A room with a view: the six challenges of digital (part 1)

Alex Butler


Continued from “A room with a view: the health information master switch

The first three posts dealt first with regulation and social media, then with how to measure social media effectively-viewing community engagement as an action based economy. The last post tried to look at the whole concept of information control on the internet, who controls the ‘master switch’ and the impact this has on the individual.

Accepting that the last post looked further than the current concept of ‘social media’, it is fair to say the focus has been on networks and communities online. This is for me the most exciting aspect of the digital pharma landscape. This is principally nothing to do with platforms such as facebook but rather the new leverage offered for old behaviour, the opportunity to bring people together and the opportunity pharma has to play an active part in this.

However as a marketer as well as a communications professional I am well aware that this is only one aspect of the challenge facing the pharma marketer and the business as a whole. It is for this reason that I wanted to outline the six key challenges facing digital pharma as we approach the middle of 2011.

I am sure that professionals working within pharmaceutical companies are all too aware that while we should focus on what seem like exciting new challenges such as developing a social media presence or moving into the production of mobile applications, there are still many less obviously pioneering obstacles to be overcome. In fact these obstacles, unless addressed, will mean that the ability to develop an effective digital presence is severely damaged.

“This is for me the most exciting aspect of the digital pharma landscape.”

So before I launch into my list I think it is worthwhile thinking about what it is at the core that has made digital so different to non-digital marketing:

• Very high quality and high fidelity distribution at very low cost (memory stick, CD) or more frequently no cost through the elimination of physical media.

• Low cost transfer of data in real time and at low to no cost.

• The capacity to satisfy inbound request for information almost instantly, sometimes automated and often at low to zero cost.

• Implicit communication. The capacity to learn more about the customer in a cyclical manner enabling marketers to close the loop accessing information in real time on attitudes, behaviour, action and sentiment. Delivering a more organic and customer focussed marketing delivery.

• The capacity to move from a broadcasting, message-based marketing delivery to unicasting (personal communication) and multicasting (communication to specific groups). More recently social networks have allowed access to the easily formed groups enabling facilitation and augmentation of group action-sharing information cooperation with group identity and collective action. This can be seen as dialogue, post-message based marketing and advertising.

• Higher level analytics than possible before, at the top end based on action and behavioural change.

This list is by no means exhaustive and I am sure people will argue about something left out or articulated in a different manner. When we look at the broad spectrum of digital marketing I feel that virtually everything can be placed in one of the above categories.

So with that said the first of my six key challenges are as follows:

“…there are still many less obviously pioneering obstacles to be overcome.”

1. Websites (including SEO &amp, SEM)

The vast majority of websites are ‘owned’ media that is independent of third parties and therefore can be described as disintermediated. The website is undergoing a transformation at the moment as we enter a world of co-ownership and customer participation linked to the need to provide a dynamic content experience.

If we take a step back however, websites are even at the most basic able to provide content that is multimedia, enable interaction, connect visitors to independent comment and hopefully endorsement. We should also expect a modern website to link people to other people interested in the product, service or the broad marketplace.

If as pharma marketers we are not offering at least the majority of these basic provisions, whether we are talking about websites aimed at the public or health care professionals, we have to ask ourselves if we should be providing a website at all.

Most pharma brand websites for instance are basically static, message based sales ‘brochures’ that make no attempt to link our customers together or facilitate interaction comment and participation.

This is to forget however that many pharmaceutical companies are still even further behind. If we characterise the challenge very simply we can split this into four sections:

• Getting people to the website. Sites are often not optimised for organic search, even when we are talking about product-based sites that should be close to the ‘fold’. Even worse than this, many sites are not furnished with a properly executed PPC (pay per click) campaign. This is basic stuff, we are not even getting into optimising sites for real time search, personalised social search and social curation.

• Engaging customers / people when they arrive at the website. This is based on the website design, navigation and customer centricity. It is also heavily based on content. A good website knows what different visitors want from the site and enables them to do this as quickly, efficiently and entertainingly as possible. Considering the lack of trust people have for pharma served marketing content in the UK it amazes me that a greater effort to engage is not made.

