13 digital pharma predictions for 2013

Alex Butler

Healthcare Digital Marketing Expert

Alex Butler looks to the year ahead and anticipates what trends we’ll see in the digital pharma space.

Last year I gave you six predictions for 2012, you can read my review of these predictions for 2012 here. I thought that as in my opinion next year is going to be a massive year for pharma in digital I would go seven better and give you 13 predictions for digital pharma in 2013.

1. Social media continues to get very big, but also very small. With regard to scale and the power to reach large numbers of people, Facebook and Twitter will still be king, however, we will see a rise of the niche network. The fastest growing network in Korea is for only two people, and local community networks such as nextdoor.com are the next big player on the social scene. Generally, we are looking for greater intimacy and value from social networking, this can translate in pharma to highly targeted and private platforms that drive real community and collective action for specific areas of interest. This can be bespoke or just utilising free private networks such as private Google+ communities, private Pinterest boards or even special communities on Yammer.

2. Quality and not Quantity will really start to matter in social media. This has been a cliché trotted out from the beginning of the social revolution, however in 2013 those companies who have built a large following on social platforms will begin to build true measurability around business value and behavioural change, this demands high quality engaged followers.


“…we will see a rise of the niche network.”


3. LinkedIn comes of age. Although well represented on LinkedIn as an industry, it is fair to say that arguably the most successful and powerful of all the social networks has been underused and under appreciated by pharma. I expect this to begin to change in 2013, not only with increased emphasis on recruitment and corporate brand building but also with groups focussed on adding real value to all pharma’s stakeholders.

4. Content strategy develops a high profile. In its driest form, content strategy can be described as the planning, development, and management of informational content. However, in a world where discoverability of your content online is massively influenced by your social footprint and the quality and dynamism of your content, the old status quo of static patient information and brand focussed marketing materials will have to come to an end, to be replaced by customer focussed and collaborative content, produced on a consistent and regular basis.

5. Could 2012 be the year pharma recruits its first Chief Content Officer? It has been predicted that 2013 could be the year that more journalists are recruited by non-media companies than media organisations.

6. Application of cross-channel marketing. If I wanted to use the buzzword of the end of 2012 and no doubt at least the first half of 2013 I would have termed this the rise of transmedia. In truth, pharma building a cohesive narrative across numerous channels to form an integrated brand experience, in the way Ford or Coca Cola are now heading, is ahead of the mark. However, 2013 will be the year that pharma begins to develop nuanced strategies that best utilise the strengths and weaknesses of the different digital and non-digital channels, in a more integrated manner than has been done before.


“It has been predicted that 2013 could be the year that more journalists are recruited by non-media companies than media organisations.”


7. Falling in love with email again. OK, between keeping up with email inboxes crowded with an influx of unread messages and keeping those social channels up to date, it’s all too common to find ourselves inundated with information. However, email still forms the core of many people’s digital communication channels. The proliferation of smartphones and its ubiquitous connectivity (soon to be greatly increased with the arrival of 4G), coulpled with advances in relationship management practice can breathe new life into email marketing in 2013. Expect content and style tailored to the individual, integration with social channels, rich media content such as video, mobile tailored content and integration with multi-channel campaigns.

8. 2013 will be the year analytics gets serious for pharma. Within the analytics community there is a trend towards demonstrable causation. Put straightforwardly this is the acceptance that it simply isn’t good enough just to look at an activity between points, each result must demonstrate real people, doing real things, and for real reasons. Digital has the power to deliver and show it has delivered like no other channel, next year we all need to take this very seriously. Let’s have no more ROI discussions in 2013.

9. A changing role for business intelligence. In the recent 2012 Global CEO Study, conducted by IBM, 76 and 75 percent of CEO’s rated understanding individual customer needs and response time to market needs as the two key drivers to success in 2013. This type of individual understanding and speed of response can only really come from developing a social business intelligence department, leading the way with regard to social technologies and their integration into the business.

10. Big Data becomes practical for pharma. This is possibly a bit of a long shot. However, 2012 was the year of Big Data and with companies such as IBM focussing on its applications within medicine it may be harder for pharma not to implement its own strategy. This would be aligned not just with customer understanding and insight but also drug safety and efficacy. When set in the context of the Ben Goldachre ‘Bad Pharma’ debate on clinical data it might even become a necessity a lot sooner than people expect. Don’t hold your breath for ‘nowcasting’ real-time data analysis and pattern recognition, but a movement is just around the corner.

“Let’s have no more ROI discussions in 2013.”


11. Mobile takes over the world. Ok, maybe a slight exaggeration, but I predict that this will be a key battle ground for pharma in 2013. Mobile access could overtake desktop access to the internet in the coming year, if we add in the obvious customer segmentation it becomes clear our most important visitors are likely to be coming to us from a mobile device. The year of the smartphone has been and gone, but 2013 will have to be the year of mobile first for pharma.

12. Pharma demands responsive design. Following on from prediction 10, this will become an essential. With responsive web design web developers can code website content so that it responds and adapts to the specifications of the device it is being viewed from. This takes care of user access, whether it’s from a desktop, mobile or tablet. Advantages include keeping your desktop and mobile content on a single URL, which is easier for your users to interact with and share. It also helps Google index your content, which make it much more discoverable. Most importantly of all however, it ensures a consistent user-experience across multiple devices. If this is not what your agency does as a matter of course, ask questions.

13. Development of clinically meaningful mobile health solutions. In 2012 we have seen researchers in academic institutions develop mobile applications that have been clinically proven to treat depression, help in anger management for children, support CBT and improve nutritional and fitness regimes and help type I diabetics’ better track and manage their condition. 2013 will see the development of a clinically meaningful mobile health application in pharma, despite the supposed regulatory concerns.

This list will be interesting to interrogate this time next year, it would be great to get your thoughts and predictions for 2013 as well.


About the author:

Cited as the thought leader for digital marketing and digital strategy for pharmaceuticals and healthcare Alex has overseen dozens of award winning projects including innovate digital sales solutions and pioneering social media projects always rooted in high quality strategic design with models developed by himself for both business focus and digital readiness.

Alex worked in the pharmaceutical industry for over a decade with six years at Janssen (Johnson &amp, Johnson) in numerous roles including Market Access, Corporate and Brand Communications, Marketing, Digital Strategy &amp, Social Media and finally as a senior lead in Janssen EMEA Strategic Marketing team with responsibility for Marketing Communications. He has most recently built the successful digital marketing agency The Social Moon as co-owner and Managing Director and now works as an independent digital marketing consultant focussed on the pharmaceutical industry.

Alex is also keenly interested on the impact new media has had on advertising and is an invited member of the prestigious Wharton University ‘Future Of advertising’ Global Advisory Team. He also works on academic projects with other academic institutions such as UCL looking at the impact digital media has had on society. He just about finds time to be a third of the world’s most popular healthcare marketing podcast ‘Digitally Sick’.

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What are your 2013 digital pharma predictions?