How digital will change what pharma marketing means

Dominic Owens

Seven Stones

In our marketing excellence month, Dominic Owens discusses the affect digital technology has had on pharma marketing, providing his thoughts on how marketers can use this new technology to their advantage.

For the last few years, my clients have been telling me that they feel as if a lot of creativity and strategic thinking was being squeezed out of the pharma marketing role.

They say it is a variety of issues – they have no time to even think anymore because they are on the road seeing customers most of the time and so emails and artwork have to be processed in their spare time and thinking after that – in their sleep. In addition, they have too many agencies to manage, budgets are shrinking and medical sign off is increasingly complex and time-consuming.

And now digital has complicated everything even more by offering new options that they agree are much better at bringing messages to life, but are also difficult to judge for efficacy and require high set-up costs to change over from print.

If you look at the consumer marketing role and how the introduction of digital has changed the role in the last ten years there are grounds for worrying that it is going to get even more complex yet.

The marketing task in consumer now includes a vast array of complex multi-media calculations on the efficiency of media placement on a huge number of digital and traditional media that sometimes makes the job more like a mathematics exam than a strategic problem to solve creatively. The number of creative options for placing messages has grown from a TV-dominated world to one where new forms are invented every day and special multi-media planning and analysis tools have to be used to plan communications campaigns.


“…despite the complexity, we should rejoice in the growth of digital.”


Pharma marketing is not at this stage yet, but some of the tools for measuring frequency and coverage are increasingly relevant, as marketers have to decide whether, for instance, more roadshows are more appropriate than a change over to iPad systems.

However, the upside of the change to digital mainstream is of course this ability to add life to pharma messaging that print could never do – which is why, despite the complexity, we should rejoice in the growth of digital.

The change to iPads is now mainstream, but it is just the beginning because so far, many people have approached them as a way of converting what we used to do in print into something that moves and interacts. After all, the industry is used to producing messages, then broadcasting them and then waiting for research to tell us the results.

Digital works differently.

We can now talk to customers in a new way, where the iPad allows us to bring messages to life almost as if they are on a personal Youtube channel, with movies and the ability to link through to fully detailed support data. But even more than this, digital is interactive and the data on created on the iPad comes straight back to head office.

This is crucial, because it means for the first time that the marketer can develop a relationship with his audience though the feedback loops built into all digital tools. Furthermore, the ability to link up each digital medium means that multimedia, multilayer plans can be put together where customers can be persuaded to navigate themselves through the messages and data without a rep needing to visit them at all – and we can track all of this.


“…the really great thing is that both creativity and strategy are now back at the forefront of pharma marketing…”


It is true that digital is liked for being better than any other medium at demonstrating the core differentiating story of the brand versus its competitors and bringing it to life in a convincing and memorable way.

But to make the most of digital possibilities, we then need to fit digital into the whole campaign in an intelligent, multi-media, interactive way – using the planning tools of coverage and frequency to fit the right elements of old media and new together to create a cohesive campaign that convinces and converts audiences to believing in your product.

But the really great thing is that both creativity and strategy are now back at the forefront of pharma marketing, because they are both needed to make the most of a digital-led campaign. So whilst it is extra work, it is certainly bringing the fun back into marketing and gives us hope for the future.


About the author:

Dominic Owens is head of Strategy at Seven Stones and has 20 years’ consumer advertising and marketing experience. At advertising agencies including Abbott Mead Vickers and Bartle Bogle Hegarty, he cut his teeth on accounts like Whitbread, Audi and The Independent newspaper. After 10 years, he moved into client–side marketing positions at Prudential, Cable and Wireless, and British Telecom.

An early internet enthusiast, Dominic learnt to distinguish digital promise from digital hype the hard way as the marketing director of two start-ups (both of which, he’s pleased to say, survived the bubble bursting).

Consultancy for brands including Stella Artois, Boots the Chemist, 118118 and British Gas followed, before Dominic worked on his first pharma branding project (in schizophrenia for Novartis).

Over his 10 years in healthcare, Dominic has enjoyed creating consumer-influenced marketing strategies, whether repositioning old brands or creating new ones. He has run branding programmes for companies like AstraZeneca, Gilead, Novartis, Shire and Pfizer, he has also helped shape markets for biotech start-ups.

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