it well.
I have been asked to talk about the topic of “Is Pharma Afraid of Social Media” at the GLC Social Media and Emarketing Forum this week in Frankfurt. Had I been asked this question a few years ago, indeed even last year, I would have said a resounding “Yes”. However times have changed and my initial response to this was “not anymore”. But I thought I would reach out and ask the community and see what they thought. I posted a poll on Linkedin, and then shared it via Linkedin and Twitter.
I will have to admit that I was mildly surprised by the result (so far at least). The first pleasant surprise was the talented Andrew Spong feeling inspired by my poll to write a blog post in response: http://stwem.com/2013/06/04/four-reasons-why-pharma-isnt-afraid-of-social-media/
The second surprise was that I thought the majority of answers would go to “Yes and No” as opposed to “Yes” or “No” – if anything because it is the most neutral “depends”-like answer. The result so far however is a resounding “Yes” with over 50% voting that Pharma is indeed afraid of social media.
Personally my response is the “Yes and No” because of the mix in responses to social media – there have been some great examples but there are also a large number of pharma companies failing to adequately engage via social media. I can however understand the strong tendency towards the “Yes” vote – there are certainly enough examples of pharma being scared of social media.
Firstly, while there are many pharma companies that have undertaken great social media initiatives (like GE Healthcare’s current #GetFit initiative) there are far more examples of no initiatives or a lack of activity. If we look at Facebook for example at first glance it looks like pharma is finally onboard as most of the big companies have some sort of Facebook presence. On closer inspection however you will notice that very few have their walls open to posting – Boehringer Ingelheim is one of the few to do this. This shows, in my opinion, a fear of opening up to conversation, questions and engagement. By restricting your engagement simply to comments under your own posts you have some form of control – comments are less visible than posts and in theory will be focused around what you posted. This reflects pharma’s fear of giving up control – something which is a reality on social media.
Secondly is the age old regulatory argument. As Andrew so rightly points out there are very few examples of regulatory bodies raising complaints or having issues with any of pharmas social media activity (including Boehringer Ingelheim’s full-on engagement approach). Nonetheless this fact seems to have evaded a number of people in pharma. Regulatory constraints is still the number one push back I get from pharma companies around why they are not active on social media. It is a great, and very comfortable excuse. It also highlights the fear of trying something “new” (even if social media really is no longer new).
Thirdly I believe politics and internal inefficiency is often holding companies back from publishing and pushing through social media guidelines. Yes many companies have these (I like Andrew have also written quite a few!) but what I have also seen is that these guidelines get approved and may get shared with a few people at global and department level, but it is not unheard of to find out that people on the ground, at local level, have no idea that these guidelines exist, or if they do they are still to concerned to take the risk to implement. For guidelines to be effective they have to be communicated, publicised and encouraged, from senior executives, otherwise they end up in drawers or getting ignored.
Finally I think the sad reality is there is still a great deal of “ostrich head in sand” syndrome in the industry – the concept that if I do not see or hear it then it does not exist or affect me. I have often heard the reason / excuse for not doing social media that “it is not relevant to me / to my stakeholders”. My response to that is “take your head out of the sand and look around”! There are very few instances when there is literally no value or use in social media. Certainly all marketing and communications related departments, and those relating to clinical trials, can glean a great deal of insights just from social media listening. As to stakeholders not using social media – this is an ever diminishing group – do they really warrant your total lack of attention in this area?
So there is still a great deal of fear of social media in pharma. That said I am an optimist and I think that fear is diminishing. I firmly believe if I redo this survey next year there will be a resounding majority answering “No” pharma is not afraid of social media.
And thanks again Andrew for the inspirational blog post (if you have got this far and have not yet read then I recommend it http://stwem.com/2013/06/04/four-reasons-why-pharma-isnt-afraid-of-social-media/ )