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The internet is the most undervalued and underused tool in pharma marketing. There are massive opportunities available through the internet to pharmaceutical and medical brands and products.

With the decline in pharma of traditional advertising spend, coupled with possible limits on printed materials that prescribers are sent, healthcare marketers need to be more innovative in communicating with their target audiences.

It is becoming increasingly difficult for sales reps in pharma to get in front of GPs and other healthcare professionals (HCPs), so marketers need to look at alternative ways to get their attention.

Lots of healthcare marketers are afraid to exploit the opportunities that the internet offers due to the restrictions, or perceived restrictions, of the Code of Practice. Yet, if you understand the restrictions and follow the guidelines, you can still use the internet to provide information on your products.

There is also a reluctance to see GPs and other HCPs as internet users. Yet, the myth that they don't have access to, or use, the internet is slowly disappearing.

A recent report revealed that around 85 per cent of HCPs use the internet to source information on treatments available to patients. This usage is also noticeable at weekends and in the evenings, at times when most people have more time to search for data.

The traditional sales and detail aids, visits to GPs by reps and seminars, although still relevant, do not always produce the results companies want and need.

Time is a key factor. Many healthcare firms are targeting the same people; those who are being stretched more and more and have less time to attend seminars or see reps. Apparently GPs spend less than one hour per week meeting reps - that's a lot of products to take in, in a short space of time.

Wonder of technology
E-detailing is a convenient way in which HCPs find out about your product. It is also very flexible; you can provide a product summary, or full detailed information, on the formulation, contraindications and uses, which can be downloaded and read at leisure.

A recent study reported that over 70 per cent of doctors are interested in e-detailing because they can search for information they want and need, in their own time. If your company does not have a good, easy to find, informative website, you could be missing out.

Using the internet as part of an integrated marketing and communications campaign allows the marketer greater creativity and flexibility. A website is the perfect tool for marketers as it can be structured to suit the needs of the end-user, whether a GP, nurse or even the consumer.

Traditionally, pharma websites tend to be very technical and prescriber-focused and are often driven by the brand itself rather than focusing on the benefits the brand delivers to both choosers and users.

How do you know what end-users think of your website? You would spend time and money on clinical trials for new drugs, but when did you last ask HCPs or consumers what they think about your website?

Sit down with end-users and ask them what they want, or get them to comment on your planned new site. This will be time well spent, and is better than creating a site that people will not use.

A good, well planned, well thought out website should address the requirements of the user, while supporting the overall message of the company.

A website should be seen as a community; a place where HCPs can engage in non-confrontational two-way communication with a pharma company and other HCPs. An interactive, informative website should also allow HCPs to network online, seek advice, share knowledge and experiences and, most importantly, give feedback.

Many websites are 'flat' (see figure 1, above) and offer one-way communication, from company to user, without any opportunity to collect feedback. A more effective website would be based upon the 'community' theory, which encourages the two-way communication described above (see figure 2, below)

Secret of success
The key to a successful website is providing a resource that HCPs are looking for. Most doctors or nurses want instant access to information they can use. They don't want to fight their way through lots of data or company information before they find the product details they are looking for.

A website should be attractive, easy to find and simple to navigate once a visitor is on it. Web users are said to form their first impressions of a site within 1/20th of a second - that doesn't give you much time to make a good impression.

It's also a salient fact that most people get bored and leave a site after just three clicks, if they haven't found what they are looking for.

Time is an issue for all HCPs; if you don't engage them immediately, then you will lose them for good. For marketers, the difficulty lies in speaking to the audience in a tone and manner that appeals to them. If you have different audiences visiting your website, it is imperative that their varying needs and expectations are addressed.

In today's competitive marketplace, it is all about creating clinical differentiation, which is becoming harder to do. A website containing up-to-date and relevant information, which is useful and easy to use, is one way to create that differentiation. By providing data sheets, product information and clinical studies online, you can deliver the most accurate information service possible, while saving money on printing and distribution.

Of course, websites and internet marketing cannot stand alone. It is crucial that all marketing activity is integrated across all media. The brand messages must be consistent and offline media should be driving traffic to the website. Statistics show that during an advertising campaign, many people will visit the company website after seeing the advert.

This is an excellent opportunity to drive traffic to a specific section of your website. At the very least, your homepage should contain relevant images or the key advertising message, to enable you to maximise these opportunities. This is where a simple and easy to remember web address comes in handy.

GPs are bombarded with information on a diverse range of drugs, dressings and other medical devices from numerous firms. So how do you make sure your message gets through at the right time? This is the question pharma marketers face on a daily basis and one that is becoming increasingly difficult to answer.

It is good news to hear that doctors are interested in internet marketing, educational and informative websites, and now e-detailing. But do you have the website to enable you to maximise the potential that this offers? Is it up to date? Or will GPs ignore your information because it was last updated over 12 months ago?

The Author
Ian McKay is the new media director at design agency The Foundry

2nd September 2008


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