Pharma marketing 2.0 – have we M.E.T yet?

Carrie L Carrier

In our marketing excellence month, Carrie L Carrier gives us an overview of the current marketing industry and shares three essential qualities every pharma company must have to attract providers and remain competitive.

Much has been written about pharmaceutical marketing’s reluctance to fully embrace the new technologies taking other industries by storm. While others harness the power of tablets, smartphones, and social media to reach more consumers more effectively, the pharmaceutical industry has been hunkering on the sidelines like a benched player wondering where it all went wrong. Pharma foot-dragging on the new media and device fronts has been attributed to many things, from a lack of high-tech vision at the top, to onerous regulation stifling change, to a fear of losing control amidst new dynamics in the pharma marketplace. Regardless of the reason(s) for this marketing myopia, one thing is clear – pharmaceutical sales reps need to find their footing in the e-healthcare space, or else risk losing their relevance altogether in a new era of highly mobile, media savvy, socially-networked providers.

Working from that premise, pharma needs a fresh prescription for marketing. Given that we already know the “What?” of modern pharma marketing, i.e. which types of media channels to pursue (social networking, direct messaging, mobile apps…) the main question then becomes the “How?” How should those channels be engaged to build trust in a sales representative’s service or a company’s brand, to better respond to physician-clients’ needs, and to ultimately galvanize sales? Should pharma simply “cut &amp, paste” its existing marketing model into a digitized, tablet or smartphone-ready format, or should pharma fundamentally rethink its approach in these changing times?

Based on several important trends presently shaping healthcare provider behavior, a strong argument exists for the latter. Pharma needs an epiphany – one that helps it recognize that the people prescribing their products operate in a new paradigm in which time is scarce and demands are profuse. The siloed days of healthcare’s past are giving way to a future of integration, collaboration, and data sharing. Loyalty is out, accountability is in. Analytics drive everything, and cost-effectiveness is king. In light of these facts, any future pharma marketing efforts must manifest three essential qualities to attract providers and remain competitive: mobility, efficiency, and transparency or M.E.T.


In this day and age, most of us are “mobile” workers to some degree, including many physicians. Even doctors with private practices spend a good deal of their time working outside their own office. According to Thomson Reuters, 80% of physicians have hospital affiliations and may spend one half of the week in their own office and the other half in a hospital setting. Add to that the fact that mobile device use has doubled among doctors between 2011 and 2012, reaching 62% this year (Manhattan Research, 2012), and you have a perfect storm for mobile marketing. To reliably reach this modern-day physician workforce, any pharma marketing plan must be portable and accessible on multiple devices so that doctors have ready access to the information, products, and sales reps they need as they hurry from one patient care setting to another.


“To reliably reach this modern-day physician workforce, any pharma marketing plan must be portable…”


Another dimension to consider when discussing “mobility” is the transferability and exportability of marketing information among colleagues and key decision-makers in large hospital systems. When designing marketing materials for the mobile set, pharma executives must think in terms of how that information can be easily shared among colleagues, especially as they move from their own practices into hospital network systems with institutional policies that are increasingly hostile to sales reps. Hospitals are erecting more hurdles to prevent sales reps from making impromptu visits to staff physicians. At the same time, there has been a push toward physician-hospital alignment to bring all the disparate departments and policies of expanding hospital networks together. Ultimately, those forces will conspire to force the hand of sales reps to make more of an impact virtually.

Given the centralization of much decision-making in hospital systems, sales reps should think of utilizing marketing formats that empower physicians who favor and prescribe particular products to convey that approval to their colleagues online. One possible way to do this would be to develop a type of secure, peer review app or website (akin to an encrypted Yelp for pharmaceutical products) that enables momentum for products to build and reverberate across hospital systems. Such a “mobile” strategy would give reps the ability to efficiently leverage some of their direct marketing efforts to individual doctors across multiple channels and among myriad practitioners.


One cannot discuss the importance of mobile and e-marketing without appreciating its inherent efficiency. In the current healthcare environment, efficiency is essential. Doctors are busier than ever, and their responsibilities, especially on the administrative end, just keep growing. Medscape’s 2012 “Physician Compensation Survey” found that doctors in all specialties are swamped with paperwork. A third of physicians spend more than 10 hours per week on paperwork and administration. Sales reps are equally time-constrained amidst widespread layoffs across the pharma industry. Layoffs have shrunk the size of the sales-rep force by 30,000, or almost 30%, in the last 5 years alone (FiercePharma, January 10, 2012). Essentially, there are significantly fewer reps expected to reach a growing number of physicians. These diverging trends force sales reps to do more (a lot more) with less.


“Doctors need an easier and more flexible way to get valuable information from reps without having to interrupt their jam-packed schedules…”


Given these circumstances, face-time between doctors and sales reps is likely to significantly decrease in the coming years. Not only do doctors lack time for lengthy sales pitches, but they are also less able to easily see the reps that they are interested in due to more hospital rules restricting rep access. Doctors need an easier and more flexible way to get valuable information from reps without having to interrupt their jam-packed schedules or sit through a lengthy presentation. A cloud or software-based solution that mirrors the social and networking advantages found on sites like LinkedIn should be developed so that doctors and sales reps can exchange critical information quickly and easily that preserves privacy while conforming to HIPAA standards.

