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Integrating digital: developing a social conference

Boehringer Ingelheim’s director of oncology Albert van Eijk on the digital elements of its multichannel efforts
Integrating digital

Boehringer Ingelheim has long been seen as a company that pushes the envelope when it comes to integrating digital elements into its marketing mix.

It was recognised in the PMLiVE Digital Futures survey earlier this year for its “heritage in digital and social media and lack of internal restrictions”, and seen by respondents to the poll as having “defined a clear strategy at a company level”.

Driving these perceptions have been a series of initiatives, such as its early use of Twitter - Boehringer was the second pharma company to start using the social network and even arrived there ahead of consumer giants such as Coca-Cola and Pepsi. Then there was its pioneering, if somewhat curious, pharma R&D Facebook game Syrum.

More recently the company has been forging ahead in its use of tweetchats - during the European Respiratory Society Congress in 2013 it used this forum to spark conversations on chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder and the campaign is now a case study on Twitter's own business site

More recently it engaged digital efforts for a 'social conference' at the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) meeting in the early summer.

Developed in partnership with medDigital the project was an attempt to engage with healthcare professionals in a new way and to complement Boehringer's presentations on its phase III lung cancer studies involving afatinib, which were presented at ASCO.

Doctors from across the world were invited to sign up to a website that - 11 days after ASCO - would allow them the opportunity to engage in an online discussion with Prof Martin Schuler and Prof James Chih-Hsin Yang, the two doctors who presented Boehringer's lung cancer data at the conference.

PME caught up with Boehringer Ingelheim's director of oncology Albert van Eijk to find out more about this initiative and how the company is integrating digital into its multichannel efforts.

We started with the company's post-ASCO initiative. It offered, van Eijk told PME at eyeforpharma's Multichannel Marketing Summit in London in September, a “unique opportunity for physicians worldwide to chat with well-known key opinion leaders”.

“If these people have an oral presentation for 30 minutes, only two or three people get a chance to ask a questions. But a lot of people from around the world want to chat with these experts and that's impossible because it's busy during ASCO.”

Boehringer had previously used other forms of social media, such as Twitter and blogs, to engage with doctors at conference, but this project went a step further by allowing the company to reach a target audience in a direct and measurable way.

Oncology was the perfect fit for this fresh approach to marketing for Boehringer, considering the therapy area is still a relatively new one for the company (Boehringer's first cancer drug - Gilotrif/Giotrif (afatinib) - was only approved last year).

Developing a presence in oncology

Van Eijk, who moved to Boehringer from Ipsen in 2010, explains that when he joined the company oncology was the “new kid on the block” at a time when Boehringer was open to a developing a multichannel approach to its communications.

“I got the opportunity to build up not only the brand, which we launched last year, but also to lead the digital project,” says van Eijk.

Under van Eijk's leadership, the oncology division set up a website and built a focused strategy tailored to specific audiences, including doctors, patients, journalists and researchers. Crucial to developing this strategy was looking at what other industries had done in the digital space, says van Eijk.

“Pharma - even though it tends to be an early innovator in other aspects - in the digital world it is far behind. So we looked at Amazon, we looked at Apple, which are more advanced companies.”

Specific influences included Amazon's use of personalised recommendations to its users based on the products they have previously purchased. This helped Boehringer's oncology division to develop the way it communicates to physicians via electronic newsletter with links to scientific assets, such as books and case studies, available on the company's website.

“That's where we came in with this closed loop marketing approach,” says van Eijk. “We know the preference of physicians and we can target them with the information they want to have via email, websites, via webinars etc. So this was a very fruitful journey we went through.”

Unlike some pharma companies that are more rigid in their approach to digital marketing, van Eijk explains that he was able to implement this digital strategy with the backing of corporate.

“Boehringer is an innovative company so we got full support. Our board was really convinced that digital multichannel engagement would be the new era for our industry, and our strategy has been very successful.”

Measuring success

This success can be measured in several ways, including the PMEA award the Digital Strategy for the Boehringer Ingelheim Oncology Franchise won in 2012 in the category The Havas Life London Award for Customer Focus Excellence via Digital/Social Media

Van Eijk also mentions the nominations for ePatCare app and Life with Lung Cancer website at the 2013 PMEAs and the Trailblazer Award for best international medical app the same year.

For the ASCO social conferencing success can be seen in the use of the site.

“Uptake was very good,” says van Eijk, who presented stats at the eyeforpharma conference that included 222 retweets for its Twitter posts, and a Facebook post that managed 68,019 clicks.

According to van Eijk, It fitted well with Boehringer's other communications efforts at ASCO too.

“We still have on top our social media campaigns, such as Twitter. But this was a really specific one. We got follows, we got likes. But this was embedded in a solid strategy. Doctors could talk about scientific data for an hour and ask questions.”

As with any first attempt at a bold new project, there were definite learnings to be made. For van Eijk, top of the list of recommendations for any future similar project was timing, especially with the need to obtain buy-in from other departments, such as legal and medical.

“We need to start earlier,” he says. “We started planning in February but we launched it basically one day before ASCO, which was far too late.”

The actual online conversation also needs to take place during the conference, rather than 11 days later: “We learned a lesson that we should have opened the chat at ASCO because that's when the conversation is and when people want to ask questions to experts.”

Other recommendations include improving cooperation with local teams and reducing barriers for doctors wanting to take part.

These learnings will be taken on board by van Eijk, who is keen to put on a second social conference at next year's ASCO, but the idea has potential in other therapy areas, as well as outside Boehringer.

“Oncology made a good kick-start in this multichannel marketing approach and I believe that other industries and other therapy areas, such as diabetes and respiratory, could benefit from this too.”

In any case, this attempt to engage with healthcare professionals about conference was a refreshing alternative and a genuine sign of commitment to digital in an industry that needs to move on from the traditional face-to-face approach.

As van Eijk says: “It was the right tool at the right time to convey the message.”

Article by
Tom Meek

is PMGroup editor

11th November 2014

From: Marketing



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