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What digital means for agencies, pharma, patients and doctors

By Dimitri Challouma

Dimitri Challouma

Having worked in both creative and healthcare comms agencies for nearly 20 years, I can confidently say that the term ‘digital’ has become somewhat of a buzzword, meaning different things to different people.

As industry evolves and technology rapidly advances, both agencies and pharma companies are rushing head first to become more digital. Otherwise, they risk being left behind.

From my experience, different perspectives to digital tend to fall into three groups:

  1. Those who see ‘digital’ as this jazzy and intriguing ‘thing’ that they can’t fully explain but pass it off as something very clever and thus beyond their realm of understanding.
  2. Those who use it as a general term to describe technology. For example, a Kindle is ‘digital’ because it’s a book without the use of traditional pen and paper.
  3. Those who view ‘digital’ as a way of communicating and interacting with people. None of the above is necessarily incorrect.

In my experience, those who appreciate the importance of digital to our industry but don’t necessarily ‘get it’, or are scared to take advantage for fear of regulatory or legal issues, tend to look for simple definitions.

Digital is a very vague term but essential to explain something that is clearly multifaceted in nature. However, for it to be utilised, digital should not be seen as an intriguing and complex ‘thing’ but instead a way of achieving things and be ingrained into the everyday DNA of what we do as an industry.

So how can something so multifaceted be interpreted correctly and used appropriately? I’ve grouped my personal take into four main areas.

1. Digital can be defined as the amalgamation of online, technology, mobile and social media in healthcare comms to assist patients and doctors in becoming digitally empowered. As mobile phones and tablets have given us round- the-clock access to the web, social media and email, it has redefined doctors’ and patients’ behaviour, expectations and possibilities.

They now see the world differently and carry their whole life, work included, everywhere they go. If a loved one is ill, they are more likely to diagnose themselves online or use an app before any interaction with a qualified physician. Every health concern or answer is a convenient and quick swipe, press or click away. This has resulted in a digital shift.

2. This digital shift has increased expectations. It means, as agencies, there are now more ways we can get messages to the right user, in the right way, at the right time, and with the analytics to back it up too. As such, we need to work differently.

Strategically, we tend to take our patients or doctors through the traditional marketing funnel with some digital assets or streams included. Instead, why not look at the funnel and journey through a new digitally connected lens?

We should research how doctors and patients access information, how they prefer to interact online and where they spend their time. There are now many more touchpoints where we can adapt what we do to their needs.

3. Creating a digital strategy. Put simply, we need to concoct a digital strategy to service our digital consumers in a practical way. It’s not just about creating an app for this or that, nor is it about a set of vague objectives our clients want to meet.

It’s about having a simple and clear plan from the outset and addressing user needs in a practical way through the lens of redefined expectations. The key to realising this is to have an army of digital enthusiasts or a digital centre of excellence within an agency.

4. A digital army means more than web developers or code monkeys. It’s not a group of account managers who have a vague interest in PPC implementation or a social media ad buying team.

It’s also not a level 4 Veeva business accredited individual who can competently build a compliant eDetail. It’s a blend of all of them, and more, coming together to optimise touchpoints for our audience. This army is not the last rung of the machine or there just to carry out of other people’s visions or ideas. It is a very important asset, but with a twist.

The twist being to understand and service the needs of our new genre of digitally empowered doctors and patients whose behaviours, expectations and possibilities have evolved.

Our job is to understand and research our audiences’ behaviour, both at the start and across the lifetime of a project or campaign, finding new and innovative ways to reach them. That could be through technology, an app or a video, as long as it’s the right way.

Ultimately, a shift in mindset and structure is essential to any digital journey. The word digital can be confused but, in truth, digital has allowed for a more intense focus on our audience. We’ve always focused on our audience in one way or another. Now we’re just doing it differently through a newer and ever-evolving digital lens.

Dimitri Challouma is Creative and Digital Director at Havas Life Medicom

In association with

Havas Life Medicom

12th March 2020


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