Six of the best: digital predictions for 2012 (part 1)

Alex Butler

The Social Moon

So what do you need to consider in your digital strategy for the coming year? Here are the first three of my six of the best predictions and top tips for 2012 (see my next article for the second three):

1. Big data becomes the hot topic in digital health

Big data refers to vast amounts of diverse unstructured data that offers access to insight and information on a scale unimaginable 20 years ago.

We are only just beginning to comprehend how the large amount of information created by you and me every day can be used to help society. Google’s Eric Schmid stated in the summer of 2010 that ‘Every two days now we create as much information as we did from the dawn of civilization up until 2003’. It is true to say that “Big Data” is the latest buzz term in technology.

Already in 2011 we have large public health studies conducted on twitter that looked at the spread of disease and demonstrated “promising” results for assessing not just disease activity, but also ancillary issues like treatment side effects or potential medication shortages.

“Every two days now we create as much information as we did from the dawn of civilization up until 2003…”

The UK government itself has seen the potential announcing that NHS data should be made available to private business in order to speed the development of drugs and improve our understanding of disease. There will also be opportunities in the future for pharma to partner with online communities such as Patientslikeme to unlock the patient experience on a scale unimaginable before with high quality structured patient reported information.

The trick for pharmaceutical companies is bringing meaning to this data.

2. Mobile becomes fundamental

The time has come to think mobile first when creating digital content and communication strategy, even for pharmaceuticals. We are already contemplating a post-PC world with manufacturers shipping more smartphones than computers long ago in Q4 2010. Google have themselves unequivocally stated that marketers should think mobile first and Facebook are expecting more people to be working on mobile than anything else by 2013.

“…Facebook are expecting more people to be working on mobile than anything else by 2013.”

We need to think slightly differently about our mobile strategy in the coming year however, the rise of HTML5 will mean the mobile web browser will be as much if not more important that applications. This is a challenge for pharma with reports that only 5% of its websites are optimised for mobile.

We also should question what mobile actually is. More people access content on their mobile device at home than they do on the move and 80% of iPad users regularly use the tablet when watching TV on the sofa.

To add to the complication a separate mobile strategy is doomed to failure. Although people behave differently when using a mobile device the three most popular mobile activities are games, search and social networking. These need to be central and integrated into the marketing communications strategy.

There will need to be expertise in the information architecture and digital design for mobile devices as well as specific search optimisation advice for the mobile algorithm (not even to mention Siri and voice search). 2011 was finally the year of mobile, 2012 will see successful companies place mobile at the heart of its content and engagement strategy.

“This is a challenge for pharma with reports that only 5% of its websites are optimised for mobile.”

3. Games and gamification join the mainstream

You will hear the term gamification a great deal over the coming year. What is gamification? Put simply it is the introduction or utilisation of game mechanics within a communication or marketing strategy. The idea is that if you reward people for doing something you can encourage them to do more of it. This theory also often relates games to entertainment with the conclusion that if greater fun can be introduced to our relationships with brands or into our healthcare, they can get us to do things we would not have done before. The trouble is that games are not easy and an attempt to ‘gamify’ disease management or marketing campaigns when there is no symbiosis between the objective and the individual’s psychology could even be counter-productive.

However there are certain things that do resonate with people that games provide very well. In studies it has been shown that games capture peoples time and their imagination because they offer: clear feedback, a sense of progress, possibility of success, mental and physical exercise, a chance to satisfy curiosity, a chance to solve a problem and a feeling of freedom (Jesse Schell). Games themselves can have a big impact on healthcare not just in motivating people to live a healthier life (such as Runkeeper or Wii Fit) but by affecting a person’s condition such as depression or Parkinson’s disease in a clinically significant manner.

Reaching out to all ages through games is a massive opportunity for pharmaceutical companies. This should be focussed on meeting measurable clinical endpoints at the highest level. Attempts to integrate the positive aspects of gaming into marketing or communications should try not to think of gamification but instead the motivational design of the experience you are providing to the user.

Read the second set of Alex’s predictions

About the author :

Alex has very recently founded the online marketing communications agency The Social Moon (@the_social_moon) to provide the highest quality digital marketing communications in healthcare.

Prior to this, Alex worked in the pharmaceutical industry for over a decade with six years at Janssen (Johnson &amp, Johnson) in numerous roles, culminating in him being senior lead in Johnson &amp, Johnson Strategic Marketing for Marketing Communications responsible for Europe, Middle East and Africa. This role worked above international brand and communications teams to deliver core integrated marketing and communications platforms, through the use of new marketing models and social enterprise strategy.

Alex is often cited as a key thought leader for digital marketing and health care social media in pharmaceuticals. He has overseen numerous award winning projects including the design, implementation and management of the world’s first Facebook pharma disease information community with open commenting and the UK’s first corporate pharmaceutical company twitter account. In addition, he developed a social charter, approval process and business toolkit for Janssen to move it towards becoming an innovative social business and leading to numerous digital awards for the company during his tenure.

Personal awards for Alex include becoming the first pharmaceutical recipient of the Johnson &amp, Johnson James Burke global marketing award for ‘Uncommon courage’, numerous PM Society Digital awards (including three in 2011 for Psoriasis 360). He was also the inaugural recipient of the John Mack ‘Pharmaguy’ Global Social media Pioneer award in October 2010.

Alex is keenly interested on the impact new media has had on advertising and is an invited member of the prestigious Wharton University ‘Future Of advertising’ Global Advisory Team.

He can be reached by emailing

What are your digital predictions for 2012?