Is pharma digital marketing being held back?

Michelle Kelly

EPG Health Media

The exponential growth of internet usage creates the opportunity for pharma to reach customers, whether patients /consumers, doctors, hospitals or pharmacies in more targeted ways than ever before. However, while marketers in other industries have made a speedy transition to online, pharma has been comparatively slow to embrace the digital revolution and we (EPG Health Media) decided to do some investigation into the reasons why.

This, our most recent study of senior pharma industry executives indicates that ‘budget’ and ‘internal regulations’ are thought to be the main barriers to overall digital effectiveness. While these issues are clearly contributing to preventing pharmaceutical marketers from fully integrating digital activities into their marketing programs, responses to other questions within the study go some way to completing the bigger picture.

The study is based on independent market research conducted in September 2010, comparing responses from pharmaceutical marketing decision makers (internationally) to 28 questions related to their digital marketing activities. The report provides a snap-shot of both current and future trends and opportunities in digital marketing within pharma.

This study provides:

• Evidence to support internal decisions regarding digital strategy, including allocation of resources and effective monitoring and updates of digital assets

• A framework for pharmaceutical marketers to analyse the strengths and weaknesses in their current digital strategy and support planning for future change

• Highlight opportunities for third party agencies to provide support to pharmaceutical companies in terms of digital strategy and resources

Perhaps the least surprising outcome from the study – Pharma Digital Effectiveness: An independent investigation into pharma perception of digital strategy, resource and ‘share of voice’ – is that two thirds of respondents expect a proportional increase of digital spend in 2011.

 

“Part of a successful shift to digital, is putting in place the processes necessary to track and measure effectiveness.”

&nbsp,

Part of a successful shift to digital, is putting in place the processes necessary to track and measure effectiveness. Failure to do so is often perceived as one of the major barriers to exploiting the potential of online marketing. According to an article in The McKinsey Quarterly , “Unless this problem is addressed, the inability to make accurate measurements of digital advertising’s effectiveness across channels and consumer touch points will continue to promote the misallocation of media budgets and to impede the industry’s growth¹.”

It’s pretty hard to imagine in today’s economic environment that a business manager, any business manager, would be unsure which parts of their spend brought the best return or indeed what impact the spend had at all. But in Pharma there does appear to be a significant blind spot when it comes to digital marketing and communications spend. The impact of that spend in terms of return on investment or effectiveness remains a mystery to many, the majority in fact. A quite remarkable 43% of senior global and regional level Pharma marketing executives reported that they had “poor” awareness of their key brands digital share of voice. Only 14% of respondents described their knowledge of their own brand’s share of voice as “good” or “expert”. So that’s 86% of respondents describing their knowledge as less than good or expert.

Pharma marketers are struggling because they do not understand the impact of their digital activities – this must surely be the ultimate barrier to improvement. This lack of knowledge, driven by a failure to monitor implies a ‘fire and forget’ approach to digital projects, some 33% of respondents state that their digital assets are ‘rarely’ or ‘never’ updated on the basis of a digital review and 14% are not sure how often their digital resources get updated – perhaps one of the main reasons that only 3% of respondents consider their HCP and patient focused digital activities to be ‘very successful’.

It’s hard to say who will be more surprised by this study outcome, those on the Pharma side who dictate the spend, or those on the agency side who are the recipients of it. For those who understand the importance of that knowledge, these findings will be of real concern, individuals responsible for making decisions regarding digital strategy and resources are seemingly not in receipt of the intelligence crucial to secure their success.

 

“Pharma marketers are struggling because they do not understand the impact of their digital activities – this must surely be the ultimate barrier to improvement.”

&nbsp,

We (EPG Health Media) are very surprised, primarily because every project we fulfill – small or large – comes under intense scrutiny from our clients, from development progress reporting, to how the money is spent and what the return is… and rightly so.

The study respondents are already heavily reliant on external agencies for supporting digital efforts, with 53% of respondents having most or all of their digital strategy implemented through third-parties and 78% using third parties to conduct at least some of the review of their digital activities. There is a wealth of support agencies servicing all sectors of the pharma industry and these suppliers may not have the same constraints that seem to be deep routed within many pharma companies. If the resources to audit, monitor and report are not available in-house, they should be outsourced. However the report concludes that currently the review procedures (both in-house and external) must be either insufficient or the outcomes are not effectively disseminated.

While commitment to digital channels does not appear to be in any doubt, this fact does not in turn imply improvement in digital effectiveness. In fact it points out a number of barriers to the future success of such activities. Budget, regulations (both internal and external) and lack of expertise are all sited by the study respondents as blocks to digital engagement, but is monitoring of digital effectiveness the ultimate key to breaking the cycle and improving digital effectiveness?

References

1. McKinsey Quarterly (October 2008) [Accessed October 2010]

About the author:

Michelle Kelly is Division Head of Market Research at EPG Health Media (part of the IMR International Group), which provides a range of high quality, web-based medical products, communications and marketing solutions. EPG Health Media uses online content delivery and digital communication services to educate and engage audiences from family doctors and specialists to patients, including bespoke solutions based upon 10 years of health sector experience. For more information visit www.epghealthmedia.com or call +44 (0)1892 526776.

The full 26 page study report – Pharma Digital Effectiveness: An independent investigation into pharma perception of digital strategy, resource and ‘share of voice’ is available to download for FREE at www.epghealthmedia.com/market-research-reports.

What would improve pharma digital effectiveness?