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Understanding the post-digital world

The ubiquity of digital demands that pharmaceutical companies focus more closely than ever on finding out what their customers want

Understanding the post-digital world

The way digital technology has reached into every part of our lives to provide new and exciting ways to learn, communicate, share and carry out any number of traditional activities puts us, to my mind, firmly in a post-digital age. Now that digital is ubiquitous, the rise to prominence of its latest strand - mobile - simply offers a new lens through which to look at how we, as marketers, deliver experiences, content and services to customers, whether they are physicians, carers or patients.

People check news on their phones 40 times per day and 91 per cent of mobile phone users have their phones on 24/7. Indeed, there are now more mobile phone connections than humans alive. But this doesn't mean that mobile phones will take on the role of doctors, though they will inevitably become more widely used in diagnosis and treatment. 

So it was natural that our annual ThinkDigital event would this year look at the different dimensions of mobility and offer thought leadership and direction for brand marketers whose customers are using a range of mobile devices in their everyday lives. 

Personal empowerment through devices
One of the key things for pharma about mobile is the way devices can empower patients, and this takes on a whole new dimension with the emergence of technology that can give us a deeper and better understanding of ourselves and our families, and our behaviours.

The escalation of the 'quantified self' movement has ignited a new breed of aggregator website, empowering people to take control of their data. A great example is personal analytics platform Tictrac, whose founder Martin Blinder spoke at ThinkDigital. His mobile lifestyle platform allows users to pull their data from a wide range of sources and identify trends so they might make better life decisions. 

The quantified self platforms like Tictrac have been shown capable of unearthing fundamental issues around certain behaviours that could provide crucial information for a patient or his healthcare professional. This kind of technology can also empower patients to have new types of conversations with their healthcare professionals, conversations that could be particularly significant for the management of chronic diseases.

For marketers the question is how, and when, can brands add value and support behavioural change via mobile? Mobile marketing is about seeking a response, not shouting at people. But there also has to be an acknowledgement that, for some brands, medical conditions and patient demographics, mobile communication won't be appropriate. 

Another facet of mobile health technology that is of great importance is where it intersects the 'connected patient journey' and offers pharma a chance to continue to be part of the medicinal solution even after a medicine is prescribed. Health tech innovator psHealth, whose co-founder Mindy Daeschner was another ThinkDigital speaker, is one company with some strong solutions to this question. Its software provides health delivery services and it works with pharma on disease management programmes that work across multiple devices around specific conditions. The data from programmes like this can also be used on an anonymised, aggregated basis to demonstrate value for a drug.

A great example of pharma joining up health delivery and gaining valuable insight into compliance is with a psHealth programme around hepititis C. Adherence to this short-term, strict drug regime has significant health and cost benefits for the patient and the entire health economy. It was key to join up the stakeholders, which were clinicians with patient oversight, a third-party home healthcare provider who is providing on-going support, and the patient. All stakeholders can view patient records, see case activities and track and measure their risk status and compliance on a mobile device. All have a sense of ownership as information is readily available to assist in the health management lifecycle.

For pharma companies looking to operate in this space it would position them as the 'health connector' and, by sponsoring a programme which is underpinned by a health delivery solution, they have the mission critical adherence information in a real world setting. Mobile-enabled activities such as these are also perfect when it comes to helping improve the health outcomes of people with ongoing, chronic health issues and they could have important implications for improving patient adherence rates.

Understanding not messaging
It can sometimes be forgotten that healthcare professionals are consumers too, and that they're also using all of these technologies. Once you remember this you also have to bear in mind that there are certain expectations in place when it comes to content standards.

This is especially apparent in video, which has clearly made its mark in the mobile world. Although heavily consumed, pharma has been slow to invest in the quality of video content people expect as standard from other industries. Video certainly presents the industry with an opportunity to think closely about the type of content it is producing and how companies, at least, those that have not already done so, could move beyond self-serving YouTube channels. For marketers 2014 could be the year it cracks video. 

Another challenge for pharma is that so much of the activity around digital devices is socially-enabled, which is how people like to operate now. So, just as there are expectations about video, there are expectations about sharing, believes Patrick Jeffrey, another speaker at ThinkDigital, and there's certainly a lot more pharma could be doing to tackle that head on. If your video is on YouTube, do you really need to disable commenting? Are you, hand on heart, producing something that people will want to watch … and then share with their friends and family, or via social media? 

Skilling up for the post-digital world
The problem pharma has is that although it is forced to operate in a post-digital world, it doesn't necessarily always have the right people to drive the strategies that are appropriate for this environment. To do so we have to go through a, sometimes painful, process of change, where the key to making sense of the new world is to have the right effectiveness measurements in place.

Most organisations, whether pharma or agency-side, still have a way to go when it comes to digital capabilities. Both can face issues of capability development - being able to offer the right training and knowing how to transfer knowledge throughout an organisation.

But we, both agencies and industry, have to do this, consumers demand it. In fact customers are so far ahead of where we are as an industry that they are dragging us, sometimes kicking and screaming, towards the future. Sometimes this is despite the regulatory challenges the industry perceives. Boundaries are there to be tested, but compliance with regulations can be worked through and managed, and someone has to offer a position of leadership.

Take home messages

  • Mobile is one part of a multi-channel approach. It's an area where pharma companies can distinguish themselves, but it's not an activity to carry out in isolation
  • SMS or app is a false dichotomy - either one might suit your campaign and clever thinking that combines smartphone and 'feature phone', where appropriate, could pay dividends
  • Aim for a response from your audience. Use the channel to start conversations not to blast messages
  • As with any other marketing initiative, establish clear measurable goals
  • More than ever, you must be relevant. The nature of the relationship between the consumer and the channel/device makes this more essential than ever. 

Making mobile work
For a mobile strategy to succeed you will need to involve a cross-functional team right at the beginning, clearly demonstrating the added-value business case, while always respecting the wishes of prescribers and patients. However, with so many different types of connected devices in use, a responsive website that works across them all is essential. (But remember, mobility is not for everyone.)

There is an opportunity in this space for brands to better serve patient needs and get them the treatment and information that's going to make a difference to them. Mobile devices are driving consumer engagement programmes at a radical pace and pharma marketers must learn to deliver a better personal user experience via this channel to stay one step ahead in the rapidly changing world of mobility and mHealth.

Article by
June Dawson

managing director, Global at Digitas Health. For more information visit:

12th August 2013

From: Marketing, Healthcare



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