Is big data the next digital disruptor in pharmaceutical marketing?

John Wes Green

Paragon Solutions

John Wes Green provides a summary of big data and highlights how big data is the latest digital disruptor to shape pharmaceutical marketing.

Big data represents a tipping point in the evolution of pharmaceutical marketing, more specifically a disruptor that has the capacity to accelerate a competitive advantage or uncover a flawed infrastructure that negates the impact of existing capabilities, essential grinding progress to a halt.

Pharmaceutical companies are emerging from product-centric siloed marketing environments to data driven customer-centric environments. Advancing the level of maturity and sophistication of Patient Relationship Marketing and Physician MCM approaches in pharma is not only dependent on enhancing the current state of big data capabilities but establishing an infrastructure flexible enough to accommodate the unforeseen future need.

Forward-thinking marketers are, and should be, cognizant of the relevant historical context in which big data events have disrupted organizations ability to advance their ability to effectively compete.

In order to understand the future of big data, we must begin by understanding its past

1944 Fremont Rider, a Wesleyan University Librarian, published, “The Scholar and the Future of the Research Library”, in which he estimates that American university libraries were doubling in size every sixteen years. Given this growth rate, Rider speculates that the Yale Library in 2040 will have “approximately 200,000,000 volumes, which will occupy over 6,000 miles of shelves requiring a cataloging staff of over six thousand persons.”

1964 Harry J. Gray and Henry Ruston published, “On Techniques for Coping with the Information Explosion, in IEEE Transactions on Electronic Computers”, they offer the following advice: “To cope with the present information explosion we suggest the following: 1) No one should publish any new papers. 2) If 1) is not feasible only short papers should be published. “Short” means not more than 2500 characters counting “space,” punctuation marks, etc. as characters. 3) If 2) is adopted the following restriction should apply: Only those papers should be published which delete one or more existing papers whose combined length is 2501 characters or more.”


“Pharmaceutical companies are emerging from product-centric siloed marketing environments to data driven customer-centric environments.”


1983 Ithiel de Sola Pool published, “Tracking the Flow of Information in Science”. Looking at growth trends in 17 major communications media from 1960 to 1977, he concludes that “words made available to Americans (over the age of 10) through these media grew at a rate of 8.9 percent per year. In the period of observation, much of the growth in the flow of information was due to the growth in broadcasting. But toward the end of that period [1977] the situation was changing: point-to-point media were growing faster than broadcasting.”

2012 The “International Journal of Communications” published a Special Section titled “Info Capacity” on the methodologies and results of various studies measuring the volume of information. In “Tracking the flow of information into the home,” Neuman, Park, and Panek estimate that the total media supply to U.S. homes has risen from around 50,000 minutes per day in 1960 to close to 900,000 in 2005. And looking at the ratio of supply to demand in 2005, they estimate that people in the U.S. are “approaching a thousand minutes of mediated content available for every minute available for consumption.” In “International Production and Dissemination of Information,” Bounie and Gille (following Lyman and Varian above) estimate that the world produced 14.7 exabytes of new information in 2008, nearly triple the volume of information in 2003.

So how is big data being used today?

Ford collects and aggregates data from the 4 million vehicles that use in-car sensing and remote app management software to create a virtuous cycle of information. The data allows Ford engineers to glean information on a range of issues, from how drivers are using their vehicles, to the driving environment, to electromagnetic forces affecting the vehicle, and feedback on other road conditions that could help them improve the quality, safety, fuel economy and emissions of the vehicle, according to Paul Mascarenas, chief technical officer of Ford Research and Innovation. “Improving quality is about building a database and really understanding how many people are using their vehicles and making better choices and better decisions,” he told CIO Journal.

Health 2.0 Boston Code-a-thon, held May 12th 2012, featured approximately 85 participants who formed groups to create an application that turns large amounts of health care data into useful information for patients and care providers. The winning team created the No Sleep Kills website, where people can access information on how poor sleeping patterns can lead to drowsy drivers and auto accidents. The website aims to draw attention to the link between sleep apnea, a condition in which people temporarily stop breathing during sleep, and vehicular crashes. They incorporated anonymized patient data from Athena Health and several sources, including publicly available data from Centers for Disease Control and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.


