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Engaging with KOL & KOI online – wake up pharma!

Despite my grumbles of not having had time to post much to this blog I have managed to find time to write three blog posts for the ZS Associates blog The Active Ingredient. The subject of this triad of posts engaging with KOL and KOI online, starting with why it is important, how to engage online with KOL and with KOI. I actually wrote about this over a year ago and to date it is probably the blog post I have shared the most with pharma clients and teams.

It is a subject area I am passionate about and as you can read in the posts it has potentially a huge value for pharma companies. The relationships of today are increasingly happening online as well as offline and the sheer volume of content on the internet is making it harder to find relevant information. Content shared by KOI is more likely to be found, in part because of their networks, but also because people are more likely to read something shared by a KOI rather than by a pharma company. Building those online relationships today is therefore aligned with current trends but also helps companies make the most of those increasingly tight budgets by expanding the reach of their content.

I was already looking at this over three years ago, and given this potential value I really thought that pharma was going to start doing more in terms of engaging online with KOI and KOL. However to date very few are doing this, with exceptions like Roche Diagnostics & diabetes bloggers and some of the early steps being taken by Boehringer Ingelheim.

Screenshot from Little Bird tool

Screenshot from Little Bird tool

Whilst a few years ago it would have taken a great deal more manual effort to identify these KOI today there are some great tools out there to do this. I actually spoke this afternoon to Little Bird who took me through their tool. I loved it! It does exactly what one needs to identify the KOI and has some great ways of looking at the data and provides actionable insights. Of course it is just a tool and the key to any tool is how you use it. When looking at this particular area the key thing is to focus on the relationship part. Once you have identified the KOI you need to develop a clear plan of who exactly you will build a relationship with, why and how. This is something that cannot be automated and is not something that should be left to your agencies! Just as in the offline world to build the relationship you actually have to present, the same is true online. How can you build a relationship through a 3rd party, or even worse through a barrage of automated tweets?! And do you really want your agency to own these strategic relationships?

Whilst in the pass the tools were a barrier to building online relationships, today I believe the key barrier for pharma companies is the lack of internal knowledge and process to deal with this new relationship model. This however should not be a barrier anymore. Equipped with the insights and looking at how relationships work offline companies can start to put in place the expertise and process required to build these relationships. Perhaps the main question is not how can they do this but why on earth are they not started doing this already?

Network visualisation from Little Bird tool

Network visualisation from Little Bird tool

 

Screenshot from Little Bird tool

Screenshot from Little Bird tool

 

Why digital? Because everyone loves a rainbow!

A few years ago it was totally normal to have to convince people that digital was a valid, and important, channel.  That fact is now a given – and yet there are still people who need to be convinced.  One issue is that traditional marketing is a safe option and it has worked in the past.  During this tough economic times people are more wary of trying something “new” (even if strictly speaking digital is no longer new) and this is why they need convincing that they should shift some of their budget from their “safe” traditional channels to this “new” and “dangerous” channel.

The trouble is that this traditional way of splitting budgets no longer matches users needs and behaviours.  How come some pharmaceutical companies are spending less than 5% of marketing and sales budgets on digital when physicians, for example, would like to receive over 60% of their product information online?  This seems like a huge disconnect with reality and customer needs and cannot be sustainable.

HCP information preference

HCP information preference

It also seems rather ludicrous given clear direction from customers, physicians as well as patients, that they want more information and resources digitally, that we still need to stand up and argue the need for more digital to be included in the marketing and communications mix.  We should no longer need to be trying to persuade senior managers on the need for digital – rather we should be working with them to look at how best to integrate on- and off-line resources and how to get a more balanced marketing mix.

There will always be a need off-line materials but they should work in harmony with online elements and all marketing and communication elements should be integrated and optimise each other.  There is no battle between digital and traditional – one is not better than the other on its own.  Rather they tell a far more powerful story when combined in an integrated and strategic way based around customer, and organisation, needs.  Just like a the colours of the rainbow are truly impactful when joined together in a smooth combination, communications should be joined together to provide an impactful and memorable experience for the end audience.

Right now the pharmaceutical audience is just getting a huge sway of reds and oranges but there are hardly any blues coming through which is not impactful at all.  We need to stop defending why we even need digital, and and stop fighting to get more digital budget, but instead we need to start working on getting the mix and colour combination as perfect as a rainbow.

Rainbow in Sri Lanka

Rainbow in Sri Lanka