The future of mobile marketing

Rebecca Aris


The use of mobile apps has recently surpassed that of web surfing, a trend which coincides with the combined shipment of tablet and smartphones eclipsing those of desktops and notebooks for the first time. 1, 2

But as apps flood the market, the innovative apps of today become the spam of tomorrow, just more noise in an already crowded environment. So when it comes to mobile marketing it’s good to get it right and stay ahead of the crowd. The UK PM Society’s ‘digital showcase meeting’ looked at the health apps that have done just that and other digital campaigns that successfully utilise today’s advanced technology.

As the trend in pharma marketing clearly moves towards to a digital interactive format let’s take a look at the success stories in this area.

“…the innovative apps of today become the spam of tomorrow…”

Best digital tools for clinical benefit

The popularity of mobile phone apps is unquestionable and pharma’s exploration of this market is growing with over 4,000 healthcare apps currently available. Janssen have clearly realised the potential in this area and demonstrated the clinical capabilities of the app with the PASI calculator, which was the recipient of the ‘digital tools for clinical benefit’ award. The PASI calculator (figure 1) calculates the psoriasis area and severity index, which is an indicator of how severe a patient’s psoriasis is.

Figure 1: The iphone PASI calculator3

Janssen’s app can be used by HCPs or patients and, in addition to gauging the severity of the patient’s psoriasis, it can also help to calculate the patient’s dermatology quality of life index. The app has achieved over 12,000 downloads so far and users are spending an average of 10 mins using it. It is suggested that 60-90% of patients who use this app will also act offline on the information it provides suggesting increased motivation into the management of their disease.

However, it does beg one well-voiced question – at what point does a healthcare-related app turn into a medical device and become subject to the associated regulatory requirements? Referred to by some as a ‘regulatory void’, this appears to be a grey area at present and one where guidance is clearly needed.

Best healthcare professional education programme

The second digital tool presented was – a global web-based portal for haematologists that has already gained almost 600 users. The site is refreshed with user-generated content and offers physician development and patient care resources. Haemnet offers instant conversation, supports discussions initiated by KOLs and hosts a particularly popular ‘ask the expert’ section (figure 2).

Figure an interactive web forum for Haematologists4

Interaction between haematologists is seen rarely outside of congresses and the observed spike in audience figures following a congress meeting suggests the popularity of an interaction platform for such professionals.

“…knowledge empowers the patient to take control of their health.”

Best integrated campaign

The event then turned to the best integrated campaign, which was awarded to Velcade (Janssen-Cilag Ltd.).

Figure 3: Velcade website and app 5,6

Once again demonstrating the popularity of the app in a healthcare setting, the campaign offered an iPhone app, in addition to a patient and caregiver website, a tablet e-detail aid and a conference e-detail aid (figure 3). The patient-focussed material was particularly helpful for the newly-diagnosed multiple myeloma patient and increased sales of Velcade since the promotions indicate that an integrated campaign can really deliver the right messages.

Knowledge is power: supporting patients in the digital space

There is a genuine trend in internet users towards seeking health-related knowledge online, with approximately 50% of UK internet users regularly going online for health information. As Joanne Shaw pointed out at the event, knowledge empowers the patient to take control of their health. Of those that go online for health information, 59% regard the internet as their most important source.

Online, more patients are turning to forums to:

• Describe an experience

• Ask a question

• Seek help

• Give an opinion

Despite pharma’s obvious apprehension towards online patient forums and the potential negative sentiment that may be expressed within them towards pharma, 99% of comments on such sites have been shown to be reasonable. Most are careful, thoughtful, accurate observations based on personal experiences, demonstrating that pharma’s fear of forums may be misplaced.

The interest in online health information has been clearly demonstrated by the 20,000 users daily of NHS direct. In addition, the NHS Direct mobile app has reached a staggering 220,000 downloads since its launch on 31st May 2011.

What is clear is that regardless of how patients access the information modern technology is making information easier to access. The result is a more informed patient who is taking a more active role in their healthcare, as exemplified by the story in figure 4.

“…the NHS Direct mobile app has reached a staggering 220,000 downloads since its launch on 31st May 2011.”

Figure 4: BBC news story of patient who was given specific treatment following her father’s internet research on the subject7

What does the future look like?

The mobile phone has evolved into a computer that happens to make calls. We can expect our phone of the future to also incorporate our money, rail ticket and a tracking device for our children. It has the potential to do all of these things because it is always on, it knows our preferences and geographic location and it is always in close proximity to us.

By 2015 mobile internet use will overtake desktop usage. So what does the future of mobile look like? We can expect increased bandwidth, increased data access via the cloud with our handset likely to become just a cheap throwaway vessel that provides a handy portal to the data we require. By 2013 a half of all mobile phones are likely to be smartphones. So with increased access to data and increased digital campaigns available to patients we can expect to see an increase in patients’ interest in and knowledge of their own treatments.

Recommendations carry so much more weight in a confusing world of abundant choices and as web and mobile use continue it is noticeable that there is a move towards users seeking recommendations as opposed to choices. Reviews are frequently being favoured over commercial messages and so it is likely that patient dialogue will increase providing more fuel to the motivated patient to seek out the correct treatment for them.

“The way we access data is the only thing that is changing but with that change emerges new opportunities for pharma”

It will be important that websites are enabled for and work on mobile devices going forward as this method of accessing sites becomes the preferred way. We can also expect a growth in the use of 2D barcodes, and a further leap in the use of social media to connect with those we wouldn’t otherwise have access to. Social networking sites will ensure that our private and professional lives slowly merge. And as guidance in those grey areas becomes less foggy we can expect to see further innovative campaigns such as those presented at this event.


The way we access data is the only thing that is changing but with that change emerges new opportunities for pharma to present marketing material that is more likely to reach both the HCP and the patient.

Pharma marketing is clearly moving to a digital interactive format and pharma needs to be aware of the trends to stay ahead. Whilst being mindful to create innovative campaigns that support existing material pharmaceutical companies have plenty of room to create readily accessed material to educate HCPs and patients.

As pharma marketing campaigns develop with the times we can expect more utilisation of sophisticated integrated digital content that is easier to access. And what is clear is that with the help of mobile technology the informed patient group is a growing one and will be coming to a practice near you very soon!




3. With thanks to David Hunt of Creative Lynx for use of his slide


5. Velcade website

6. Itunes store

7. BBC News

About the author:

Rebecca Aris is Managing Editor of pharmaphorum, the exciting online discussion and networking site for the pharma, medical devices and diagnostics industry. For queries she can be reached through the site contact form.

What does the future of mobile marketing look like?