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While what is considered 'traditional' marketing has evolved over the years, it's clear that a digital strategy is an absolute necessity to compete today-not just tomorrow.
You would think that in this day and age-20 years after Tim Berners-Lee invented HTML-that digital competency would be well established in the world of advertising and marketing. But you would be wrong.
According to a study by the CMO Council, only 9 percent of senior-level marketers think that traditional ad agencies are doing a good job of evolving their capabilities for the digital age. Despite the objections of my own impatient and opinionated staff, who argue that everyone knows how important digital is and doesn't need to be told, it seems, in fact, that not everyone in the industry who proclaims digital cognizance has gotten the tweet. So I will lay out the case of why a digital-first approach to pharma marketing is dramatically more effective than traditional marketing. And for good measure, move us over the 10 percent threshold of competence.
Now, you might accuse me of tremendous conflict of interest. As head of a natively digital marketing agency, it's certainly in my interest to proclaim that a digital-first approach is superior, and that natively digital agencies like mine have a meaningfully higher understanding of how digital works than do traditional agencies who have attempted to bolt on an interactive capability to their unidirectional core competency.
But the fact that it's in my interest doesn't mean that I'm wrong. It just means that I have to work harder to prove my case.
I say "digital first"—but by that I don't mean "digital only" or even "digital mostly." I actually mean digital first in three ways:
1) Digital can give you better insights faster if you deftly use advanced technology-enabled strategy tools;
2) Digital can give you higher ROI by exploiting the medium's unique ability to reach healthcare consumers at critical consumer and HCP decision-points—so it should be the first place you spend your marketing dollars; and
3) Unlike other channels, digital makes possible a sequential conversation with a consumer, caregiver, or HCP. It is a great first step towards building a long-term relationship of value with your targets.
Faster insight mining is an aspect of an overall approach to creating competitive advantage in the digital age that I refer to as "Knowlagility"—i.e., the agile deployment of advanced knowledge tools to gain competitive advantage.
In our digital age, particularly since the explosion of social media, it's possible to acquire a depth and subtlety of awareness about what your customers think and feel that's never been possible before—if you know how to use the digital toolbox with agility.
These technology-enabled strategic tools allow you to analyze the unmediated comments and behaviors of your customers, helping brands develop compelling, campaign-shaping ideas much more quickly than by using 'traditional' approaches. Gone should be the days when it took an agency a year or more to arrive at a differentiated positioning for a brand launch. With a digital-first strategic approach, that time horizon can be realistically compressed to a few months.
For example, for one of our clients in the hemophilia category, our digital tools uncovered a powerful insight about the target audience. The primary audience was teenage boys, and our analysis of the online conversation revealed that these kids harbored a deep, lingering resentment about the pharma industry dating back to the perception of industry complicity in the tainting of the blood supply that occurred decades earlier—before the teens were even born. This surprising insight led to dramatically different positioning than the brand had been considering, and indeed a radically bolder campaign than would otherwise likely have been conceived.
And, significantly, the value of these insights is not limited to the online channel. The insight about how boys with hemophilia relate to their disease and to manufacturers has far broader implications than simply how to go to market digitally; they apply equally to every other way in which the audience is addressed. So unearthing an insight through digital-first provided value all the way across the marketing spectrum.
I am regularly amazed that this obvious fact is not front-of-mind for all pharma marketers. With the near-universal availability of extremely powerful, easy-to-use information devices known as computers, and, increasingly, smartphones and tablets—literally at the fingertips of patients, caregivers and HCPs—there can be little question about the first place customers turn to for health information. In fact, with 83 percent of American adults enjoying online access, and 89 percent of them looking for healthcare information, the circles almost completely overlap. So, the healthcare consumer is the Internet consumer—and the Internet consumer is the healthcare consumer.
This being the case, the easiest, most valuable way to reach healthcare decision-makers (both consumers and professionals) is at the point of inquiry, and that point is accessed by a keyboard or screen. This provides two enormous advantages for marketers using digital: people interested in health information are in an inquiry mode, and thus much more receptive to appropriate branded and unbranded messages. Second, based on their online behavior and context, these customers can be targeted with a degree of specificity not possible in any other channel. The consequence of these two actualities—the audience's inquiring mindset and their targetability—is that the ROI in digital is consistently higher than in traditional channels. Most marketers accept that a 2:1 ROI for print or TV campaigns is considered successful; in study after study, digital campaigns typically return 4:1 ROIs, and in some cases much higher. So assuming you don't have an unlimited budget, it makes sense that marketing campaigns should put digital first. It's just the smartest thing to do with your money.
Unlike virtually every other channel, digital provides the ability to create a sequential relationship of high value with your key audiences. So, for example, you can engage with the healthcare information seeker first through a paid search ad, which might lead to an unbranded website offering disease condition information. Then you may serve up a connection to a branded message and offer on the brand website, presenting incentives for these well-qualified consumers to enroll in a CRM program so that you can talk to them in a value-added way over time.
The success of this approach depends on two things: the idea has to be big enough, flexible enough, indeed generous enough to work across multiple channels; and then you need to project that idea through a series of orchestrated interactions with the customer—adding value at each step in the sequence—either through credible knowledge, service, or a financial incentive.
The key to a successful sequential campaign is to understand the dynamics of "value exchange." Just as a good salesperson always brings his customer something worthwhile at each interaction point (knowledge, service, samples, etc.), a smart integrated campaign respects the audience's time and privacy, providing something more than mere 'promotion' or 'messaging' in order to create a long-term relationship of respect and value. In fact, the digital channel is not truly 'advertising' in the traditional sense; while there are elements of pure promotion in the mix, success is really earned by artful progression through a sequence of value exchanges, leading ultimately to appropriate product trial.
Critically, digital enables a much more immediate and less taxing means for the audience to respond—no 800 number to remember; no coupon to clip and mail. The next step is easy and immediate: the click of a button. Having said that, the progression often can and should extend beyond the digital channel to print, mail, and other 'traditional' channels; but it starts most kinetically with digital.
Lest it be thought that I am a crusader against traditional channels, please indulge me a brief biographical digression. I started my career in the magazine business (I worked for Time). I then helped run a video company in the '80s, before starting my own agency in the late '90s. I love the 'traditional' channels. But once Internet saturation reached critical mass, it became clear to me that technology was changing the fundamental dynamics of marketing—driving digital, inevitably, to the first position. That's where we all live now: in the future. But developing a true digital-first orientation is not simply a matter of buying a digital capability. You actually have to think differently about what marketing is—and can be.
Bill Drummy is the CEO of Heartbeat Ideas. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org