The real future of digital is in inclusion

Ben Wagenaar

OPEN Health

My Computer Science teacher at school once said that Information Technology was all about people. Every piece of hardware, every computer program around the world was only in existence to benefit humankind in one form or another, whether that meant supporting them in their activity, or, more sobering, replacing what they actually did through automation.

Regardless, it’s easily the truest thing ever said about digital technology. This statement in particular sits well with the recent explosion in social media. Ultimately, a digital campaign of any kind is only there to serve an individual or facilitate contact with others indirectly.

This inclusion applies to everyone, whether you’re the most tech-savvy app developer working with the latest mobile platform, or someone house-bound by a disease enjoying their first connection to the internet. We need to reach everyone.

“Ultimately, a digital campaign of any kind is only there to serve an individual or facilitate contact with others indirectly.”

The latest must-have gadgets and digital gizmos always turn heads, but only if your audience can use them. Quick Response (QR) codes, the black and white matrix images often used to direct mobile users from print adverts online by scanning it with a camera lens, are more common than ever before, even finding their way on to computer screens. Yet QR code readers aren’t even installed by default on most smartphones – at least not yet – so to ensure that everyone can benefit, alternatives must be provided. By not including an alternative, you’re shutting out a (large) part of your audience.

The same goes for augmented reality, which requires a webcam and installation of a small piece of software as well as the printed marker to play with a 3D model on screen. Wonderful tech, but we know some UK Healthcare Trusts still have the decade-old Internet Explorer 6. Even assuming that, being part of a corporate network, individuals would be able to install the necessary plugin, would they also have a webcam and be able to get it to work successfully?

The irony is that the rich opportunities digital media provides for analytics, way beyond other types of print and television media, could be continually scuppered if we’re restricting opportunities for individuals to reach them.

Accessibility issues aside, we’re also not all pulling in the same direction, even in our own industry. We’re all well aware of the challenges that integrating digital media – especially social media – into our campaigns creates, and the debate around this rages on. In amongst all the statistics this debate provides was one that caught my eye: according to EyeForPharma, in 2010 an estimated 5% of pharma marketing spend was on digital.

“Accessibility issues aside, we’re also not all pulling in the same direction, even in our own industry.”

The same article claims one reason this figure is so low is due to a dependency on class-leading individuals developing the field. I think it’s actually the opposite, the same lack of digital inclusion across a wide number of people in the industry – both in pharma companies and agencies – has left them out in the cold. These people have seen a QR code but were unable to read it, or perhaps didn’t know what it was. The pitfalls appear to be numerous, return on investment looks weak and the failure of high profile projects such as the NHS computer system cements the view of many that IT has a poor reputation for delivery and success.

In the face of this it may therefore sometimes appear churlish to wonder about how we, the digital advocates, evangelists and “natives”, sing the praises of engagement and innovation to both patient and healthcare professional audiences when we’ve still not found a reliable solution to bring our colleagues closer to the fold. Attending conferences and running training sessions, including the fond food fest of the humble internal lunch and learn, arms participants with an array of useful, appreciable statistics but hasn’t suddenly switched their understanding of what makes a successful digital campaign.

No doubt this will change for the better in time as more “digital natives” grow into the marketing workplace and understand more of evolving digital world. These are the people who were born clutching an iPod, yet the challenge of supporting and talking in a language everyone else understands will always remain. Digital media cannot be a private club with access given to only those who know the latest acronyms.

“…in 2010 an estimated 5% of pharma marketing spend was on digital.”

Today, there is a way forward, and it fits comfortably with my teacher’s words all those years ago: bring people together. Some of the best work I’ve seen began with workshops where most functions of both a pharma client and an agency are represented, brand managers, marketers, medical / legal teams, and the techies. The latter are vital, if your technical team understand what it is you’re looking to achieve, they can help make it happen. A simple case of if you don’t know, just ask.

This is digital inclusion in the strictest sense and by collaborating on digital projects in this way, participants will start to understand more about how it works. It’s about people, after all.

About the author:

Ben has worked in digital media for over 13 years, beginning with a number of software development and technical consultancy roles. Now Head of Digital Strategy at OPEN Health, his technical understanding and experience gained from being closely involved in the production and delivery of digital projects in this time provides innovation and support for clients and account teams across the OPEN group.

Does the future of digital lie in inclusion?