Content marketing the ideal antidote for what ails pharma selling

Information as a service is not new to pharmaceutical marketing, medical education has always played a key role in helping doctors understand new therapeutic molecules and treatment paradigms. So why do pharma marketers struggle so much with ‘content marketing’ as we know it today?

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Printed content vehicles have been a mainstay of the pharmaceutical industry for a long time. The traditional selling interface between pharmaceutical sales reps and doctors has relied on the hand delivery of high-quality, evidence-based content. But the concept of delivering information that is needed and valued (‘information as a service’) is not new to pharmaceutical marketing, medical education has always played a key role in helping doctors understand new therapeutic molecules and treatment paradigms. So why do pharma marketers struggle so much with ‘content marketing’ as we know it today?

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The pharmaceutical industry was built on the power of personal selling. Well-liked, knowledgeable and trusted sales representatives are worth their weight in gold (or bonuses!). Research by Huthwaite shows that two of the biggest challenges in achieving pharmaceutical sales targets are trust (lack of concern, candour, competence) and reputation of detailing. Indeed, when doctors are asked about pharma marketing practices, the sales call – nature, frequency and burden – represents a key complaint.

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“…when doctors are asked about pharma marketing practices, the sales call – nature, frequency and burden – represents a key complaint.”

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Despite this general sentiment amongst the medical fraternity, the sales call (and inherent variability in its quality / value) has long been tolerated. However, the digital era is making doctors less tolerant of this age-old selling approach. The fact is, doctors are now spoilt for choice when it comes to information. There is a plethora of online information sources at their fingertips that they can access when they want, how they want, where they want and for as long as they want. Even with the improved experience that e-detailing offers, it’s becoming harder for sales reps to compete with the highly tailored user experience and immediacy provided by online search.

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As ironic as it may sound, content marketing represents the ideal antidote. By offering branded content endemic to a user’s browsing experience, content marketers aim to positively influence target customers such that they feel an affinity with your brand and are more inclined to purchase (or prescribe) your brand. Sound familiar? Indeed, it sounds much like personal selling – just a lot less intrusive than the traditional sales call! This kind of ‘non-interruption marketing’ has the potential to cure much of what currently ails pharmaceutical sales but it requires a dramatic shift in mindset. Much like the doctor has to learn, accept and adopt new treatment paradigms, the pharmaceutical world must move to a new selling paradigm if it wants to remain relevant to and valued by its target audience. It simply cannot afford to keep ‘interrupting’ and ‘pushing’ when social and marketing etiquette now demand otherwise. Sales representatives must become social sellers armed with usable and useful content.

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“However, the digital era is making doctors less tolerant of this age-old selling approach.”

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As a well-oiled content machine that knows how to build relationships, pharma should thrive in this new era. The enduring, responsive and very public nature of online content, however, jars with a marketing cohort that is obsessively mindful of its regulatory burdens. Here is an industry well used to the rigours of consistently producing high-quality content – the number one challenge for most content marketers – but finds it virtually impossible to ‘share’ (pun intended). Unfortunately, pharma’s fear of social sharing won’t change until the regulatory frameworks become much clearer and provide adequate guidance. Until then, the pharma industry is primed for the content era but too preoccupied by the risks involved to be able to make the most of this opportunity.

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About the author:

Dr Candice O’Sullivan is Director and Head of Strategy at Wellmark, a creative agency with specialist expertise in healthcare communications and pharmaceutical marketing. Formerly a medical practitioner, Candice began her agency career as a technical writer developing medical communications for healthcare professionals and patients. She has since spent the better part of a decade developing and implementing marketing communications and brand strategy for some of Australia’s leading corporations and local affiliates of global pharmaceutical companies, including Bristol-Myers Squibb, GlaxoSmithKline, Gilead, Celgene, Ipsen and CSL. Her current focus is on the delivery of high-level strategic insights that lead to the development of truly effective communications that support and advance her clients’ strategic objectives and brands. She often works with brands from the time of launch, developing brand and communications strategy and planning tactical programs (and their creative execution) across the entire product lifecycle.

For more information, please visit www.wellmark.com.au or email hello@wellmark.com.au. You can follow her @candicepill and @wellmark_health. You can also find Candice on Google+.

How can pharma fully embrace the content era?