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Digital mania - a question of value

In the scramble to implement digital solutions, are we forgetting some of the basics?

Anthony RowbottomRight now, pharmaceutical marketing appears disproportionally focused on the digital, multi-channel or omni-channel (choose your company’s orthodoxy). It is a marketing mania that does not necessarily deliver to its full potential value.

As we learnt at our marketing mentor’s knee, marketing as a concept is fundamentally about value. The American Marketing Association defines it: “Marketing is the activity, set of institutions and processes for creating, communicating, delivering and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners and society at large.”

I would argue that the current mania for digital at all costs is counter-productive, even damaging.

There, I said it.

Digital initiatives must measure up

Flicking through a recent pharma marketing report, I spotted something interesting: pharma spend on digital since 2017 has grown globally by up to 77%; spend on ‘traditional’, however, has flatlined.

What’s interesting is that while digital spend seems to be skyrocketing, the associated measurement of customer happiness is atrocious. So bad in fact, that the best Net Promoter Score (NPS) is a whopping -40% (minus!). Traditional channels fare much better with a mean across the companies of over 10%.

So what’s driving the relentless push for increased digital? Why are separate ‘digital departments’ being created and indeed, often favoured over other ways of working with our customers? And why don’t we measure our success in these areas by the only yardstick which counts - adding value to our customers?

Listening to patients is the only way to understand value

If you had a marketing budget burning a hole in your pocket, where would you invest?

Before saying ‘where I’d get the biggest ROI’, let’s remember what we’re trying to achieve. Which problem are we trying to solve? And more importantly, which value are we trying to provide to patients and their doctors? Do we really know how patients define ‘value’?

Unless we know the answers to these questions I would argue that any money spent risks being wasted.

Hearing what patients have to say, especially in the digital space using social media listening, is incredibly important if we want to understand whether we have succeeded in adding value. Expert techniques have moved us on from blunt-instrument sentiment analysis and keyword search to allow much better understanding of what patients value (and why).

In a recent project we helped a pharma company to view the success of its digital strategy from its patients’ point of view: when trying to answer treatment queries, multiple website page views is not a sign of success for many patients, but of confusion and frustration. Focusing on patient experience, our client made some simple changes and is now seeing a dramatic improvement in the value it delivers, and an uptick in ‘stay time’ on treatment.

Delivering real value is about choices

I personally had a ‘lightbulb moment’ reading Greg McKeown’s 2014 book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less.

McKeown describes beautifully the pursuit of less. Not ‘less’ outcome (the exact opposite, in fact) but ‘less’ choice - making each activity deliver exponentially more value, by focusing our energy on the priority and removing activities that do not directly contribute to it.

Over time, our work has shown us that a key step is creating internal agreement on this, the priority outcome, first. Then and only then is it time to start considering solutions - solutions that are truly valuable for patients and that align with what we want to achieve. Sounds obvious but how much time do any of us spend on this when we hear those siren words ‘we need a digital strategy’?

Earlier this year, we were lucky enough to work with a great client who recognised this - rather than focus on digital tactics, we helped the global team unite behind the value they wanted to deliver to patients, regardless of channel. This resulted in purpose and focus. Not only could the client generate a simple-to-execute digital plan, including an exciting e-health solution, but they also progressed their thinking on the value their therapies could provide to patients. Less digital noise, more investment in answers to patients’ issues.

So despite the strong initial temptation to dive into the digital solution, it’s better to focus on the value in addressing a customer need - and then, how can the use of our digital expertise best support this? A shift in the digital mind set indeed.

And let’s not even start thinking about blockchain solution implications (sorry!).

Anthony Rowbottom, research director and head of digital and innovation at Branding Science EU, has been active in the healthcare industry for 15 years - follow him on Twitter: @Arowbottom

In association with

Branding Science

15th March 2018

From: Marketing

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