The Digital Marketing Platforms That Will Stick Around

February 4, 2016

Where pharma marketers may fear to tread, many general marketers rush in to bet on the latest rising star without a clear idea of where it’s heading. For wiser heads, Peter Houston reviews the digital and social channels that have been delivering for a while and look likely to stick around.

2016 will be the year of… well… take your pick. Content marketing, Face-to-Face marketing, Virtual-Reality marketing. Spend long enough looking and you’ll find someone predicting the meteoric rise of some new digital marketing platform or, equally, the death of a channel we have all just managed to get our heads around.

Pharma marketing has never really been prone to bandwagon jumping, but there are plenty of general marketers willing to hitch a ride on the latest rising star without any clear idea of where it’s heading. 

The January rise and fall of social messaging app Peach is a salutary tale. Contently Editor-in-chief Joe Lazauskas blames the lightning-fast demise on brands that crowded out the nascent network even before it had an established user base. His advice, “Until an app looks like it’ll be around for a while, stay away.”

Sage words and it’s not difficult to find headline digital and social channels that have been delivering for a while now and, all things being equal, will be here come Christmas 2016.

Facebook
Facebook is the 800-pound gorilla in the space. With one-and-a-half billion core users worldwide and many more using stable-mates Whatsapp, Instagram and Messenger, Marck Zuckerberg’s business is claiming a huge chunk of the world’s attention. And it has big plans to get to the billions still to connect to the Internet. In a comprehensive profile of the business in Fast Company, Zuckerberg talks about Internet.org, the global connectivity initiative dedicated to bringing the Internet to the 60 percent of people worldwide who aren’t yet online.

But even universal reach wouldn’t guarantee Facebook’s usefulness as a pharma marketing platform. The secret to that lies with real engagement and, as always, that’s where Pharma has struggled. Strong examples of companies using Facebook to deliver customer service or answer patient queries are out there, but so are the zombie pages that could as well be printed A4.

Twitter
Twitter is hurting right now, but I wouldn’t write it off just yet. Where shareholders and investors are squealing for a turnaround in market value, every-day users love the platform. The concern is that, in a desperate attempt to turn around the financial performance of the platform, management will lose what makes the platform work for users.

The Week article - ‘How Wall Street is ruining Twitter’ – says Twitter could get its finances in order if, ‘shareholders were willing to accept a future … in which the company's priority is successfully providing a socially useful service rather than maximizing their return.’

That ‘socially useful’ aspect of Twitter is also the secret to marketing success on the platform, where the hard sell will sink without a trace but valuable information is shared again and again and again. A recognition of that may lie behind the improving engagement scores listed by Pharma companies like AstraZeneca and GSK.

Snapchat
The new kid on the social media block is SnapChat, a mystery to almost everyone over the age of 30, but beloved by millennials: only 14% of Snapchat’s American users are over 35.

The one-time sexting app has matured into a giant of social media delivering over 6 billion video views a day at the back end of last year. The network boasts the fastest growing user base, 57 percent in 2014, with up to 65 percent of those users contributing content on a daily basis.

Does that make it right for Pharma marketing? Possibly, for private messaging to closed patient groups, specifically for younger markets and as a second-screen add-on to TV viewing, where what Damian Radcliffe calls Snapchat’s ‘ephemeral short-form content’ can sit comfortably alongside more established TV viewing habits.

Visual marketing
Visual marketing is hot right now and sits with almost any digital platform: Facebook posts and Tweets with images rack up way more engagement than those without. And as human attention spans reduces to eight seconds (lower than the proverbial goldfish) visual messaging can only get more important.

Platforms made just to distribute images and video are growing. Pinterest and Instagram dominate the photo space, although both support video.

In pure video YouTube is still the dominant player, but Vine is carving out a six-second niche with brands, while live video from Meerkat, Periscope and Facebook Live is bringing an ‘event’ ethos, back to digital.

Interconnectedness
In 2016 I want to use this blog to look at how the best pharma marketers are, not just making the most of individual digital marketing platforms, but also making them work together.

Vox Media is a leading digital media business, well known for the explainer journalism on Vox.com and tech brands the Verge and Re/code.  Mellissa Bell, a VP at Vox, spoke recently about her company’s Disney-inspired ‘interconnectedness’ strategy. “Walt Disney had an interesting idea about how his brands supported each other. The theme parks came from the movies; the movies came from his animations. The merchandise allowed for stores to be built.”

She says you have to think about your brand as an interconnected ethos that should exist in multiple places. “If 10 percent of that audience finds us on YouTube, five percent finds us on Facebook, and two percent finds us on Twitter, that’s great.”