A March 2008 report from eMarketer notes that in 2009 online ads will make up 10 percent of the total US advertising spend, amounting to $30 billion. Of course, the crossing of this critical threshold won't come as a surprise to pharma marketers, who have watched their share of online spending increase by leaps and bounds in recent years.
Consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies, fighting in an ultra-competitive marketplace with small profit margins, have had to be innovators in finding new ways to communicate their messages to their customers. And they have led much of the innovation in online brand promotion, utilizing Web sites, search engine optimization (SEO), e-newsletter programs, mobile marketing, and tailored, individualized messaging. Applying the lessons learned through years of experience in CPG marketing to pharma can give an immediate advantage to the first companies willing to truly embrace these principles.If pharma can effectively implement these principles, it has potentially even more to gain than CPG companies: Because pharma products have much higher margins, a similar investment yields much better returns. So where CPG must carefully manage spending on a program to maximize the small lifetime value of a customer, pharma can deliver an even richer experience, because its lifetime value is far greater.
Getting Out in Front
Industries such as CPG have developed some of the most cutting-edge digital programs, and also have learned a lot of expensive lessons. Much of this experience can be effectively (and legally) tailored to pharma, and those companies who get out front in this race are going to have a considerable advantage for a long time.
Of course, simply copying every digital program created for CPG isn't going to work, because regulatory issues between CPG and pharma aren't comparable. (Pharma is, of course, one of the most regulated industries in the world.) However, there are ways to implement online programs that obey the regulatory rules and also respect the sensitive nature of DTC pharma marketing. A series of comical YouTube videos may not be right for your brand, but completely discounting that channel isn't the answer either. (Novartis, for instance, ran a very effective campaign for http://FluSource.com/, garnering more than 795,000 views of the contest rules video alone.)
Digital no longer gets a free pass. As budgets become tighter, senior managers are going to require that every program show value from day one. If pharma companies are willing to embrace the 10 principles we've developed by working in both healthcare and CPG, we believe their brands will be stronger and that they will see an immediate improvement in a number of measurable outcomes for all of their digital programs.