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Smart Thinking blog

Insights and expert advice on the key issues facing today’s pharma marketer

The Mindset of Today’s Pharma Marketer

Sure you aren’t still making a ‘push sales pitch’ for your brand? Siting two examples of pharma applying 'pull marketing' best practice, the path nowadays to successful marketing practice is so very different…

Jonathan Richman has had enough. If you don't know who Jonathan is, he's the most popular, followed, liked, referenced pharma digital evangelist – author of DoseofDigital.  But on May 31 this year Mr Richman wrote his last blog post at Doseofdigital. He's decided to get out of the digital pharma business – he's just had enough, due to the “glacially slow progress” of the industry.

So why has Jonathan given up – and does it mean we should all just give up?

The story starts many years ago with the birth of pharma marketing. But the traditional pharma marketing model isn't really a marketing model at all – it is a sales model. By the time the marketing team get their hands on a molecule to 'market' pretty much all the clinical trials are conducted and everyone is aware of the needs that the molecule meets. So, compared to some other industries where marketers actually develop products to meet the needs of customers, the pharma marketing department isn't marketing at all but actually selling the benefits of an existing product that has already been developed.

The resulting pharma sales approach has been one of the biggest success stories of recent commercial history. Marketing departments have been incredibly successful at developing sales messages, detail aids, congress materials, etc, to 'sell' the benefits of a particular brand to its customer group. This 'push' approach is lead by the rep selling the benefits face to face to a customer.

But it is because this approach has been so successful that pharma continues to fail to realise the opportunities that digital brings it. When you go online you nearly always go online for a reason – to find something out – a football score, the weather forecast, who won The Voice etc, or even clinical data about a certain molecule. The whole experience is a 'pull' experience.  In our digital world of today it is practically impossible to 'push' branded messages about a product.

In fact, due to the open nature of the Internet, Google doesn't allow Rx drugs to be promoted (and it would be illegal anyway as it would be seen at promoting to the public). Yes, physician social media sites do allowed promotion of branded Rx products but advertising isn't the reason why customers sign up to these communities.

So what does the industry do when it can't promote directly to customers online? Unfortunately, most of the industry is following the same traditional 'push' mentality and digitising the traditional detail aid approach.

I've got nothing against tablet detail aids and closed-loop marketing approaches. They can be very effective tools to promote a product, but the approach is traditional in nature and does rely on the same old push approaches – and we know these approaches are not as effective as they used to be.  But while closed loop marketing might have a role it isn't taking advantage of the enormous opportunities that the Internet is presenting to us.

There are some notable exceptions – Boehringer Ingelheim's the white room is an excellent example of what pharma should be doing. Packed full of interesting content around oncology, BI is really following a pull approach – developing editorial ie, content, to pull customers in.

Philips is also doing some great work – A really useful resource for potential and existing customers, this has over 25,000 registered users – no real surprise it has been so successful when you look at the quality of the content.

But unfortunately, these examples are exceptions rather than common place. Jonathan Richman got bored with the “glacially slow pace” of digital in pharma. Let's just hope that the value of the great work done by the likes of BI and Philips begins to be understood by the rest of the industry, ie, that the secret to great digital marketing is about pull not about push – and that more of us don't give up on this enormous opportunity.

Article by
John Perkins

managing partner at RAPP and can be reached at Follow RAPP @RAPP_UK

6th June 2012


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