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The digital race: Eight ways to get up-to-speed

The festive season is over, so why does analysis of pharma’s digital progress feel like a Christmas repeat of Groundhog Day? Here are eight ideas to stop next year feeling like last year all over again.
The digital race

2016 may have brought us Trump and Brexit, but some things are still reassuringly predictable. Not least, the European pharma industry's approach to digital marketing. Last year saw pharma, once again, make 'incremental steps towards digital maturity'. Sound familiar? That's because it is. 2016 also saw another media saturation of content advising industry on how it can achieve digital transformation. Its impact has been variable. Across Health's latest survey of the industry's multichannel maturity described its 2016 results as a 'copy-paste' of the previous year. It's a tempting thought. Twelve months ago, I wrote a pantomime-themed article for PME on how digital disruption was likely to reshape pharma in 2016. The subsequent cries of 'oh no it isn't' have haunted me ever since. And so, as we stare down the barrel of a new year, present-day discussion of the industry's digital progress feels a little bit like Groundhog Day.

But perhaps that's a little unfair. Closer analysis reveals that progress is being made. The challenge is to accelerate the speed of change. But how? Here are eight digital ideas to think about to stop 2017 feeling like 2016 all over again.

1. There's a correlation between digital investment and success - but think bigger
Data shows that digital marketing spend is increasing - but cautiously. “Across Health's 2016 study reveals that Europe lags behind the US and Japan - investing around 15% of its marketing spend on digital marketing,” says Tim Ringrose, CEO, M3 EU. “That's still pretty low. However, the study also shows that the better-performing companies spent over 25% on digital activity - suggesting there's a correlation between digital marketing investment and brand success. The more cautious companies seem to invest only in old-fashioned digital tactics: e-detailing solutions, websites, direct and email marketing. In the worst examples, marketers know they need to 'do something digital', and deploy traditional tactics just to tick that box. That's tragic, because it means they're going through the motions rather than thinking about the best way to reach customers and integrate channels. The most effective use of digital will ultimately be strategic as much as tactical.”

2. Never mind the buzzwords, focus on the outcomes
The definition and language of digital is broad. This has led to a combination of both analysis and paralysis among pharma companies as they try to make sense of the jargon. In reality, digital marketing is simply 'marketing', but it's easy for marketers to become buried beneath the buzzwords. “There's much talk about whether the word 'digital' should be ditched altogether, and that the term itself is too broad without context,” says Emily Brooks, head of engagement strategy, McCann Health London. “Ultimately, digital marketing will become just marketing - but it's too soon to scrap the d-word. It's still needed to drive excellence. Rather than debate the semantics, it's more important to focus on the calibre of the output and outcome. Whether digital or otherwise, the same principles apply: set your objectives, understand what your audience needs, deliver it in a way that delights and converts, measure and evolve. Generally, the industry is getting there with the basics: improved web experiences, driven by UX and conversion goals, SEO, SEM and media partnerships. And it's doing it with the rigour and standard required. Hopefully, in 2017 we'll start to see better-connected customer ecosystems and multichannel attribution (beyond iPad and email) - genuinely giving customers what they need, when and where they want it.”

3. Be useful: evaluate and integrate 
Historically, pharma has made the mistake of treating digital as a silo activity. This has led to disjointed and inconsistent brand experiences, and has perpetuated the misnomer that digital is 'just another channel'. Let's be clear: digital is not a channel. Moreover, digital marketing starts at the same place as all marketing - with an understanding of your customers and an appreciation of the problems that they face. “The way we talk about digital strategy shouldn't flummox anyone; it's about establishing who your audience is and what they need, then marrying that with valuable, engaging content delivered across the channels they use most,” says Tom Griffiths, digital strategy director, GHG. “Fundamentally, marketing is about being relevant and useful. In order to make your content work, and in order to be found online, you've got to create something valuable for your audience. That's why detailed customer understanding is essential to ensure you use the right format, tone and channel. Maintaining a silo mentality only makes the challenge harder. There's much talk about the importance of having an integrated strategy - and that's absolutely right. But in the wheel of an integrated offering, digital should sit as a wheel within the wheel, rather than the spoke. It runs across everything. And while it shouldn't drive the agenda from day one, it should be considered from the very outset as part of an integrated strategy.”

