A leading advocate for the use of precision analytics in marketing traces the slow—and often stumbling—evolution toward a
state of analytical grace in tracking ROI for digital promotion. The next challenge for Big Pharma? Finding a way to build
on the knowledge gained in "traditional digital" to obtain stronger decision metrics for mobile and social media—today's new
I thought this would be simple. As a responsible pharmaceutical executive, you naturally want to know which marketing activities
are most effective for selling your product, right? And, it seems logical to conclude, if you had that data, it would guide
your promotional investment decisions. I wasn't even that young at the time I began trying to solve the pharma marketing ROI
riddle—but I was na´ve.
DTC: the early years
This was more than 10 years ago—the early 2000s—and as the head of a digital marketing agency, I fixated on one of the central
questions facing a marketer in the pharma world, a world where billions of dollars in revenue were at stake, with hundreds
of millions being spent every year on DTC advertising. In such a world, it's not a small thing to know what marketing techniques
actually work best at driving sales. In fact, I thought, if a marketer could crack this code, she would significantly increase
the success of her brand, and advance her own career.
So I started out by doing what my academically-oriented mind told me was the logical first step: review the existing research
on DTC ROI to see what was known about the effectiveness of those expensive "old world" tactics like television and print.
I was pretty sure the data would confirm what I felt in my mind and gut: that for healthcare marketing, digital is inherently
more efficient and effective since people are actively looking for health information and therefore are much easier to target.
Moreover, in digital there are many opportunities along the patient journey to intercept and add knowledge at key decision
points. At the same time, the traditional mass media (television, magazines, and newspapers) were becoming less and less effective:
consumers were increasingly using DVRs and skipping 80 percent of commercials; readership of print publications was dropping
precipitously every year. It was rapidly becoming a digital world and the core qualities of digital—the lean-forward, information-seeking
nature of the online experience (which was particularly well-suited for people concerned about health issues), along with
the decline of the other media—made an overwhelming case in favor of digital.
I would come to find that I was right about nearly all these things. But I would also find that it didn't much matter that
I was right. Figuring out why this was the case would turn out to be the much greater challenge.