Think Digital First - Pharmaceutical Executive


Think Digital First

Pharmaceutical Executive

Handling Health Questions

I am regularly amazed that this obvious fact is not front-of-mind for all pharma marketers. With the near-universal availability of extremely powerful, easy-to-use information devices known as computers, and, increasingly, smartphones and tablets—literally at the fingertips of patients, caregivers and HCPs—there can be little question about the first place customers turn to for health information. In fact, with 83 percent of American adults enjoying online access, and 89 percent of them looking for healthcare information, the circles almost completely overlap. So, the healthcare consumer is the Internet consumer—and the Internet consumer is the healthcare consumer.

This being the case, the easiest, most valuable way to reach healthcare decision-makers (both consumers and professionals) is at the point of inquiry, and that point is accessed by a keyboard or screen. This provides two enormous advantages for marketers using digital: people interested in health information are in an inquiry mode, and thus much more receptive to appropriate branded and unbranded messages. Second, based on their online behavior and context, these customers can be targeted with a degree of specificity not possible in any other channel. The consequence of these two actualities—the audience's inquiring mindset and their targetability—is that the ROI in digital is consistently higher than in traditional channels. Most marketers accept that a 2:1 ROI for print or TV campaigns is considered successful; in study after study, digital campaigns typically return 4:1 ROIs, and in some cases much higher. So assuming you don't have an unlimited budget, it makes sense that marketing campaigns should put digital first. It's just the smartest thing to do with your money.

A High-Value Journey

Unlike virtually every other channel, digital provides the ability to create a sequential relationship of high value with your key audiences. So, for example, you can engage with the healthcare information seeker first through a paid search ad, which might lead to an unbranded website offering disease condition information. Then you may serve up a connection to a branded message and offer on the brand website, presenting incentives for these well-qualified consumers to enroll in a CRM program so that you can talk to them in a value-added way over time.

The success of this approach depends on two things: the idea has to be big enough, flexible enough, indeed generous enough to work across multiple channels; and then you need to project that idea through a series of orchestrated interactions with the customer—adding value at each step in the sequence—either through credible knowledge, service, or a financial incentive.

The key to a successful sequential campaign is to understand the dynamics of "value exchange." Just as a good salesperson always brings his customer something worthwhile at each interaction point (knowledge, service, samples, etc.), a smart integrated campaign respects the audience's time and privacy, providing something more than mere 'promotion' or 'messaging' in order to create a long-term relationship of respect and value. In fact, the digital channel is not truly 'advertising' in the traditional sense; while there are elements of pure promotion in the mix, success is really earned by artful progression through a sequence of value exchanges, leading ultimately to appropriate product trial.

Critically, digital enables a much more immediate and less taxing means for the audience to respond—no 800 number to remember; no coupon to clip and mail. The next step is easy and immediate: the click of a button. Having said that, the progression often can and should extend beyond the digital channel to print, mail, and other 'traditional' channels; but it starts most kinetically with digital.

A Last Word

Lest it be thought that I am a crusader against traditional channels, please indulge me a brief biographical digression. I started my career in the magazine business (I worked for Time). I then helped run a video company in the '80s, before starting my own agency in the late '90s. I love the 'traditional' channels. But once Internet saturation reached critical mass, it became clear to me that technology was changing the fundamental dynamics of marketing—driving digital, inevitably, to the first position. That's where we all live now: in the future. But developing a true digital-first orientation is not simply a matter of buying a digital capability. You actually have to think differently about what marketing is—and can be.

Bill Drummy is the CEO of Heartbeat Ideas. He can be reached at


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