Direct-to-Consumer 2.0: Try It, You'll Like It - Pharmaceutical Executive

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Direct-to-Consumer 2.0: Try It, You'll Like It
The Internet's hopping with healthcare consumers and patient communities. Online social networks are all the rage in brand marketing. Isn't it time for pharma to cross the digital divide and feel the log-on love?


Pharmaceutical Executive


Empowering doctors to be better, more informed practitioners can have measurable brand-building and brand-loyalty benefits, particularly for manufacturers of medical devices. For its annual meeting last September, the American Society for Surgery of the Hand created a http://MySpace.com/ page for hand surgeons, a full-service tool for the 1,900 attendees to interact with one another—not to mention the 113 exhibitors and their 807 staff members—before, during, and after the show. An additional bonus of these http://MySpace.com/ spots is their capacity to identify thought leaders (the http://eBay.com/ power-sellers of the medical community) whose quiet voices exist outside the pages of JAMA and who might otherwise be unheard.

• Greater collaboration and employee satisfaction
According to a recent survey, only one in seven employees worldwide is fully engaged with his job and willing to go the extra mile. This disaffection can be particularly pronounced in sales organizations, where talent is often geographically dispersed and interaction infrequent.

Pharmaceutical companies need only visit the Café Pharma chat rooms ( http://www.cafepharma.com/) for a reality check on employee perceptions—for example, on how benefits and promotions effect job satisfaction. Sponsored social networks can improve employee engagement by creating a trusted place for the staff to go to be heard—and where honest dialogue is part of the culture. In contrast to traditional gripe sessions, where bad feelings seem to multiply, properly planned and moderated employee social networks can serve as an early-warning system for disruptive issues and a source of buy-in for corporate change.

Social networks can also play an important role in identifying—and advancing—high-potential employees by offering more frequent connection than, say, the monthly meeting. The fact that online is always "on" allows for ongoing communication and more diverse responses and reflections. Given time, participants who may not drive the agenda at a formal meeting can share their particular expertise and keep a valuable idea moving forward.

Social networks can build company relationships across boundaries of time and geography, breaking down organizational silos. Employees can locate sources of specific information and institutional knowledge that they previously needed organizational charts (and a good treasure map) to find. Access to deeper, more diverse perspectives can empower employees to take responsibility.

E-communities allow employees to engage not only with one another and their managers but also with customers. AppleLink, the Apple computer empire's social network, enables its 14,000 employees to connect with distributors, suppliers, third-party developers, and customers. This brings them closer to all the audiences that influence Apple's success, making them feel more valuable—and invested in not just their own but their company's success.

The evolution of technology, particularly consumer-generated content, has forever shifted the marketing landscape—from impressions to customer evangelism, from brand as a static concept to brand as a living organism. Social networks have the potential to shape the business of pharma perhaps more than any other industry. For these healthcare companies, their brand now lives not just on television, in print ads, and in consumer experiences but in the very voices of the customers, employees, and physicians who influence their success.

Although late to the game, the industry still has time to seize upon this marketing revolution and reap the benefits of growing employee engagement, improved collaboration, nimble product development and innovation, stronger brand loyalty, and deeper public trust.

Lynn O'Connor Vos is the CEO and president of Grey Healthcare Group. She can be reached at
Sharon Callahan is the president of Summit Grey. She can be reached at


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