Digital landscape presents a path for innovation, continued success and mind share among all stakeholders for pharmaceutical companies, writes Sanjay Mehta, Joint CEO, Mirum India
Brands across sectors have been creating a strong digital presence for a while now, pharmaceutical companies have been lagging in their movement to digital. While stringent healthcare industry regulations and compliance issues present a challenge in today’s digital era, there is no choice but to embrace digital transformation.
A strong and strategic approach to using digital marketing can transform healthcare brands.
Go where the consumers are
The erstwhile ‘patient’ is now the consumer with easy access to information and the ability to make well-informed decisions and to effectively reach and engage with this new class of consumers. The healthcare industry must explore digital marketing and make strategic patient-centric decisions.
There is much to learn from online consumer behaviour data around healthcare. Online search plays a big role in the entire patient journey, from searching for symptoms and researching medicines to making hospital appointments. 84% of patients, for example, use both online and offline sources for hospital research. Search is an indispensable part of the tech-savvy patient’s research process, and the task for pharmaceutical companies is to understand what influences preference for medicines, hospitals, treatment plans, and more in the patient’s medical journey. While healthcare providers like doctors were the only points of contact for patients in the past, due to the transformation brought about by the digital era, pharmaceutical companies now have the opportunity to directly engage with patients. This not only has the potential to increase awareness but also build trust with transparency.
There are several ways in which pharmaceutical brands can reach out to patients, potential patients, and caretakers.
Direct consumers: While most OTC medicines can and are easily advertised to patients, brands need to go that extra mile to build preference. Engaging with consumers on a deeper level by actively demonstrating an interest in their wellness can go a long way in developing a meaningful relationship with them. This can be done by having conversations with them on digital platforms where they spend a lot of their time.
Indirect consumers: There is also the challenge of serving patients who are not decision-makers about their health – infants, incapacitated patients, and the elderly. In this instance, the caretakers become the consumers. Mothers, for example, are the best decision-makers for infants and can be reached via communities they frequently engage with – bloggers who create content about parenting and lifestyle, for example. Connecting with them via content they consume on a regular basis will help create mind share among such primary caretakers.
Long-term consumers: Patients with chronic illnesses usually look to pharmaceutical companies to provide them with solutions that can help reduce their dependence on medication. To build a relationship with this set of patients, brands need to address their primary goal – improving their quality of life and effectively managing their long-term illnesses. Starting online support groups and creating educational and informative videos are just some ways brands can help these consumers.
Engage more with the medical community
To scale up their consumer business, pharmaceutical brands will also need to work more closely with doctors, also referred to as healthcare practitioners (HCPs).
Language + Platform: Brands will need to take a holistic approach where they speak to doctors, hospital management, MRs in their language and on the digital platform they most engage with professionally. Specialised forums especially dedicated to the medical community can be leveraged to start and sustain conversations with this community – these conversations have the potential to create a direct positive impact on patient preference for the brand.
Thought leadership: There is huge potential for pharmaceutical companies to establish themselves as thought leaders in the wellness and lifestyle space. For example, communication around diabetes need not necessarily be about the types of diabetes, symptoms, and their treatment plans; instead, it would be more insightful to talk about things like how Type 2 Diabetes, for instance, can be prevented, what’s being done globally to meet the shortage of insulin, etc. This gives the company a chance to be seen as a brand that goes beyond the pill, fully immersing themselves in the diabetes journey.
Some of the key developments of change while engaging with HCPs are as under:
One of the typical methods for pharmaceutical companies to reach across to HCPs was via their field force of marketing representatives (MRs). Busy HCPs always had very little time for such MRs, even ordinarily. This situation got worse through the lockdown period and thereafter. There is a need for pharma marketing to figure reasonable alternatives to the traditional MR visits.
Another way for pharma companies to connect with HCPs was via medical events, where the pharma companies would take up booths or speaker slots, to get an opportunity to engage with HCPs. Right through the lockdown, larger events have almost not happened at all. While some of these are resuming, the scale of events and frequency of these may not match up to the pre-pandemic times. Pharma marketing needs to figure out alternative ways to reach HCPs.
HCPs have gradually been increasing their extent of digital consumption, both for personal and professional purposes. The continuing need to stay in touch with the profession as well as patients and hospitals accelerated their digital consumption habits. This included information about new pharma products, and related details on those. Pharma marketing must take this into account, and find a way to connect with HCPs, using digital means.
Irrespective of media type, the fundamental regulatory restrictions for pharma marketing still apply. Which means that certain types of marketing content can only be shown to HCPs and not to the patients directly. That being the case, what has emerged as useful means to connect back to the HCPs, is by means of dedicated communities for HCPs. These are gated online communities, where HCPs are verified before being given access. Through content partnerships and other means, pharma marketing can reach HCPs via such online communities.
Digital marketing is the next frontier for transformation in the pharmaceutical industry and leveraging the myriad opportunities the digital landscape presents will pave the path for innovation, continued success and mind share among all stakeholders.
(Sanjay Mehta is the Joint CEO of Mirum India)
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