Here is a simple theory about why pharma is having a tough time with digital channels. When using digital channels, the user is 100 per cent in control. This means that if they are served content they don't value, trust, like, have time for or understand, then they will disappear, shut down, delete or report as spam. Pharma often says that digital channels don't work, but if we serve poor content via digital channels, it will not be engaged with because it is not engaging!
In contrast, we all know the first thing a doctor exclaims during a representative call is: “Come on, get your sales aid out. I'm really looking forward to seeing some of your new sales data …” (please note the irony). Fortunately, the representative may be able to add a modicum of control to a sales call, leafing through the sales aid without the doctor asking him/her to leave, but still very little impact is made face to face.
Digital channels provide contact
Where digital channels provide real value is in providing 'contact' for the pharmaceutical marketer, e.g. HCP networks, quality authenticated email database providers, and HCP display advertising providers. These digital channel providers have done all the hard work and either established authenticated HCP networks or compiled email databases.
Yes, you have to pay – but all the hard work has been done for you.
Customers want quality content
It is difficult to sell and advertise via digital channels, although this is not exclusive to healthcare. Sky+ means I can avoid viewing adverts. And online, I can't remember the last time I clicked on an online ad. We are all in control online.
So pharma must provide its customers with information of value – engaging information that educates, informs, adds value and creates interest. There is one school of thought that states that brand promotion via digital channels only ever works if the product you are trying to sell is new, better or cheaper. Or of course, all three. Give your customers information they want.
Don't be seduced by technology
The success of a digital channel initiative is never solely driven by the technology. Of course, certain social aspect, motivational design features, and navigational simplicity can all aid the 'engagement factor', but it is the quality of the content that will drive this engagement. We all struggle to stop our inner self commenting: “Oh, that looks good” or “Wow that looks pretty.”
In conclusion, we should apply fundamental marketing theory to digital channels; ensuring that we understand our customers' needs and giving them information they value. If we absolutely have to promote content that may not be of value, then we must use (and understand) the channels with the greatest reach, and the best access to our customers.
Carwyn Jones, managing director, Channel Health Carwyn@channel-health.co.uk