A decade of digital: the only thing that has been constant is change

Wendy Blackburn shows how, when it comes to the last ten years of digital, the only thing that has been constant is change.

I’ve been involved in some form of digital marketing and advertising for the pharmaceutical industry for the past 10 years. In some ways that seems like eons; in others it seems like the blink of an eye. And like so many things, the only thing that has remained constant is change. Let’s take a walk down memory lane together and see what the past 10 years of digital have looked like.

2004 – The dawn of the social era

Ten years ago – 2004 – was actually a very big year in the history of the World Wide Web. Gmail was introduced that year, as were Flickr and Digg. And it’s hard to believe it was only 10 years ago that Facebook officially launched across college campuses. Today, Facebook is experienced by more than 1.3 billion users worldwide. There’s not enough space in this blog to underscore the monumental implications Facebook has had on the ways people – and brands – communicate today.

“Speaking of digital phenomenons, in 2004, Google was just a search engine that only the rebel, rogue friends of Yahoo! users knew about.”

Speaking of digital phenomenons, in 2004, Google was just a search engine that only the rebel, rogue friends of Yahoo! users knew about. Google was the underdog – the “cool kids'” search engine. Today? Few would argue with the statement that Google is looking to take over the digital world. With its search engine, Gmail, Google+, Chrome browser, analytics, photo-sharing, smartphones, Google maps, smartphones, an ultra-fast broadband service, a new startup investment fund, and more, Google has diversified itself into a company that wins the Internet.

Fast-forward to 2006. Twitter launched in 2006, and I remember how silly I thought the name was and how silly the service seemed. Today, 645 million people use Twitter, averaging 58 million tweets per day, and it shows no signs of slowing down. You’ll find a number of pharmaceutical companies on Twitter – especially those participating at the corporate level.

2007: iPhone changes everything

In 2007, Apple introduced the iPhone® and everything changed again. The iTunes App Store and Android Market opened a year later in 2008. By 2009, 6.4 million people were using iPhones.

For the gamers, 2007 was the year World of Warcraft passed the 9 million subscriber mark. Today, the word “gamification” is conjuring more interest than eye-rolls from pharma marketers looking to explore its applications in healthcare.

Likely thanks to the iPhone, social media continued to gain traction. Pinterest launched in 2010, and by January of 2012 it had become the fastest site ever to break the 10 million unique visitor mark.

It’s hard to believe the iPad was only introduced in 2010, but it’s true. Apple again revolutionized the way people interact with content, and its impact was immediately seen in the healthcare industry as busy physicians embraced them quickly. Though the pharma industry is not known widely as an early nor rapid adopter, the industry certainly took notice of the iPad. By 2011, 1 in 3 physicians reported they had received an iPad® detail from a pharma sales rep.

What about the web site?

It’s easy to mark the milestone years that social platforms launched, devices were introduced, and digitally-driven startups made it big. What has been perhaps a little more subtle evolution is that of the Web site itself. Ten years ago, a pharmaceutical product Web site was a shiny new thing that not every brand had, and if there was one, at best, it was a brochure-ware site with little interactivity.

Eventually, websites became more than a static digital advertisement and offered more interaction and usefulness. Pharma caught on, too, to the concept of customer-centricity and value beyond the pill, and digital and mobile channels became the obvious vehicles in which to serve up what patients and professionals wanted.

In 2004, if you didn’t have a Web site, few noticed. In 2014, a Web site is not only compulsory, it is often just one element in a brand’s entire digital ecosystem. Today, Web sites must be responsive and adaptive, and should take advantage of opportunities such as the rise of the visual Web.

What else has transformed?

The rise in the availability of Wi-Fi, cloud computing, low-priced / high-capacity computer memory and storage, GPS / location services, browser diversification, lightning-fast connection speeds have all influenced and improved the way we (and our customers) consume content and interact digitally.

And let’s not forget TV which – by the way – is also digital these days. We are now in an era of on-demand and pay-per-view, of multi-screen and high def. These trends mean the millions pharma marketers spend on DTC TV may be going the wayside of a distracted, time-shifted audience who fast-forwards through the 30-second spot. “The Tivo Effect” has continued to fracture the media landscape and put more power in the viewer’s hands than ever before.

“2014 is a milestone year. Facebook turned 10; Apple turned 30”

2014: The Year of ___________

2014 is a milestone year. Facebook turned 10; Apple turned 30. It’s truly incredible to think about the pace of technological change and how far we’ve come since the days of “surfing” the Web via Netscape Navigator.

What can we expect from the future? One thing is certain: We can count on the pace of change to keep increasing, the scope of digital to keep expanding, the influence of technology to keep escalating.

Indeed, the digital revolution has changed our very lexicon, from new nouns like selfies and memes to new verbs such as Googling, Facebooking, and Tweeting. The digital revolution has truly driven a social and cultural revolution in parallel. I, for one, am proud to have been a part of it, and look forward to what the next decade will bring.



About the author:

A face familiar in pharma social media circles, Wendy Blackburn has more than 17 years’ experience in pharmaceutical and healthcare marketing. Her blog, ePharma Rx, and Twitter handle, @wendyblackburn, have become the go-to authorities for discussions around all things pharma marketing, digital, and social. With a background in PR, B-to-B, and digital, today she leads business development efforts for the 500-person agency Intouch Solutions.

Phone: +1 913.956.4328

Email: wendy.blackburn@intouchsol.com

Closing thought: What did you think of Twitter when it first launched?