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Get the balance right

Single-mindedly pursuing RoI can hinder the effectiveness of a digital campaign

Weighing scales showing cost on one side and value on the otherWith recession a reality, all marketers (even in pharma) will be looking to both reduce costs and increase cost-effectiveness. More than ever, discussion will be about return on investment (RoI), but is the current view of RoI the right one?

RoI – a definition
The term 'RoI' is often misused. Instead of referring to critical success measures such as increased sales, intention to prescribe, share of voice or raising disease awareness, as itshould, RoI can instead become a challenge to innovation. If no agreed definition exists for a business case/decision-making process, it is often held up or even cancelled on the weight of "insufficient RoI."

Measuring efficiency
In both financial and offline marketing terms, RoI tends to be the evaluation of efficiency by comparing the magnitude and timing of expected gains with the cost. The three ways to improve RoI are thus to reduce costs, increase gains and accelerate gains.

In this context, RoI is a short-term measure of a marketing activity's immediate impact. Just as the current turmoil of the banking sector is largely the result of the pursuit of short-term financial objectives at the expense of any long-term value, many examples of online marketing are, at best poorly integrated, and at worst damaging. The sustained, long-term brand-building value of a multi-wave and varied campaign is missing, ie a view of RoI that is based on the quality added to a brand through its sustained application.

Digital effectiveness
Good digital marketing solutions are not high quality simply because they are complex, high-tech and expensive, they are high quality because clients pay only for what is of use to them and their brands – they can then be based on correct profiling, targeting, timed interactions as well as behavioural changes and other feedback loops.

Within an online community or professional network, the power of digital communication is also enhanced significantly beyond a simple email 'push marketing' communications campaign. As foreseen way back in 1995 by Jeff Bezos (launching the online retailer, Amazon): "If you make customers unhappy in the physical world they might tell six friends, but online, if they are unhappy they can reach 6,000 people via a newsgroup. If you make them really happy they can tell 6,000 people about you. You want every customer to become an evangelist for you."

Thus, in our sector, the effectiveness of digital marketing should be driven by two-way interaction and engagement with the doctor, as well as the ability to determine any likely or real behavioural change.  

Essentially, the impact of any campaign is reliant on the quality and credibility of the interaction. The potential impact of word-of-mouth influence is massively expanded as the momentum effect that one doctor can have by posting their impressions on a peer-to-peer message board or via email is massively greater than that of face-to-face influence.

According to IMS Health's Global Pharmaceutical Market and Therapy Forecast, there will be up to 29 innovative new medicines launched by the end of this year, 80 per cent of which will be prescribed by specialists. The industry's shift away from creating medicines for the primary care market will have an associated effect on the marketing resources serving that market.

In 2009, pharma marketers will take a long, hard look at Web2.0's potential for creating a more efficient and cost-effective means of delivering a product message, but a key opportunity is sometimes missed – digital marketing to a professional network.

There are certain core values that are likely to drive the success of a professional network of doctors online, namely:
• Trust – the doctors' appreciation of their own network and the high volume of user generated content
• Transparency – the awareness of the source and reference of all website content
• Collaboration – doctor engagement with each other via email, forums, along with the ability to give feedback on website content.

Closed-loop marketing
Any organisation trying to build a marketing programme on the back of engagement with an online community faces significant challenges. No different from the importance of circulation to print, ratings to TV and radio, and access to sales reps; access and audience are critical, yet most commentators on e-marketing bypass the question of audience, preferring instead to focus on factors that are within their own control.

Closed-loop marketing is a perfect example of this, whereby the solution defines the problem. Chris Wade, business development director at and formerly with IMS Health and Dendrite, comments: "I think one of the most interesting points of the closed-loop model is the assumption that all channels can be controlled by the seller in order to 'own' the relationship whereas, in reality, the customer will choose a plethora of ways to access information about the product."

So what about pharma firms who have invested heavily in extending their marketing reach through building brand websites – predominately along Web1.0 lines – with limited success?

"This lack of success can't be down to poor design or content – many pharma sites look great and are rich sources of information – so it must stem from a bias doctors have against 'trusting' pharma industry resources," Wade says.

But it doesn't have to be this way. Many UK pharma brands are now working with the likes of to realise the benefits of digital marketing to a professional network. How is this approach different?

"With over a third of NHS doctors using each month there's clearly no shortage of underlying trust in our brand, but in electing to participate in elements of a digital campaign they are demonstrating a willingness to engage in the type of industry interaction that they so clearly shy away from where brand sites are concerned," says Wade. "One thing we won't do is provide information on these campaigns in such a way as to allow an individual to be identified – to do this would be a breach of the covenant that makes online communities viable in the first place."

The issue with technology-based approaches, like CRM and ETMS before it, is not one of theory, but one of RoI.

Whereas a pharma company could support a full programme of multi-wave digital campaigns across all of their brands for far less than the average budget for enhancing their CRM systems, when it comes down to a choice between investing in the salesforce and investing in their brands, there is still a reluctance to embrace online techniques. Investments in digital marketing – as the following case study shows – can often deliver far more in terms of tangible results.

Proof positive
The proof of concept for the community approach can be demonstrated by the following case study, which shows how good relationship marketing with doctors can be both cost-effective and help refine future marketing strategies.

Boehringer Ingelheim UK had piloted a number of digital marketing initiatives, but had struggled to demonstrate RoI on these. What was required, therefore, was promotion of a product through one channel to measure that channel's effectiveness with no other marketing support. The product selected was Asasantin Retard and the marketing programme was delivered through

The resulting integrated multi-wave campaign was engaged with by 26,752 unique doctor interactions. Supporting IMS sales data demonstrated pure RoI on the digital marketing programme.

Dr Ian Desborough, Boehringer Ingelheim hospital marketing business manager commented: "The project has been successful on many levels; as a promotional exercise for Asasantin Retard and as a proof of concept for digital marketing."

Where now?
Pharmaceutical marketers are understandably concerned with RoI and the challenge of maximising effectiveness with a limited marketing budget. It is more difficult to distinguish between the return on individual programmes and the combined effect of multiple programmes that engage with the doctor on a number of levels.

Fixating on straight, absolute RoI will limit the ability to create a sustainable, more durable relationship over time. Pharma should be looking at digital providers who encourage loyalty and engagement and seek out ways to get more business out of existing relationships. Keeping customers longer, attracting new customers, and enhancing value per customer remains the key to effective marketing – digital doesn't change this, it just broadens the ways in which it can be done or damaged.

Overall, the ultimate value of digital marketing is in communicating the right message to the right person at the right time. The more granular the message the better – with digital this can be done in a personalised, targeted and cost-effective way.

The Author
Carwyn Jones is head of pharmaceutical sales and marketing at

11th December 2008


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