Pharma marketing departments need to deploy their materials in creative, value-add ways that will get noticed yet be unobtrusive. Information should be searchable and accessible by doctors on-demand. As Thomson Reuters notes, few doctors have the time to spare during the normal workday for pharmaceutical-related research: “Many [doctors] get into information gathering mode after-hours, when traditional forms of marketing message delivery are all but impossible.” Any successful marketer will factor that emerging norm into his / her strategy and find the optimal way to respond to the changing needs of its clients. In this case, doctors need a 24-7 way to access information on the pharmaceuticals upon which they rely in their specialties. In order to be truly efficient for providers, any virtual pharma marketing platform would ideally be one that could be used for all sales rep interactions across many pharma companies-a type of “all-in-one” solution. Doctors will not want to learn 50 different sales rep management systems. It behooves pharma marketing executives to join forces in creating or fostering a joint communication and marketing platform that providers will want to use. Greater collaboration among pharma companies could also lead to greater transparency in pharmaceutical marketing, an outcome that could actually pay dividends for pharma by enhancing reps’ utility in the eyes of physicians.


Perhaps the greatest hallmark of efficiency is transparency. Without it, one cannot have a truly efficient market. One of the tenets of an efficiently run market is the availability of “perfect information”, i.e. information that is accurate, clear, and readily available. When information is difficult to obtain or incomplete, it is said to be imperfect or opaque. Semi-opacity is largely what exists now as a result of various disconnects both within and between the clinical care and pharmaceutical manufacturer and marketing worlds. Informational gaps abound on both sides of the provider-manufacturer equation. Searching for comprehensive information on a particular drug, especially a new pharmaceutical, is difficult and rife with challenges. While pharma manufacturers do a good job of posting data about their products on their websites, no single clearinghouse or point source seems to exist for pharmaceutical information from competing manufacturers. As a result, a doctor currently could find himself in a time-consuming quandary if he does not know the manufacturer or sales rep of a new drug that he might like to prescribe to a patient.

Moreover, physicians are increasingly expected to justify their prescription choices, especially in hospital settings. To that end, a single database that helps them sort through their options quickly, and arms them with the information they need regarding a particular drug’s local sales rep, beneficial attributes, contraindications, or side effects, is long overdue.


“Sales reps may want to project themselves as a kind of information specialist rather than a conventional salesman.”


Pharmaceutical marketers must do a better job of helping providers get the information and hard data they need quickly and directly. Sales reps may want to project themselves as a kind of information specialist rather than a conventional salesman. Connecting the doctor with the best information possible from multiple sources will empower the physician to make optimal care decisions and will engender trust in the sales rep. Since technology, regulation, and hospital consolidation seem to be bringing us closer to the kind of coordinated care typically seen in Europe, it may be instructive to look across the pond to see how transatlantic physicians view sales reps. The perception of reps abroad leaves something to be desired. An August 2012 survey by “Doctors.Net.UK” reported that the majority of British physicians frequently turn away sales reps, with the main reasons for this rejection given as: 1. lack of time, 2. forbidden by hospital, and 3. a lack of trust due to the rep’s perceived impartiality. While the first two are not within the sales rep’s power to change, reps can make a greater effort to respect a physician’s time by transferring as much of his / her routine interactions as possible to a more convenient, mobile format. The third reason issued for why doctors will not see sales reps provides an opportunity for pharma marketers to re-shape a perception by adopting a more transparent format and making a concerted effort to cite independent studies and use independent marketing channels to diminish the appearance and encroachment of bias in their recommendations.

The importance of third party legitimacy cannot be overstated to those practicing medicine, a field known for its commitment to the scientific method and independent peer review. In that vein, pharma marketers should look for innovative ways to partner with third-party media channels (including social networking) to present its study and product information. This not only gives providers more faith in the impartiality and reliability of the information, but it also helps to remove any appearance of impropriety that, wrongly or rightly, can cause providers to avoid sales reps.


To summarize, pharma needs to upgrade its marketing approach to embrace the technologies disrupting healthcare today, including social media and digitized healthcare data. In adapting its marketing strategies, pharma should not merely replicate what it has done previously. Rather, it should regard this inflection point in healthcare as an opportunity to craft a modern marketing model that manifests the qualities demanded of the current healthcare zeitgeist: mobility, efficiency, and transparency.


About the author:

Carrie L. Carrier is Director of Media Relations at

Armed with a Masters degree in Public Finance and Policy from New York University (NYU), Carrier has worked as a Consultant and an Information and Communications Specialist for the past 15 years. Currently at, a company that provides solutions for the information inefficiencies that exist in the pharmaceutical and medical device marketing space, Carrier views the healthcare industry through an economic prism. Her graduate studies in healthcare policy and finance stemmed from a lifelong interest in how government policies and programs could be better designed to achieve more optimal outcomes. Carrier has a personal passion for using market-based solutions and public-private partnerships to effect positive public and social change.

Prior to joining the team, Carrier performed in-depth economic analyses for global financial services companies to assist them in the pricing of certain intercompany products and services. These analyses required substantial research, data evaluation, and statistical computations, including multiple regressions to assess correlations between the variables affecting a company’s market position.

When she is not writing or reading about healthcare policy and solutions, Carrier enjoys running outdoors and hiking in the mountains. She is an ardent supporter of the environment and believes in practicing and promoting a healthy, sustainable lifestyle.

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