A beginner’s guide to digital pharma: part 2 – start with a plan

Faisal Ahmed and Paul Tunnah


Continued from “A beginner’s guide to digital pharma: part 1 – why bother?

It’s always hard to outline a digital strategy, when the rules are so ambiguous. However, it’s really quite simple – the key to a good digital strategy is the end user, full stop. Just start there and work backwards.

There are so many disciplines within digital such as SEM (search engine marketing) websites, mobile websites and apps, e-detailing, social media, email marketing, website content and so on… You have to take a step back and ask “what does my user do digitally?” Are they one of the 4 billion mobile users in the world or one of the 2 billion that have web access?

Always start with “what’s the problem” and “how do I fix it” in a digital world, listen to the online conversions going on around your brand, (see the videos in part 1 on social media monitoring) then have a look at your current activities and what your competitors are doing. But don’t spend too much time with what the competitors are doing as you have to think about your customers more!

Next, set yourself milestones on where you should be, but don’t forget digital is always in beta mode so don’t panic as you can always go back, amend and continue. When looking at a digital strategy think about how you can enhance your customers’ lives. As the saying goes in ‘adland’ you’re exposed to something like 1,000 to 5,000 ads a day so advertising has become a blur. No-one knows the exact figure, but the point is that you have to really engage with your target audience to get their attention. For a great example of this, see the Fiat EcoDrive advert: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SluE9Zco55c..


When looking at a digital strategy think about how you can enhance your customers’ lives.”


It’s critical to think about the right channel for reaching your audience too. With over 95% of healthcare professionals regularly online for work use you have to really dig deep into where they spend their time. Some of the larger sites include:





Other statistics are that 74% of physicians take information from blogs, message boards and online social networks, so have a look at what users are saying on these sites and develop a strategy that involves a social media monitoring tool for information1.

Recent studies have also shown that 95% of physicians use handheld devices to download applications to access medical info, so a mobile strategy has to be at the heart of your overall digital approach2. However, you need to think about how you can market these apps as finding them, whether it be through the blackberry, android or apple app store, can be very hard, so look at ways to get them higher up the search results. Quick tip: good reviews can really help.

To summarise so far, think about where you target, what content you use and how you can truly engage with the audience to get them spending more time with your brand.

Also, with more and more patients turning to the net for information then SEO (search engine optimisation) that encompasses paid for search results and optimising organic listings is critical. For an example of how ingrained search is into our everyday lives see this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nnsSUqgkDwU.

With patients often turning to Google first, they then see their GP armed with an idea of what illness they think they have (the “informed patient”). When the GP gives them a prescription, they will often then go to Wikipedia to find out more about the drug before going to the pharmacy to collect it. So making sure patients can access the right drug and disease information (working within regulatory bounds obviously) is critical and there are already some great examples emerging here, such as the Living with ADHD site.


“Recent studies have also shown that 95% of physicians use handheld devices to download applications to access medical info…”


In conclusion, start with your target audience and work backwards on your strategy, including:

• What is the problem (how digital can help)?

• Crystal clear objectives (what do you want to achieve online?).

• A definition of your target markets, positioning and propositions.

• The optimum channel mix – SEM, mobile, website, email, apps, social media, videos etc.

• Interactive dialogue (communicating your message in an engaging way).

• Integrating the approach with offline, such as including contact details for sales reps or medical advisors on doctor communications to allow them to follow up directly with questions.

• Planning ahead for launch time, testing, get feedback, amend as the digital space is perpetually beta, you can always improve.

We hope that’s been some useful food for thought, but let us know your comments or questions below or Tweet @pharmaphorum.


1. Manhatten Research, Taking the Pulse® Europe, http://www.manhattanresearch.com/products/physician/EUphysicians.aspx

2. SDI research, http://www.sdi-e.com/sdie-at-work/sdi-research

Read part 3 – “websites” here

About the authors:

Faisal Ahmed is one of a handful of people in the UK that has been involved with digital for over 12 years, having been part of the start-up team at amazon, defining how we shop online. Faisal has launched digital strategies for 90 football Clubs, the ECB and WRC. He also launched Playboy’s mobile and social media platforms in 2006 and one of the first online social networks. Over the last 2 years Faisal has been Head of Digital at a leading healthcare agency winning over 15 awards and bringing to life both one of the first mobile apps and augmented reality in healthcare. Faisal can be found tweeting here @sickonthenet.

Paul Tunnah is Founder and Managing Director of www.pharmaphorum.com, the dynamic online information and discussion portal for the pharmaceutical industry featuring news, articles, events / company listings and online discussion. For queries he can be reached through the site contact form or on Twitter @pharmaphorum.

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