“…the total media supply to U.S. homes has risen from around 50,000 minutes per day in 1960 to close to 900,000 in 2005.”


CardioDX, a medical diagnostics company analyzed millions of lines of data to develop first non-intrusive test for predicting coronary artery disease. One of their major initiatives over the past several years was developing a predictive test that could identify coronary artery disease in its most nascent stages. To do so, researchers at the company analyzed over 100 million gene samples to ultimately identify the 23 primary predictive genes for coronary artery disease. The resulting test, known as the “Corus CAD Test,” was recognized as one of the “Top Ten Medical Breakthroughs of 2010” by TIME Magazine.

ImageIQ, a Cleveland Clinic spinoff extracts scientific data from pictures. A pharmaceutical client that developed a drug to treat polycystic kidney disease supplied ImageIQ with terabytes of images from its clinical trials, and wanted to figure out why its drug works and exactly what’s happening to patients who are treated with it. From that mountain of images, ImageIQ’s software has been able to extract data to describe the number of cysts, as well as their dimensions, shape and growth rate.

Marketing has only begun to see the tip of “Big data” iceberg

The magnitude of this evolving marketing challenge was apparent in the late 90’s at Citicard. The inability to manage and leverage the magnitude of credit card transactions, (total transactions volume represented 4% of U.S. GDP), hampered their ability to deliver and manage a personalized, tailored credit card experience throughout the customer relationship management continuum. This allowed organizations like American Express to establish a competitive niche.

Recently, the FDA approved Proteus Digital Health’s ingestible digital sensor, which can be swallowed in a pill to track health data from inside the body. The device can track if patients are taking their medications at the prescribed time and rate. Many people are hailing this as the tipping point in which digital medicine “shifts the care paradigm”.


“Marketing has only begun to see the tip of “Big data” iceberg…”


As technology advances, (sensors and other advancing RFID technologies) more information on health will become available as different aspects of our daily living will be integrated into our overall health management. A few examples of potentially new data sources are:

• Posture, duration and movements from the way we sit (at work, home and in a car).

• Mattresses sensors identifying individual sleep duration and quality.

• Capturing pin boards (images) that create a health story or theme.

• Nutritional value of the foods we eat.

In isolation, these data points represent new points of interest that will enhance the ability to manage overall health more effectively and efficiently. However from a marketing perspective, the new data points (aggregate and individual level data) marketers have to collect and integrate into their segmentation and profiling protocols. Yet, this dynamic is a stepping stone. Given the technological advances, changes and adoption of emerging devices, platforms and applications, it is should be expected that big data will continue to grow exponentially.

“The potential of big data to transform the quality of an individual’s health is truly significant, however, the ramifications are far greater. Big data represents a disruption point that has ability to change outcomes not only at the household level but at a community threshold.”

As families become smarter about their health and lifestyle interactions, the availability of data to compare to and across other households will become more readily available. IT partners need be cognizant of not only of what elements should to be captured but the value it will deliver in its final form, so those IT organizations can adequately prepare and plan to deliver upon marketing needs.


“The magnitude of health data that will become available from varying sources…”


The magnitude of health data that will become available from varying sources, (individual and family) in tandem with data across households will create community views never seen before, represents a new paradigm in healthcare. Supporting patients and physicians ability to make informed, intelligent decisions about managing healthcare at the individual, household and community level represents marketing and IT organizations greatest challenge.

Those that effectively manage the explosion of new data points into organized actionable insights will be in a position not only to drive significant shareholder value, but to establish competitive barriers and a position in the marketplace that will not be easily overcome.



About the author:

John Wes Green is a pioneer who has a long history of facilitating change and adoption of new ideas and approaches in Fortune 500 and 1000 companies. He has more than 23 years of direct selling, digital and CRM experience in the pharmaceutical and financial services verticals. He spent most of the last decade on the client side, concentrating his efforts in pharmaceutical product launches, brand growth and line extension efforts across Metabolic Devices, Cardiovascular, Central Nervous System and Pain Management therapeutic classes. Currently he is the Integrated Marketing Innovation Practice Lead for Paragon Solutions Advisory Services consulting practice, where he is responsible for managing and growing all aspects of the digital practice. He completed his undergraduate work at the University of Denver and his graduate work was conducted at New York University, where he graduated with honors with a Masters in Direct and Interactive Marketing.

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