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The importance of tradition in a digital world

How other business sectors show us the importance of marketing principles in our new digital world

So you've been asked to develop a digital strategy, but what does digital strategy mean in a pharmaceutical marketing context? What are the traps to look out for? And what can we learn from other sectors?

Let's look at one of the traps first. Pharmaceutical marketing departments were traditionally set up to support sales teams and this role is still important, for instance in developing collateral that someone else can use to help sell the brand.

However, this approach just doesn't work in a digital context, and the best example of this is the brand website. Often a great website is produced, on message, communicating the key benefits of the brand, but all too often no consideration is given for how our customers are going to find this website, let alone how the website it going to meet the needs of our customers.

So what can we learn from other industry sectors that appear to find digital communications so much easier? At RAPP we provide digital solutions for a number of large companies, such as P&G, LoveFilm, Bacardi and Philips, as well as a number of pharma organisations including Pfizer, Astellas, Merck and Novartis. Yes, we understand that there are some limitations around what can be done in the pharma digital environment – the pharma industry is highly regulated – but much more is possible that many pharma marketers believe.

Personal programmes
Don't think other sectors have it easy just because their subject matter is so much more 'sexy' than pharma. There are plenty of examples where an ostensibly dry subject has been presented in an innovative and engaging way. Take a look at Google Chrome's YouTube campaign, which presents the features and benefits of the web browser in the form of an interactive video competition. There are some excellent non-pharma examples where large organisations have developed successful direct relationships with customers, for example, for whom RAPP sends out more than 1.5 million individual emails each month. Every email is unique and tailored specifically to the behaviour and interests of the customer. The effectiveness of personalised, relevant, timely communications is proven month after month.

However, doesn't the commercial perspective of pharma get in the way of building true direct relationships with customers? Again, looking at other sectors, we find this isn't necessarily the case.

Online clothing retailer Asos recently launched an online magazine providing content that its customers value highly, therefore driving repeat visits. Of course consumers understand that is primarily a fashion e-commerce site, but the value of the editorial content on the site is enough to drive sustained interest.   

Philips provides us with another great example at, for healthcare professionals. Yes, Philips is a commercial organisation, but it has been able to develop a following of many thousands of HCPs across the world and communicate directly with them every month through a personalised email programme. You can only do this if you are providing appropriate level of value.

So it is ironic that when faced with so many new ways of communicating with customers, now is the time to embrace some good old fashioned marketing. Or "the management process responsible for identifying, anticipating and satisfying customer requirements profitably," according to the UK's Charterted Institute of Marketing.

We need to think about how digital can help us to meet the needs of our customers. Only then can we begin to develop good digital strategy.

John Perkins
RAPP logo
The Author
John Perkins
is managing partner at RAPP
He can be contacted at:




4th October 2011


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