It’s that time of year again: flu season. These days many people stay in bed with high fevers and snotty airways, feeling miserable. Waiting rooms of doctors are crowded with people, begging for recipes to get their comforting pills from the pharmacy.
Most of us don’t realize it, but behind those pills stands a huge marketing machine from the producer of these pills. A lot of money goes around in the pharmaceutical industry and competition is murderous. Development of a product takes many years and requires an investment from the pharma company that goes in the multi-millions. And once they’ve marketed their product, they lose the patent on it after a dozen or so years where generic companies take over, manufacturing and selling the same product for a fraction of the price. That’s one of the reasons why pharma companies spend a lot of time and money in building a brand. Simply because a strong and reliable brand is harder to kill.
Marketing communication is a challenge for pharma companies. Due to heavy regulations, it is not allowed in Europe for the industry to directly communicate to the end-users of the products, the patients. All communications around prescription drugs, i.e. drugs you only can obtain through a physician or specialist, are done by these doctors. They are seen as independent experts. In addition, governmental institutions, at least in many European countries, also have a say in the communication simply because a lot of the money used in health care is tax money.
The current developments in communication also have their impact in the pharmaceutical world and the way they do marketing. Pharma marketeers are more or less aware of Web 2.0 and their challenge for is how to deal with the well informed and assertive patient of the 21st century. The current new technologies bring great opportunities to start a dialogue both with patients and doctors.
Web 2.0 indeed brings great opportunities for health care. Let’s be honest, what’s more valuable to you than your health and that of your loved ones? The moment something is wrong with it, you surf and search, expecting to find correct, transparent and complete information. Or you get connected to a community of like-minded people to share experiences and emotions. Honesty, transparency, communities? Sound familiar?
Due to the strict rules and regulations, pharma marketeers frequently cannot respond rapidly and adequately to changes like those we currently see in communication. Although it brings opportunities, Web 2.0 very often still is an unknown and uncertain phenomenon. There are agencies that offer their assistance to pharma companies in how to deal with these developments. Recently, we were present at a seminar for the pharma industry on how to use these technologies in this regulated world. The seminar was organized by Across Health, an agency originally specialized in eCRM.
‘A Brave New World’ was the title of this seminar that took place in Breda, The Netherlands. Around 30 participants from the pharma industry were present. The seminar was started by Peter Hinssen, one of the partners of Across. Peter gave a fantastic presentation on the acceptance of Web 2.0. Peter is a well-known expert on the impact of technology in our society and a great believer of the fusion of commerce and IT.
Online medical education and web conferencing are tools which with pharma companies are currently experimenting, as demonstrated by a research that Across did amongst their clients. The results, presented by Marcel Scheringa (Senior Management Consultant, Across), demonstrated that the regulations are not the only pitfalls around communication. The lack of a clear eBusiness strategy and the knowledge how to measure ROI are other reasons for failure.
The effect of SEA (Search Engine Advertising) also entered in pharma-marketing, as presented by Filip Standaert of Janssen-Cilag. This company demonstrated that SEA had a significant positive influence on the campaign around a product that improves the quality of life of patients suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.
Click for an interview with Hans Mampaey here.
The sales force plays an important role in pharma-marketing in bringing the product information to the doctor. Maybe you’ve seen him/her, in the waiting room of your physician: the sales representative, well-dressed, preparing him/herself for a short and effective meeting with the doctor. And short it is. On average, the time spent by a sales rep in the office of a physician is less than 3 minutes. This as a result of the increasing competition between the pharma companies, but also due to the increasing time pressure of the doctor.
In order to still being able to efficiently inform the doctor on the products many companies (if not all) use eDetailing as an alternative. eDetailing can be seen as an online, interactive and educational product brochure. Doctors can consume the information at a time that is suitable to them. Beverly Smet (Senior CRM and Busines Consultant, Across health) explains that engagement with the brand is one of the main achievements of this medium.
Arnoud Kok (Republic M!) and Danny Donkers (Bristol Myers Squibb) presented the advatages of ‘MedConference’, a web conference for the medical world where the main advantage is to save time and money. Simply because you can visit the lecture from behind your computer. This is something, especially in these economic situation, is appreciated by many managers.
Click for an interview with Ruud Kooi here.
Positive but reserved
The feedback from the participants after the meeting was overall positive. People realize that something must be done with Web 2.0, but many still have their reservations. And that is still with reference to the regulations, which limits the possible activities. Still, the pharma industry (and the regulatory institutions!) have to realize that they can’t lag behind. Certainly not when realizing the participation and desire of involvement of patients issues related to their health. Pharma should get involved in these discussion, in one way or another. The will talk about you anyway! And that also gives the opportunity to do something about the bad reputation the industry has amongst both doctors and patients.