The ability to review what people are saying about a brand has become a hot topic among pharmaceutical marketers. Managing
a brand used to be fairly straightforward, until, of course, the advent of the Internet. Today, the challenge is enormous:
blogs, podcasts, micro-blogging, instant messaging, Wikis....
For the pharmaceutical industry, brand management is business critical at all times and often enters regulatory realms, adding
a significant layer of complexity to the mix. For most pharma companies, online brand management currently means ensuring
that their brand's Web site appears first in the paid and organic search results. And that's it. Companies are often reluctant
to venture further and actually investigate what is being said about their brand in popular online forums such as blogs or
social communities. Why? Simply put, they are wary of FDA and their own internal regulatory committees. Companies fear getting
wind of an adverse effect, such as a suspicious headache, caused by their drug that they will then need to disclose.
This is a legitimate trepidation, but turning a blind eye to the way the drug is being perceived online will not make the
problem go away—and it can easily lead to further brand mistrust.
With so much apprehension in terms of a program, pharmaceutical marketers should initiate online reputation management in
small, bite-size pieces—baby steps, so to speak.
BABY STEP #1
In a Google search for almost any pharmaceutical brand, one finds a number of negative search results. In fact, on average,
about 30 percent of the branded key-phrase SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages) are negative. All pharmaceutical brand managers
should perform a test search on their brands. Questions they should ask themselves:
- What percentage of the results is negative?
- What percentage are negative when they search for competitors' brand names?
- Does their brand have an official tolerance policy as far as negative search results are concerned?
If not, presenting a policy to the corporation is fundamental to managing brand reputation. Official tolerance policies would
look something like this: Pharmaceutical Company X's Best Practices: If the SERP results for the brand name are negative by
25 percent or more, engage in search reputation management. If the SERPs are worse than Pharmaceutical Company X's competitors,
engage in search reputation management.
What is the value of implementing this first step of a SERP reputation-management program as part of an overall communications
strategy? Let's say a brand wants to determine the effectiveness of a recent DTC ad campaign in terms of positive or negative
perception of the brand. Having a thorough understanding of the numbers of positive and negative results in the SERPs preceding
the campaign will allow them to determine whether the campaign improved or worsened the results. This is valuable and actionable
Fortunately, all online content leads to one central location: search engines. Whether the content is fact or fiction, the
search engines are usually the first place consumers will form an impression of a brand. If a company can effectively manage
the results on a SERP, they will inevitably be better equipped to protect their overall online brand reputation.
BABY STEP #2
Once a brand manager has a sense of positive, neutral, and negative SERP results and can monitor according to the company's
tolerance policy, he can take action to ensure that the top results on the SERPs, those that consumers will see first, are
as positive as possible. This is done via search engine optimization.
Brand managers should leverage their existing assets by optimizing them. Assets include patient testimonials, method of action
videos, press releases, TV commercials, etc. If these assets are in a digital format, they can be optimized to appear in the
search engines for a brand's key phrases. This way, a brand can crowd the negative results off the first couple of pages.