On the Web: If You're Not Everywhere, You're Nowhere - Pharmaceutical Executive

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On the Web: If You're Not Everywhere, You're Nowhere
Pharma marketers must create an online universe for brand messages if they want consumers to find and trust their product and disease information.


Pharmaceutical Executive



The Online Grapevine
Properly executed and vigilantly maintained, SEO will raise a site's rank in search engine results-or maintain a high ranking-enabling consumers to find the company's site or sites in the first place.

Assess the landscape of influence. Plentiful links from third-party sites to a company's site also make the latter easy to find. But before marketers set out to link their sites, they must evaluate the content, share of voice, and the amount and composition of site traffic for every relevant website for the therapeutic category. Companies, or the agencies that work on their online strategy, should also monitor existing sites and continually search for new ones.

Through rigorous keyword searches and tracking of links, marketers must identify all avenues of online influence pertaining to the product and its disease state. Which websites have something to say about the disease and its treatment? What are they saying about the product and its category? The following additional questions will help brand teams focus on the most important sites:

  • What is the amount and composition of site traffic?
  • How rich and authoritative is a site's content?
  • Is it accurate?
  • Is it unbiased?
  • Does it disclose sponsorship and partnership arrangements?
  • Does it have arrangements with competitors?
  • Where does the site rank on major search engines?
  • How many links does the site feature?
  • Do the links lead to sites of equal, inferior, or superior quality?
  • Does the site counter-detail or undermine the product?

As a rule, marketing managers should seek sites that have the most influence, are even-handed in their treatment of sponsored content, and need content (spon-sored or otherwise) that a brand team can provide.

Provide objective and credible content. Marketers should then learn where they can contribute and make the most impact. Many third-party websites lack resources for gathering and maintaining accurate, current information. That is often the case with patient advocacy and grassroots sites, which often welcome disease-related content or even product information from pharma manufacturers.

Remember, however, that third-party sites want evidence-based material rather than promotional messages. Although it takes resources to develop evidence-and self-restraint to maintain objectivity-the resulting credibility repays the investment. After all, third parties will use solid, accurate information. And the more sites that display that information, the more consumers will see the consonance of the messages.

Build long-term alliances. Pharma brands seeking strategic ubiquity should explore a variety of relationships with a range of third parties. The investment required may be minimal-such as when marketers syndicate patient education material-or significant, as when companies give unrestricted educational grants. Regardless of the initial investment, long-term relationships with the right parties should be the goal.

"Churning" or partnering with one site after another will raise marketing costs and make it more difficult to know what is working and what is not. Among the arrangements with third parties to consider are:

  • syndicating content to patient advocacy, disease management, and similar sites in need of authoritative general information
  • creating sponsorship packages with portals, such as WebMD and Healthology
  • co-branding sites with third parties, such asHealthandAge.com between Novartis' Foundation for Gerontology and Geriatrics
  • conducting PR outreach to online news organizations and the online arms of traditional media.

Unlike typical exposure and "cost-per" media buys, those arrangements typically require skilled negotiation-often open-ended at first-with potential third-party partners. Pharma companies that have developed and maintained long-standing relationships with nonprofits should initiate those arrangements. In other instances, companies should outsource marketing partners who know the territory and players and can negotiate on the brand's behalf.

Precisely gauging the returns on third-party online relationships may be difficult in the early stages. Using the strategic ubiquity technique makes it harder for companies to trace the source of new visitors and the effectiveness of specific websites. That can throw institutional roadblocks in the path of marketers pursuing a strategic ubiquity program. To overcome those obstacles, they must work with senior managers early in the process to set realistic expectations regarding what can and cannot be measured and the program's potential short- and long-term value.

Once pharma marketers have established relationships with third parties, the latter should be willing to share information about traffic, click-throughs, and the time that consumers spend at specific pages. They will, of course, be more willing do to so in the context of a long-term, mutually rewarding relationship-not if they receive only flavor-of-the-month status.

Today, pharma marketers rarely question the worth of the web. Many are allocating greater percentages-up to 15 percent and more-of their marketing budgets to online channels. But only a few have thought strategically about marketing in the online environment. As Boehm notes, "To the extent that marketers are achieving ubiquity now, they are achieving it accidentally. Most don't take a methodical approach to online sources so they too often wind up with a scattershot approach."

Given consumer behavior and the host of other voices in the online environment, a product website cannot do it all. Brand managers must move from putting up a website or two toward a strategy that is in sync with the way consumers search for health information. Product sites will remain crucial, but they must eventually take their place among the many sites that pharma marketers must monitor, cultivate, and in some way support so that consumers receive accurate, consistent information no matter where they browse.


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