What's Taking So Long?

Jun 03, 2008

Pharma's relationship to digital marketing is as puzzling as a suitor who can't bring himself to pop the question. If he knows he's going to do it, why all the foot-dragging?

"Companies are looking for someone to do it for them," says Michael McLinden, a partner at Mc|K, a healthcare advertising agency. "They want someone to say: 'This is how you build a virtual relationship with a patient; this is how you build a virtual relationship with a physician; this is how you make these relationships work for your brand.'" (see "Michael McLinden, Mc/K Healthcare").

Problem is, as many a shy suitor has discovered, if you wait too long, you might loose the prize altogether.

"Pharma risks being left behind unless it recognizes the need for specialized sales forces and increased use of the Internet as a customer information resource," states a recent study, "Reaching Doctors and Patients Through New Digital Media," by the eHealthInsight series.

The report goes on to say that while there's been a growth in physician and patient Web sites, there is a need to move forward from the traditional company Web site and actively engage with customers—physicians and consumers alike. "Social media and blogging forums are potential opportunities. And mediums such as podcasts and live video-detailing are currently underutilized."

So what's holding pharma back? To find out, Pharmaceutical Executive's Agency Confidential tracked down digital marketing expert, Lisa Flaiz. Flaiz is vice president, group director and national pharma practice lead with the Philadelphia office of Avenue A | Razorfish, an interactive marketing and technology services company. We grilled her on what the future holds for pharma online.

Agency Confidential: Pharma is finally going digital is a statement being bandied about these days. And yet the 2007 industry spend numbers tell an entirely different story. What's really going on?

Lisa Flaiz: The tracking isn't sophisticated enough to pick up on what people are spending on big content-integration sponsorships: what people are spending on search. A lot of dollars are not being reported. Nonetheless, from a trend perspective, when you hear a statement like that and then see the spend numbers actually going down, it is a little concerning.

Still, you have to consider the big picture. In the pharma space in general, DTC spend, no matter what channel we're talking about, is going down. So, I think, part of the trend is following an industry pattern and not necessarily a channel pattern, if you will.

The other problem with the statement is that the marketing mix models are not sophisticated enough to keep up with newly available channels. So when marketers are trying to make decisions about where to spend their money, and how to allocate their budget, they have a really hard time with decision support tools that say, "Move your money online." The models aren't there yet. Thank God there are people like Rex Briggs who continue to evolve and push that space.

Who is Rex Briggs? He's one of the analytic gurus in the arena who has really pioneered some of the ways that we begin to measure return on investment and, in fact, he's recently begun to evangelize the term ROMO, return on marketing objective.

What's the difference between ROI and ROMO? Return on marketing objective allows you to look at very specific E-performance indicators aligned with your goals, with your objective. It doesn't always have to be a hard, lifted script-type of number because your objective could be something completely different.

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