Oct 8, 2018

A Digital Marketing Strategic Blueprint for the Pharma Industry

by Digital Marketing Institute

In order to thrive, any organization must stay on top of the technical interplay between specific industry demands and developments in marketing. With healthcare and pharmaceuticals specifically, there are certain challenges for marketers.

So, how can pharma professionals manage their digital marketing strategy while staying on top of trends and ensuring the optimal health of their patients and clients? Read on for more information about pharma trends and how to develop a digital marketing strategy that fits with emerging markets in this field.

About Digital Marketing for Pharma

A recent Deloitte report reinforces the common theme in healthcare that it’s less about the provider than it is about the patient. Basically, people aren’t walking into a doctor’s office and reading a pamphlet on a certain type of drug as much anymore, which means that pharma marketers are now in a position where they will have to get the word out about their products creatively.

More and more patients are directly involved with and curious about the way that they are being treated. They have more questions, they’re doing more research, and what’s most important is that all of this information is available to them on the web.

This new move by the public towards personal responsibility and, essentially, ownership of their own health means that marketers must understand how to market products in such a way that makes consumers feel empowered and aware. Thus, transparency and authentic engagement should be central to any marketing campaign. 

Pharmaceutical marketers must also stay on top of the changing nature of the patient landscape, which includes things like:

  • An aging population
  • More chronic diseases
  • Administrative bodies trying to cut costs   
  • Patients who are more aware and active in the context of their own care
  • Balancing transparency and privacy issues

In a world where information is available to almost anyone, and it’s easy to research the efficacy and safety of various treatment options, pharma companies need to be on top of other information that is out there and focus on building and maintaining trust with both patients and healthcare providers.  

Data and Privacy

The collection of personal data is a key part of marketing in pharma. But in light of increasing privacy concerns as well as confidentiality regulations enforced by the healthcare industry, data collection for consumer research is becoming increasingly difficult and must be approached with extreme care.

In this light, there are a few areas that marketers should be aware of, and be extremely careful to obtain consent for as they collect data from consumers. These include consumer protection initiatives put in place by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and liability risks if not in compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) in the US, as well as the new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the EU.

Social Media and Pharma

Adweek lists pharma as one of the four industries to “dominate social media in 2018”, and this is a growing trend. But why is this so?  

There are a variety of reasons. For one thing, pharma professionals are using platforms such as LinkedIn more and more to network with and educate their peers, as well as to build their careers in the healthcare field. They’re using it for B2B activities and branded pages, on top of building a client base.

But what’s more interesting is that pharma companies are using social channels to have conversations about health that don’t center around drug ads, and instead are focusing on emotional support and peer-to-peer interactions.

On the flipside, according to a report published by Unmetric, pharma companies are actually producing less content overall – a  36% drop between 2014 and 2016. Many companies are seeing less overall engagement, even the bigger ones, as Ecoconsultency reports drops of at least 33%, though top-ranking companies are improving in this area and are using sites such as YouTube and Facebook to boost engagement.

This reduction suggests that marketers face the challenge of competing against large multinational firms. The larger firms are also likely to be using paid promotion. The key here is to find the right audience at the right time, which is more difficult than ever, since the rise of moment-marketing.

Websites as Virtual Medical and Information Hubs

Pharma marketers face another challenge in that not only do they need to be abreast of patient needs and behavior, they also need to target and educate busy healthcare practitioners. One solution to this is designing highly articulate websites that can act as central education, information and patient care “hubs”.

These are places where physicians can tap into up-to-date information on various products, and where patients can possibly go for quick answers to common health questions.

If you create a space focused on offering valuable, transparent information and insights to customers, they will come to recognize the brand in question as valuable and trustworthy. This relationship-building could be done with strategic partnerships and could incorporate case studies, peer-reviewed articles, webinars and interactive virtual reality (VR) technology.

This type of centralized hub could also support the growing demand for around-the-clock virtual care centers, a phenomenon which is reportedly becoming an essential part of the healthcare landscape. The idea here is that patients can access multiple levels of healthcare, via various touchpoints but within a central area.

Content Marketing

There is not one single solution when it comes to content marketing, other than to ensure that activities are well-targeted towards segmented audiences. Sticking with informative content such as case studies will work well with doctors, and understanding how to develop well-structured visuals and videos can go a long way towards educating consumers without having it feel like an ad.

Pharma companies should be focusing on getting the attention of customers without doctors having to be the ‘go-between’. Major social platforms are key for trust and engagement with the audience, and all content strategies must be optimized for mobile.

In addition, marketers must stay aware of metrics related to the frequency of health-related searches done by consumers as they take steps to understand and support their own health. Useful articles, doctor forums and patient communities focused on specific ailments may be good places to start conversations in this light.  

To be effective, pharma marketers will need to bear a few other things in mind concerning the way they approach their marketing techniques. Planning around critical benchmarks is essential, as is taking a supportive (rather than dogmatic) approach.

Marketers must also bear in mind that these types of campaigns and products typically take a while to sell, so they can’t expect immediate results. They’ll want to plan for the long-term and adjust strategies according to key metrics that have to do more with the consideration phase of purchasing than actual conversions. They’ll also want to focus on a people-oriented (rather than, say, an SEO-oriented) approach.     

Unbranded and Influencer Outreach

A key trend for those looking to market for pharmaceutical companies, and even in healthcare in general, is to use emotionally-centered ideas to promote their products, but in subtle ways. This is based on feelings and emotions.

For instance, brands may want to get behind well-known fundraisers for specific ailments. Designing a campaign around a particular health event leverages the charity element and increases exposure in an unbranded context.    

Challenges here include the fact that the campaigns are typically quite long, and that they are required to use branded content under the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rules. For example, after Kim Kardashian posted an ad on Instagram about a morning sickness drug – which boosted social activity significantly – the post had to be removed because it was not in compliance with FDA laws.

Developing an Action Plan

After considering some of the issues outlined above, marketers would be wise to stick to content and digital marketing strategies which:

  • Are optimized for mobile (e.g. using popular apps, scaling web pages)
  • Are based on KPIs associated with the target market
  • Do not infringe on personal data usage (without permission)  
  • Utilize or partner with central virtual “hubs”, which can be educational learning centers for both physicians and patients
  • Are designed to anticipate the needs of segmented audiences (namely patients versus healthcare providers)

There is no one-size-fits-all solution for digital marketing professionals working with pharma brands – in some cases, it will be more of a top-down approach, and in other cases it will be bottom-up.  

Marketers in this space should have a solid and clear understanding of the best ways to collect data without infringing on privacy rights before moving forward with any campaign. Also, marketers should understand that priority KPIs should reflect patient trust and brand loyalty while tracking metrics carefully in order to continually improve on existing activities.

Just like digital marketing strategies in other fields, meaningful engagement is vital. However, there is certainly a focus on supporting the consumer in their quest to feel more empowered about their own health by providing accurate and precise information in a positive manner.   

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