4. Embrace the c-word: content is King
Of course, success with the d-word is dependent on the c-word: content. And content is a broad church. As channels proliferate, and mobile media consumption and online video continue to grow, the nature and identity of content is changing. It's no surprise that content marketing is attracting column inches. Its use in healthcare has yet to reach the levels seen in other industries. But it will. “Content - if not King - is certainly second in line to the throne,” says Emma Statham, managing director, Four MSA. “Companies are starting to embrace the role of content as digital firmly breaks down the form and function divide. They realise that to satisfy audiences, content needs to be relevant, regular and real. This requires a new approach to content creation and release. You can't just create two cycles of material, update your website based on that phasing, and expect a loyal, growing audience. However, this doesn't mean you need to be crushed under the burden of content creation. An audit to create a brand asset map often reveals an array of pre-existing content that's already approved, that can be repurposed through many channels. Using simple tactics, it's possible to drive better cost per engagement against original creation cost - and improve customers' perceptions of your information assets. Integration is key. As EM Forster said: 'Always connect.' Everything should link back to strategic objectives, every piece should work together and every click should count.”

5. Don't forget creativity
Consumer marketing is evolving into the delivery of useful tools and services across predominantly digital environments. The digital disruption that has shaped, for example, the travel, financial services and entertainment industries, will eventually reshape healthcare. Unfortunately, while we wait, 'digital' is becoming a panacea, and digital strategy is becoming confused with IT strategy. This is an important nuance, particularly for marketers. “It's easy to overlook creativity,” says Emily Brooks. “Technology is not an idea - and it's not a substitute for bold and brilliant ideas. Today, we see increasing use of virtual and artificial reality in healthcare - we were probably one of the first industries beyond gaming to start using it - but at its heart, there must be that single-minded truth. Bringing together creativity and technology means we can be more experimental and innovative; it allows us to be more authentic - getting our customers involved and getting closer to them. But it still needs to be meaningful and high quality - grounded in a human truth. The industry needs to be bold, brave and always striving for continual betterment. We need to get the basics in place, but then really look at where and how we can have the most impact - for the customer and for the brand.”

6. Look, listen and learn
Success for pharma is all about building digital confidence. Years of living in fear of (and hiding behind) regulations has created a nervousness around digital. “Across the industry, lots of people lack digital confidence,” says Tom Griffiths. “At the first mention of digital, marketers can sometimes start nervously scratching their heads and mumbling about needing to 'do something with the twitter'! The answer is not to go charging in with digital solutions - it's about looking at all the channels and considering digital's place within them. To breed digital confidence, companies need to get past the buzzwords, but they do need to understand the vocabulary. Rather than being scared of digital, they need to look at the world around them - all the different formats of content within digital - not only in healthcare, but also in analogous industries. And from there, it's about social listening; looking at what's happening in your own environment - your market, competitors, customers and patients - and planning from there. The best way of building digital confidence is to listen, learn and plan.”

7. Measure for measures: sort your metrics out early
Management guru Peter Drucker once said: “Efficiency is doing things right; effectiveness is doing the right things.” So, in a digital world bedevilled with buzzwords but famed for its measurability, how can pharma companies ensure their digital marketing campaigns are working? Digital is a minefield of metrics. That's why it's important to identify the right measurements up front. “Establishing the right metrics is a challenge,” says Emma Statham. “Developing a better understanding of what can be measured - and how - would help create a more accountable strategy. But this can be difficult. Rapid advances in technology mean that it's hard to keep pace with progress. We're constantly discovering and developing new tools and metrics. Certainly, how the industry measures marketing effectiveness can improve. The scope of what we can already measure is enormous - the trick is to work out what's key in our performance indicators, and what translates into value for clients. All the traditional tools for understanding soft measures such as favourability and message association can be overlaid on digital campaigns and, allied with hard metrics like time and interaction, can help provide a clear and actionable picture of a campaign's success.”

8. It's a marathon and a sprint: accelerate to the front
There's no doubt that industry could do more to maximise the potential of digital marketing. Whether it's complacency, apathy or an absence of confidence, there's a common consensus that companies have been slow to seize the opportunities in front of them. But there's a race to be won, and a worthwhile prize at the end of it. “Across the industry, there seems to be a lack of urgency to make change happen,” says Tim Ringrose. “Yet there's first-mover advantage for those that do. Pharma's digital progress has resembled a 10,000m race; companies are clustered in a pack, but despite occasional surges of innovation, no-one has broken clear of the field. 2017 will undoubtedly see someone hit the front and demonstrate true digital innovation. The smartest companies are not fixating on digital or channel, they're identifying problems that need solving, and developing integrated strategies with clearly defined outcomes to address them. They know they'll engage customers across multiple touchpoints, and that digital will inevitably form part of their experience. But they also know that to get the best out of digital, sales and marketing tactics must be integrated rather than isolated. Evidence increasingly shows how digital, as part of a multichannel approach, can have a massive impact on brand success. The companies that get it right - and move boldly and quickly - will be the ones that forge ahead of the pack.”

Article by
Chris Ross

is a freelance writer specialising in the pharmaceutical and healthcare industry

26th January 2017

From: Marketing

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