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Is Trust the Secret Ingredient for Digital Product Success?


Lack of trust in pharma-provided content proves to be a key barrier to successful engagement, highlighting issues like promotional spin, information availability, and more.

Rob Verheul, CEO, Graphite Digital

Rob Verheul, CEO, Graphite Digital

Digital transformation is changing the way pharmaceutical companies engage with HCPs, with many seeking to take advantage of technology to create engaging digital products. But, despite heavy investment, only 4% of executives say that their company’s digital product launches are regularly succeeding.1

While there could be any number of reasons for a digital product to fall short of expectations, engagement is a critical issue. It is important to understand and address the barriers that prevent HCPs from pharma companies’ digital channels, as well as the day-to-day experiences that shape their engagement.

Graphite Digital’s latest report Trust: The key factor in digital HCP engagement?2 investigates the pressure points and concerns that HCPs have when it comes to accessing and using digital pharma products. Throughout our interviews with healthcare providers (HCPs) and senior pharma leaders from Pfizer, Takeda and Astellas Pharma, the conversation often came back to trust—or a lack thereof—as a key barrier, with 80% of HCPs admitting that they do not trust pharma-provided content.

Digging into the causes of distrust

HCPs need pharma companies, and vice versa. However, the current lack of trust is affecting the effectiveness of the relationship between the two, impacting behavior and engagement on and offline.

To identify specific recommendations to address HCPs’ lack of trust in pharma-provided digital content, it is important to understand the limitations, pain points, and frustrations that stand in the way of the user experience of current digital platforms.

Our report highlights four core issues that impact HCPs willingness to use content from pharma companies:

  1. Promotional spin
    Pharma companies are keen to provide information and insights that can provide better support to HCPs, but currently their collateral or products are only trusted for specific needs. HCPs tend to visit pharma websites as part of their research on treatment options or specific therapies, for updates in their medical field or to see what might be ‘in the pipeline’. The golden thread? They are looking for evidence-based content that is not laden with marketing messaging.

    There is a lot of concern amongst HCPs that only favorable information is being shown on pharma-owned sites. Many HCPs we spoke to stated that they would always look at multiple sources of information before making a conclusion to cross-reference and validate their findings with more neutral sources.

  2. Information availability
    Many HCPs expressed frustration that they often have to visit several pages or sites to find the full information on a product or topic, which wastes time they often do not have. In some cases, they cannot find the information they need with the right level of depth. Those we spoke to often said it was hard to find clinical trial papers that gave them detailed information about drugs, while others agreed that the information provided was tailored too much to a patient audience, and not enough to the needs of HCPs.

  3. Navigation challenges
    Given the time pressures faced by many HCPs, it is important to note that many feel that time is wasted trying to navigate different sites and platforms due to unclear user experience, including signposting and inconsistency across channels. They also reported that information is often presented in a way that is overwhelming and difficult to decipher, further adding to their day-to-day challenges.

  4. Accessibility
    We all know how frustrating it can be to meet a paywall when you want to get to content quickly, and it is no different when it comes to HCPs accessing information from pharma companies. It is also inconvenient for HCPs to remember login information for multiple sites, so they often prioritize platforms where they can easily access the information they need.

(Re)building trust in digital pharma content

It may feel like there is a mountain to climb when it comes to rebuilding trust in pharma content, but really, it comes down to one thing: customer-centricity.

Given the concerns, we know that to build trust and increase engagement, pharma companies must produce transparent and neutral content, presented on digital platforms that are easy to use. The medical profession is deeply based in science, and that means that they want to see the evidence of the claims being made for themselves—and that data needs to be readily available to avoid frustration.

Putting medical expertise front-and-center presents a significant opportunity to build trust too. While pharma companies’ relationships with HCPs vary by countries, HCPs find it reassuring to know that the medical team has been involved in the development of content as these teams are generally seen to be more aligned with HCP priorities and are thought to understand the needs of the physician.

Following these suggestions will provide a good starting point for building trust in digital pharma content, however adopting an empathy-based marketing approach requires ongoing insight. Having regular, in-depth conversations with HCPs, listening to their feedback on your content and digital innovations is vital if you are to pursue a truly customer-centric mindset.

We find that brands perceive user testing might take a long time, or will be very risky or expensive—but this is often not the case. And what you are likely to find is that by testing early, you vastly increase the chances of your solution finding favor with your target market.

By taking this approach—developing an evidence-based, customer-centric mindset—you will create greater value for your target market, leading to higher levels of engagement, greater trust and greater commercial outcomes.

Rob Verheul is the CEO of Graphite Digital


  1. https://www.graphitedigital.com/downloads/contradiction-conundrum
  2. https://www.graphitedigital.com/downloads/trust-hcp-engagement
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