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Mapping the Future of Digital Pharma – part 2

 Part 2: Mapping the future of digital pharma: Goals of digital in pharma.

Quickly recapping section #1, two key points:

  1. Pharma must change (and embrace digital) to stay relevant, demand premium positioning and serve patients optimally in today’s digital world.
  2. Pharma MUST accept that value does NOT come from its products. Value comes from empowering overall patient quality of life – this is the major factor in the buying and selling of medicine

The goal of digital pharma

Before unpacking specific plans for digital efforts, it is mandatory that a solid definition of digital be put forth: Digital is NOT the Internet or Facebook or Twitter or any other e-media channel / tactic.

Digital is fundamentally a mechanism of two-way communication (dialogue-based, relationship marketing) where there is a free flowing balance of speaking to a target audience and then, listening and understanding their needs (analytics).

Failure to understand this central reality has seen countless health-based organizations fail when attempting digital. They have frozen social media channels rendering commenting not possible, they have placed product-centric messages on websites with little to no psychosocial content. In essence, they have used traditional marketing approaches in a media that demands a radically different approach.

Understandably then, with pharma-based digital being deployed improperly, results-to-date have not generated favorable outcomes for the majority of efforts. Couple this with natural business demands of revenue, share and return along with heavy industry regulations (AE reporting for example), the majority of pharmaceutical corporations have simply marginalized digital.

This reality was underlined when you consider combined insights from PEW, IMS Health and the NEJM: The top phamra spending companies totaled over $14-billion in marketing spend in 2014 but over 75% was targeted at physicians and not patients / consumers. Additionally, of the top 20 spending brands, 16 did NOT spend more than $1-million on digital:

  • Cialis: 2.7% of total spend
  • Celebrex: 3.5%
  • Humira: less than $1-million
  • Pfizer total: 2.5%
  • Eli Lily: 2.2%
  • AbbVie: 0.3%
  • AstraZeneca: 0.03%
  • Merck: 1%

“Pharma companies simply aren’t walking the walk when it comes to digital”

PEW Research Center

But although numerous consultancies seem to line up and throw darts at the pharmaceutical industry, solid and aligned answers to the looming question of “how digital” remains absent.

Before answering “how digital”, we must first address “why digital”.

Working against the definition that Digital is a mechanism of two-way communication (dialogue-based, relationship marketing) where there is a free flowing balance of speaking to a target audience and then, listening and understanding their needs (analytics)…why would a pharmaceutical organization embrace digital?

There are two fundamental answers to this question. Please note: these are answers to why digital not what digital:

  1. To see how many people I can influence to use my brand
  2. To see how well I can know people so my brand can help them

The first answer serves the goals of the organization.

The second answer serves the goals of the patient.

If patient-centric is the unwavering vision and mission of pharmaceutical organizations, then from the above two answers, only the latter can be pursued as the real answer to “why digital”.

Digital then becomes difficult for pharmaceutical organizations as the “digital reality” forces leadership to rethink and reshape business operations. Granted, this sentiment is hinted at by other large consultancies (McKinsey, PWC, etc.) but at the core, digital pharma is not a tactical decision, it’s a strategic imperative.

Realizing that this topic of digital then breaches a much greater socio-cultural issue of wanting to be served vs. serving the needs of others, what transpires around digital will ultimately point to the true character of an organization: If they are sincerely customer-centric, how they handle digital will naturally follow suit. However, if on the other hand, organizations remain steadfast to the historic paradigm of pushing a brand story, they’ll simply end up with digital efforts that push a series brand messages that render little to no return.

At a much greater scale (beyond media and advertising spend), digital is forcing corporations to seriously look at how they run their operations. It’s overdue and as a society, it’s desperately needed:

Regardless of medical condition, there is an enormous need for people living with chronic diseases to be supported (beyond therapy): According to Ronald Dworkin in a paper for the Hoover Institution, in the late 1940s, the United States was home to 2,500 clinical psychologists, 30,000 social workers, and fewer than 500 marriage and family therapists.

As of 2010, the United States had 77,000 clinical psychologists, 192,000 clinical social workers, 400,000 nonclinical social workers, 50,000 marriage and family therapists, 105,000 mental-health counselors, 220,000 substance-abuse counselors, 17,000 nurse psychotherapists, and 30,000 life coaches.

The key point from Dworkin: As a society, we’re flooded with shallow consumerism (being better, buying more) but at the same time, we’re outsourcing life and not connecting and supporting each other the way we should.

From a digital pharma perspective, if organizations remain focused on promoting themselves but don’t harness the engagement and analytics power of digital, they can’t actually know their customer and therefore, can’t serve them towards optimal outcomes either.

To be abundantly clear: the choice of digital or not digital is not a critique of pharma’s organizational motive but rather, a reality of required shift that hasn’t been properly articulated, demonstrated or delivered.

In Simon Sinek’s book, Start with Why, he outlines the success of leaders who have consistently stripped away the what and how of business and channeled the organizational focus on why: “Why is not money or profit – those are always results. Why does your organization exist? Why does it do the things it does? Why do customers really buy from one company or another? Why are people loyal to some leaders but not others?…it all starts with why.”

Patient health and outcome is and has always been the core “why” of pharma.

In closing this second part around the future of pharma, consider three operational frameworks that the leaders in phamra will embrace as they implement digital into everyday operations:

Framework 1:

Increased Education = Increased Engagement

Increased Engagement = Increased Compliance

Increased Compliance = Increased Outcomes

Framework 2:

Value add digital programs = Increased patient motivation

Increased patient motivation = Better compliance / outcomes

Better compliance / outcomes = Decreased cost of care

Framework 3:

Value add digital programs = Decreased physician burden

Decreased physician burden = Higher focus on care / more Tx

Higher focus on care / more Tx = greater revenue and market impact


Next post: the “how” of digital, patient-centric pharma



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