Five Debilitating Myths of Digital Pharma Marketing

Five Debilitating Myths of Digital Pharma Marketing
Pragmatic, informed digital marketing makes measurable gains in adoption and adherence.

By Fred Geyer, Senior Partner at Prophet

Digital pharma marketing is being preyed upon by myth-makers. Leading the pack are insurgent digital innovators who contribute digital savviness without appreciating the complexities of regulatory compliance and privacy protection. They do combat with entrenched incumbents – agencies and internal compliance teams – who tie digital pharma marketing in knots because they cannot grasp how real-world data and new, more controllable, secure and configurable technologies can comply with pharma’s regulatory and privacy constraints. The myth-based arguments between these groups are a drag on digital pharma marketing that reduces effectiveness and slows deployment beyond what’s needed to ensure patient privacy and regulatory compliance.

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At Prophet, there are five myths we encounter time and time again in our work with pharma marketers – and they need debunking. Here I separate out the myth, the mistaken belief and offer a pragmatic course of digitally-enabled action to help brands move beyond the fallacy in order to deliver impact for their business.

  1. The personalisation myth:

Insurgent says… “Individualised healthcare is imminent – soon Pharma product brands will configure content and information to sufferer and physician needs on a one-to-one basis.”

Incumbent says… “Physicians will never hand over their personal data and patient data is too protected to ever envision a day when one-to-one digital pharma marketing will be viable.”

The mistaken belief: This myth is based on two mistaken assumptions:
1. Sufferers and physicians must be identifiable to tailor content

  1. Content must be tailored by sufferers’ health status to be valuable to physicians or consumers.

A pragmatic path forward: Focus on vehicles and tools that guarantee sufferer and physician anonymity. Start by enhancing segmentation to identify sub-segments and provide links to observable variables – then implement tailored content for groups with similar patterns of observable digital engagement. Strive to deliver personalised content via individual profile (not health status) and digital interaction preferences.

Example: Novartis’ sophisticated content strategy for Gilenya, a first-line MS treatment, relies on a multifaceted blend of branded and non-branded content tailored to the sufferers’ different stages in the path to adoption and adherence. A robust assortment of content including videos, an app, web and social content also includes the innovative “MS: No Filter” – an online dictionary that explains more than 100 frequently searched MS terms. The more complex terms even include personal patient videos to make explanations more accessible and comprehensible.

  1. The social myth:

Insurgent says… “People talk about health all the time – we cannot avoid them. If we just interact directly where and when these conversations are happening we can gain an advantage.”

Incumbent says… “Making a mistake in social can get you fired. The liability from missing an adverse event outweighs any potential gains from social.”

The mistaken belief: The mistaken assumption in this myth is that social is an all-or-nothing proposition and that balancing risks against reward is impossible. New social vehicles/tools and prudent social program design can deliver substantial benefits with limited and observable risk.

A pragmatic path forward: Pursue a very different social strategy for physicians and consumers.

For physicians: Design social programs to work primarily within the physician gated communities and utilise physicians from within your company to interact with those from outside. Research has repeatedly demonstrated that physicians prefer to talk to physicians in the social sphere.

For consumers: Take a step-by-step approach starting with the least risky areas such as social listening and unbranded discussion. Step initially into cooperative communities, such as Patients Like Me, before moving carefully to more open forums. Make sure you choose listening tools that are fully compliant and that you put robust monitoring tools and systems readily in place.

Example: Boehringer Ingelheim has become a sophisticated user of social tools. They operate an extensive Pinterest page, Instagram feed, and Vine channel in addition to a well thought through Facebook platform and Twitter account. Its Twitter and Facebook programs intelligently experiment and manage “open” discussions via a variety of time-bound, topic-centred experiences. The conversations don’t shy away from specific indications although they are carefully constructed to focus on low risk challenges such as encouraging untreated sufferers to seek care or fostering dialogue among physicians.

  1. The adherence myth:

Insurgent says… “Treat adherence like loyalty in other categories. A combination of IOT and CRM will crack this problem wide open.”

Incumbent says… “Adherence assignments are a backwater; a given level of adherence is intractable, it’s human nature and problems of forgetting and affordability will always remain.”

The mistaken belief: The mistaken assumption in this myth is that lack of adherence is driven by only one or two root causes. Research into adherence shows that there are multiple drivers of poor adherence needing separate focus and attention. Further complicating the problem is that poor adherence is usually a combination of drug dependent factors (side effects) and therapeutic area factors such as forgetting.