“Social media touches every aspect of the modern marketer’s job…”

• Convincing the visitor that the product is something they would want to prescribe, or some other value, behavioural based conversion that can be measured.

• Getting the visitor to complete a conversion that offers a high value indication of behavioural or attitudinal change based on action. (See my post on measurement of action based conversions in social media for example, the same principles apply).

There is so much to discuss regarding websites and website strategy, unfortunately this post is not long enough to do so.

2. Social Media

I have already discussed social media a great deal in this blog. Suffice to say that the whole model of marketing and communications seems to be changing. Markets are now defined by people coming together and the days of message broadcast are over. This new people / conversation based economy will transform the marketing dynamic and the new emphasis on ‘earned’ media has already transformed the communications landscape.

Social media touches every aspect of the modern marketer’s job, from market research (now an ongoing iterative and constant real-time process), to segmentation, communication platform development and maintenance, customer service etc. The explosion of information and the changing expectations of the general public and patients has also necessitated a direct communication and corporate brand development with people historically only touched through third party agencies.

On a later post I will go through utilisation of groups through the ladder of sharing, cooperation and collective action I have developed. Suffice it to say, if your company does not have a social media strategy, it should do.

3. Mobile

The mobile phone is an incredibly personal item. Even if we don’t go down the line of when mobile will overtake desktop computers as the primary access point to the internet, it is obvious with modern smartphones why they are such a fantastic opportunity for marketers.

“Suffice it to say, if your company does not have a social media strategy, it should do.”

We now expect a ‘phone’ to be our diary, address book, web browser, games machine, social media hub, camera, photo editor, translator, torch, weather centre, note book etc. Basically every aspect of my life is managed on my iPhone or my ipad.

This is also the area where permission marketing is a prerequisite for success (real not purchased permission) and also the arena where real value is essential.

Already there are a very high number of medical / health related applications available for both iPhone and android. To delve straight into applications though is to miss the point. Something I am seeing a great deal within pharma.

The complexity of mobile marketing over marketing through the desk top is often overlooked. There are a multitude of operating systems commonly used by the British public. Obviously we have IOS and android. We also have Windows mobile, Symbian, Linux and of course research in motion (blackberry) to name a few. Add to this the multitude of different screen sizes and resolutions and you can see that enabling websites alone for mobile access is a challenge. A challenge mostly ignored. While people are busy commissioning applications for iPhone the majority of company content is not properly accessible from the phone.

There is also no thought given to demographics. While it is undoubted that the penetration of iPhone s among medical professionals is high, should we be building iPhone applications for patients in disease areas as complex as mental health and hepatitis C when a very small minority of people will have access to one of the most expensive phones on the market?

The future of mobile is, however, very exciting. As we move into a world of mixed / mediated and augmented reality the opportunities for patient care are enormous. As are the opportunities for the ubiquitous social web. Communities will be mobile based and our digital selves will morph into everyday life. Already there are applications that enable you to hold you camera phone over somebody in a bar or restaurant and see all the digital presences (twitter handle etc) appear around them.

The future is mobile, but let’s get the basics right first.

Join me for part two of this article where I will be discussing the final three obstacles to digtal – CRM, Analytics and Integration.

**The views within this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Janssen**

Part 2 of this article will be published on 3rd June

About the author:

Alex Butler is a global thought leader in health care social media for the pharmaceutical industry with the implementation of a number of innovative projects, including the UK’s first pharma twitter account and the world’s first facebook disease community with open comments and post moderation. He is a regular speaker and writer for the pharmaceutical, marketing, communications and technology press. According to John Mack, Alex is the most followed pharmaceutical company employee on twitter in the world and was the inaugural recipient of the Pharmaguy Global Social Media Pioneer award in 2010.

Alex currently works for Janssen as EMEA Marketing Communications Manager, part of the Johnson &amp, Johnson Strategic Marketing team.

Passionate about new marketing and advertising models Alex is an invited member of the Wharton University Future Of Advertising Global Advisory Board, based in Philadelphia.

Connect with Alex on twitter and also on Linkedin

What do you see as the biggest obstacle to digital?