iPad Apps: Are You Content with your Content? - Pharmaceutical Executive

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iPad Apps: Are You Content with your Content?


Pharmaceutical Executive


Getty Images / Datacraft Co Ltd
Pharma is not an industry known for launching headlong into new ideas and new ways of doing things—at least not without indulging in a considerable period of cautious study first. So its embrace of the iPad—both as a new sales tool and as a new way to communicate with and educate patients—stands out as somewhat anomalous. Granted, the sheer economic and cultural impact of the device, which was first released in April 2010, has been hard for any technologically focused industry to ignore: Apple sold 15 million iPads in the first nine months of launch. And its uptake among the medical profession has been particularly staggering. In May 2011, Manhattan Research reported that 30 percent of physicians in the U.S. already own an iPad, and this proportion will have already risen considerably, given that another 28 percent revealed they were planning to purchase one "in the next six months."

But recognizing the iPad as a phenomenon and making a quick decision to embrace the hardware is just the beginning. The iPad revolution brings with it a new challenge, that of effective content creation. And this is where pharma has sometimes come undone. "There seems to have been a race to get something out there for technology's sake," says David Ashley, head of digital marketing at UK agency Oi. "But a lot of agencies have designed apps for pharma that are really just converted PDF detail aids; they have very little functionality apart from a linear flow. The result is that there have been a lot of disappointed product managers out there."

David Hunt, digital director of Creative Lynx (UK), agrees: "By combining the innovation of the hardware with traditional marketing techniques we can deliver an engaging and compelling experience. A strong story and great creative blended with the features of the iPad delivers a truly immersive experience."

Grabbing Attention

Whether we are doctors or patients or just casual iPad users, we're all massively impatient when it comes to apps, Hunt reminds us. Unless we're immediately engaged by an app, we get rid of it. An app has to deliver immediate value. As soon as you download one, you need to know how to use it and how you're going to benefit from it.

There are companies that appear to be getting it right, however. Johnson & Johnson's psoriasis app for dermatologists and patients, which allows a quick and simple evaluation of the severity of their condition, has been averaging almost 60 downloads a day for well over a year. The reason for its success, explains Hunt, is that it is "pick-up-and-play, and immediately rewarding."

On the sales/CRM side, Abbott's pilot app, developed by Oi, was successful because it was a "real closed loop solution," says Ashley. In creating it, the agency went out with the sales reps to ascertain the various needs of the different clients: "It was a case of understanding that it wasn't a matter of delivering a PowerPoint solution. The rep wants something that supports his conversation."

This is a view supported by Neeraj Singhal, vice president of product strategy and innovation at Cegedim Relationship Management. Far from being a device to replace the sales rep, which has been one of the more hysterical reactions to the iPad, it serves to augment the relationship between reps and physicians. And the rep is more efficient in the relationship, says Singhal, when he has the right app.

Content Creation 101

For Ashley, iPads are tools; what his agency develops for them are 'toolkits.' There is a danger of companies wanting everything in an app ("whatever's in the reps briefcase"), but the key to creating the content is realizing what's important—for example, budget impact calculators—and what isn't.

Bill Cooney, president and CEO of MedPoint Digital, believes the essence of the iPad is to deliver immediate, tangible value to the end user. "Pharma must build around that customer-centric ethic; it's not about what the app developer wants, or what IT wants," he says. "Your app's content has to be excellent, its functionality must be superb, and it had better focus on a task or topic that relates directly to the everyday needs of physicians."

Of course, says Bill Drummy, founder and CEO of Heartbeat Ideas, the elements of an app are dependent on the marketing objectives of the brand. But Drummy does believe in five key principles for approaching app development: "Identify insights about your audience and product differentiation (don't start by thinking about the iPad; start by thinking about the marketing problem at hand); explore the unique capabilities of the tablet to generate meaningful engagement; consider innovation within practical boundaries (for example, does the app need to talk to CRM systems?); test at every stage (no one knows exactly what will work best, so develop, measure, improve); and optimize for the future."

Apples And Oranges

But how far into the future should the iPad app developer be thinking? Is there a chance that rival devices will catch up or overtake? At the end of October 2011, PCMag.com pointed to a report from mobile research firm Research2Guidance, which stated that the Android market "has reached a milestone, hitting 500,000 submitted apps."




With around 600,000 apps published in its App Store at the same time, Apple was not that far ahead. But the two figures are not exactly comparable, as the report qualified: "Google ascribes to an 'anything goes' policy with the Android market, letting in any app to be submitted. iOS apps, on the other hand, are subject to Apple's strict approval process before they're allowed into the App Store." The actual number of "active apps" then, it was claimed, was 319,161 for Android and 459,589 for the App Store. Even so, the report went on, considering Google went live with Android only about a year after the debut of the iPhone, "the growth rate for the Android market is undoubtedly impressive."

Also, it should not be forgotten—amid the free publicity and hype the iPad has attracted—that the Apple device is not without its flaws. "It's not the most powerful computer in the world," says David Ashley. "You can't, for example, store eight hours' worth of video content for instant presentation." And while Drummy believes the iPad in its current state "is the best content consumption device ever created," he admits that it is not the best content creation device. But, he adds: "There are rumors that future devices will make content creation easier—a projectable keyboard perhaps?"

For Cooney, however, the biggest drawback is not the development of iPad apps, but the distribution and management of them. "One option is to distribute through the Apple Store, which is great if you want your app to be available to the universe," he says. "But it isn't if you want selective distribution, such as to your sales force. That requires private distribution of apps, which is a challenge. iPad apps were not really designed for private distribution, and although it can be done, it poses several technical hurdles."

Still, concern about the iPad's quibbles remain relatively minor. Ashley is quick to add that the iPad2 has offered significant improvement on the first model with regard to "speed and processing and the kind of content you can store." And the consensus seems to be that other devices will not gain ground very quickly. For Drummy "the only serious tablet competitor at the moment is the Kindle platform, and that is not likely to have much impact in the pharma world."


Creating iPad Apps: An Agency Perspective
Cooney is unequivocal: "Apple simply has too many significant advantages." First, there is the iPad's "overwhelming" current market share among physicians. He believes that physicians—"who place greater value on quality than price"—will be among the last consumers to convert to other tablets. Android-driven tablets may offer more variety of hardware configurations, but that "engenders more diversity of screen sizes, resolution, processors, etc., and their apps are less likely to perform consistently well across diverse platforms." Cooney also says that Android-compatible apps—supported as they are by open distribution—are inherently less secure and prone to threats. "Physicians and pharma won't like that," he adds.

Seizing the App Opportunities

If you are still uncertain about embarking on a program of app development, consider Bill Cooney's comment that "the pharma industry simply must gain a presence on this platform or risk becoming irrelevant." But 'irrelevance' will not be resisted by simply accepting the iPad as your new savior. Developing safe, conservative content, particularly the one-size-fits-all type for use on a variety of digital platforms, will leave you as vulnerable as those who shun the new technology entirely. Companies that take this approach, Drummy warns, "will end up failing in the marketplace, and then needing to recreate their assets, which will make them both inefficient and late to market."

Pharma has made the effort to arrive nice and early to the iPad party. Now it needs to make sure it doesn't stay confined to the kitchen.

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