A pragmatic path forward: Initially put digital on the back burner and start with a Pareto chart that identifies the top adherence barriers for the target therapy.  Then build a strategy to identify the top opportunities and make progress using a combination of digital and analogue initiatives. Most of the companies that are making progress have formed dedicated teams, often at the therapeutic area level, to navigate the regulatory encumbrances around having a direct relationship with sufferers and to cope with the co-morbidities so typical of many conditions.

Example: “Humira Complete,” AbbVie’s patient support and adherence program, addresses many of the key barriers to adherence including affordability, proper on boarding, heightening importance, helping patients find treatment and dealing with side effects. It works well because it seamlessly combines digital and personal support through the inclusion of a patient’s own Nurse Ambassador and the use of easy to understand videos and diagrams.

  1. The AI myth:

Insurgent says“AI will soon revolutionise drug prescription. Pharma brands must prepare for a new world where AI-algorithms will guide/tell/mandate what physicians prescribe.”

Incumbent says…“Not in my lifetime.  Drug prescription is just too complicated and physicians are too powerful to envision a day in the near future where AI will disintermediate them.”

The mistaken belief: Both sides focus on the next AI revolution when a huge transformation is already underway in the explosion of access to patient data and advanced analytics.

The pragmatic path forward: Set up pilot real-world marketing data analytics teams at the therapeutic condition level of the company. Task them to use de-identified data to find insights and opportunities to improve patient and physician adoption and adherence for key brands and across the therapeutic area.  Enrich the data and the tools as they grow.

Example: The use of Electronic Medical Records (EMRs) as a vehicle for context based, real-time messages is a great example of a smart use of data that does not depend on machine-based learning.  In a controlled study among type 2 diabetes patients[i] Eli Lilly found that the patient test group whose physicians received branded messages via the EMR based on the patient’s current medications and A1C levels were more likely to fill a new prescription and less likely to drop off at the first refill.

  1. The cutting-edge myth:

Insurgent says… “New tools will change everything – you need a Facebook presence, now you need a mobile App, now you need a chat bot, now you need a voice-driven interface etc.”

Incumbent says… “These digital investments are a waste in Pharma.  Do you realise that of the 2.2 million apps on the Apple Store 80% of those downloaded do not get used?”

The mistaken belief: The flaw in this myth is believing that digital effectiveness is a function of the rate of technology deployment. In fact, most digitally savvy brands put greater focus on “use cases” than “technology tools” – and that’s the point. They treat technologies as tools to do work on behalf of users not as shiny objects that drive strategy.

A pragmatic path forward: Flip digital strategy on its head by putting sufferers and physicians before technology. Start with underserved needs and depict use cases that describe how sufferer or physician experiences and content must change to address these needs. Then, and only then, choose technologies based on their ability to address the use case in the context of privacy and regulatory constraints. Most important keep it simple for the target user by putting in place a plan to start with the MVS (Minimum Viable Service), by connecting digital and analogue activities and by linking different parts of their experience together.

Example: Janssen Healthcare Innovation Care4Today is a suite of software apps for heart health, orthopaedics, mental health and mobile medication management. They enable patients to track their health information in real-time ways that are visible to their physicians and allow proactive intercession as soon as it’s appropriate. Janssen has seen improved patient satisfaction, measurable improvement in adherence and cost reductions, such as reduced specialist visit waiting times.

Make the Shift to Digital Pharma Marketing:

A 2017 Study by MIT Sloan School and Capgemini Consulting found that strong leadership capabilities including a clear vision, measurable KPIs and attentive governance are more important to creating enterprise and customer value in the digital sphere than technology selection or investment in advanced tools.

Prophet has developed an effective approach to transforming digital marketing in pharmaceuticals and breaking free of the incumbent/insurgent myths:

At Prophet, we’ve proven it’s possible to build “living” pharma product brands that adapt, engage and evolve with physicians and sufferers.  Our pharma clients turn to us because we take a balanced view and are able to pragmatically adapt the best digital marketing practices to pharma’s unique regulatory and patient confidentiality constraints.

Learn More:

Click here to learn more about how Prophet develops living brand strategies in the life sciences.


Related topics:

It’s Time to Rethink Drug and Device Launch

Living Brands Stirring Up Pharma

Pharma Brands are Finally on the Brink of Digital Transformation

Is Pharma Ready for Healthcare Consumerism?

[i] Virginia Lau, “An EHR Strategy Can’t Be Measured in Clicks, Says Lilly Exec” Dec 8, 2016, MM&M

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