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Is pharma’s marketing model broken?

by Jenny Cowderoy, MD Communications, M3 (EU)
Digital Handbook online audiences

In a recent Digital Handbook article, I said that digital is not a marketing channel: It is a whole new version of the real world, and you can choose to replicate your existing business model and processes – or harness its vast potential to transform and improve your business. In particular, I'm interested in the opportunities it presents to transform how you engage with and build relationships with customers.

I'm now going to look at pharma's current digital marketing model. Currently, the brand team develops a channel strategy and messages, which are communicated to doctors by the brand team.  The end result is that brand-centric messages are pushed out to doctors (or hosted somewhere doctors are expected to visit), with little support from the parent brand in terms of digital reputation or a trust-building PR strategy.

Since there is sometimes little value to the doctor, engagement is low, it's difficult to demonstrate any effect on prescribing or sales, and the customer has no reason to enter into a long-term relationship with the brand or parent company. Consequently, there is little or no ROI on many brand.com projects – we all know how expensive it is to build and host websites, and keep them updated.

I believe, therefore, that pharma's disillusionment with digital is somewhat misplaced.  Digital, as we all know, can deliver hugely valuable and engaging experiences.  Perhaps it's marketing and, in particular 'push' marketing, that doesn't work very well – it's like throwing expensive mud at expensive walls and hoping you hit some of the right audience with the right message at the right time. 'One size fits all' has never worked very well in offline channels and it's especially ineffective online. Therefore, rather than questioning digital, pharma should question its push marketing tactics.

So how can pharma change its marketing model?  In theory it's easy (and with buy-in from leadership teams it's very possible). You just need to put your customer at the heart of your strategy. So the customer in this model replaces the brand team and the brand team become the facilitators and the translators of the doctors' needs into really valuable content, products and services that they will actually use and really want.

The steps and stages needed to make this change are different for every company, depending on how well accepted and adopted the Customer Experience/Engagement model is and the levels of support for digital (not just marketing but strategy). But ultimately, it's time to move away from creating marketing materials to developing valuable, tailored products and services that customers will feel are 'built for them'. The only way to do this is hand in hand WITH customers at every stage.

For more information on M3, the global provider of technology services in healthcare, and its European Division which includes  www.doctors.net.uk, www.mdlinx.com, and www.networksinhealth.com, please call Jenny Cowderoy on +44 (0)1235 828400, or email Jenny.Cowderoy@eu.m3.com

3rd December 2014

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PharmiWeb Solutions creates, delivers and manages digital solutions for the pharmaceutical and healthcare segment. From digital marketing, to patient education...

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