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Euro'vision blog

A look at the key issues for pharma across Europe

Digital dreams - or just another nightmare?

Max Jackson on why digital satisfaction scores are so low


Over the course of last year, I talked about a number of issues related to digital in this series; all part of the big debate about other online and offline media. Who should do what? How to use social media? How to build a good multichannel strategy? The list goes on.

So to kick off a new year, perhaps it's time to go back to basics and ask a more fundamental question – has the so-called digital revolution made any difference both to the efficacy of pharmaceutical marketing and communications, and has it in some way compensated for the huge changes that we can see in the whole pharmaceutical business and promotions model?

In 2012 Across Health produced a very revealing survey of 358 life sciences companies called The Digital Barometer 2012.

This survey revealed a number of very disturbing, and also some fairly obvious facts. The survey studied predominantly European pharma executives and their attitudes and thoughts on digital. There were also some North American respondents and it's interesting to see that digital interactions with the public seem to be working well. 

However, where the healthcare professional (HCP) is the prime target, with patients only involved in 'beyond-the-pill' initiatives, there is far less optimism. (And of course, there are areas where digital communications are not permissible.)

The figure that struck me first was overall satisfaction within those having digital activities in place. Only 17 per cent of responders were satisfied with their current activities, with the vast majority in 'neutral', neither satisfied nor dissatisfied, and while this has grown year on year the growth is at best modest, and at worst more a reflection of digital adoption than satisfaction. 

This level of satisfaction is reflected in the very modest spend that is given to digital – of around 10 per cent. Now you could argue that this modest spend alone will lend itself to low satisfaction, but generally when people believe in something – they invest.

What I see in these figures is a general lack of belief or positive experience in the role of digital when interacting with HCPs. Interestingly while many of the responders believe that their future success lies in better integration of marketing channels, confidence in mastering multichannel HCP marketing decreases strongly over time. I think as companies experiment with so-called multichannel models they realise that these too hold false promise and are extremely hard to implement effectively. Not surprisingly the final summary of the survey is that the vast majority of respondents do not see digital as the universal panacea that it was once thought to be…

So what is going on? Respondents gave a number of reasons for lack of confidence and success – legal/regulatory constraints lack of budget and lack of knowledge.

Well certainly when it comes to implementing the most effective digital strategy direct to patient, legal/regulatory compliance causes issues, but are they really so much of a hindrance for communicating with HCPs? Apart from certain privacy regulations that can be worked around, is this any different from the situation that all communications in the industry face? And budget? Companies find money for things they want to do. Certainly lack of knowledge must be a factor but is it lack of technical knowledge or something else?

My own theory on the results of this survey is that it confirms some of the worst fears we had for this revolution. The fact is that the industry has talked digital but continues to act in an analogue or at best semi-digital manner. 

The biggest spend areas for digital in the industry are websites and iPads. Great I hear you cry – we are getting digital! Well, no actually. Classic company websites, crammed full of great information, placed onto the web for people to find, with little real interactivity or purpose beyond providing one-way information, are just a new way of publishing a product monograph and factsheet. 

Most iPad detail aids are little more than an electronic version of the product's paper sales aid, make little use of their CRM back-end potential, and are used by representatives as convenient, easily updated brochures. The thinking behind most digital tactics is decidedly analog, even if the content is delivered electronically.

Peter Hinssen in his book The New Normal refers to this: “Don't transfer, but re-think. It's all about intelligence. It's all about the contact…”

No wonder the industry is disillusioned with digital – the simple fact is – in the vast majority of cases we're using the medium, but ignoring its potential. To me “it's all about the contact” is where we should be focusing, especially with HCPs. We need to look beyond our bias for traditional push marketing, beyond the mirage of 'multi-channel marketing' as we know it, which is just the old model in disguise, and look at how we can have meaningful contact over long periods with our target audience. Part of this may very well be to find and contribute to existing conversations and real interactions, rather than trying to create our own artificial ones.

Of course some might still believe that digital alone will solve all the problems of the pharmaceutical industry, but then again some might still believe in Father Christmas!

Across Health Digital Barometer 2012 from Across Health 

Article by
Max Jackson

Max Jackson is CEO, EMEA & APAC, Sudler & Hennessey and former chair EACA Healthcare Communications Council

3rd January 2013

From: Marketing



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