Exploiting the Net

Considering the risks the pharmaceutical industry takes in R&D, it is astonishing how conservative it is when it comes to adopting new tools and technology for marketing. The Internet, with its ability to enhance direct communication with select groups, such as doctors and patients, may as well have been made for marketing pharmaceuticals. But still, its greatest offerings often go untapped.

Considering the risks the pharmaceutical industry takes in R&D, it is astonishing how conservative it is when it comes to adopting new tools and technology for marketing. The Internet, with its ability to enhance direct communication with select groups, such as doctors and patients, may as well have been made for marketing pharmaceuticals. But still, its greatest offerings often go untapped.

Paradoxically, the path to using the Internet effectively does not start in the world of bricks and clicks, it starts in the mind. However complicated the world gets, and however fast it changes, marketing still comes down to one simple truth – winning the battle in the target’s mind, such that they choose your brand over the competition.

This battle is all about the Brand Experience, and it is the first step in e-Pharma too.

What is the Brand Experience?

The pharmaceutical industry has tended to look at branding narrowly – mainly in terms of brand identity – and we’ve all got handsome sets of branding guidelines to keep us on the straight and narrow. But the brand experience goes far deeper than this. Take the recent consumer example of Eatons, which spent millions on remodelling itself with a new look, announcing this via a splashy ad campaign. But what was the brand experience in the stores? Not so good.

Compare this to Amazon.com. You are in a ‘store’ that is uncluttered and visually pleasing. You are made to feel welcome. The site is easy to navigate and it’s easy to order what you want. If you have queries, they are answered promptly. And Amazon.com keeps its promises when it comes to returns and exchanges. In other words, the Brand Experience is very positive, and you want to visit again.

Basic e-Pharma:

The corporate Web site

A corporate or a brand Web site is only one of the many ways to use e-Pharma. Let’s look first at how to ensure that your site conveys a positive brand experience.

* Are you delivering what you intend? This is not as easy to assess as it sounds, because we all seem to suffer from ‘Web site myopia’ when we visit our own sites. Full-blooded research may not be possible, but at least get some uninvolved colleagues to visit, and give you the benefit of their fresh eyes.

* Are your expectations realistic? Studies have shown that pharmaceutical company sites are not the main hits when it comes to accessing product information on a drug. Sites such as webMD and Mayo Clinic are favoured because they are seen as more credible.

* Are you creating a total brand experience? This must go beyond dropping in the visual elements from your promotional pieces. What brand character does the Web site convey? And pay particular attention to brand behaviour – in other words, if any of your visitors try to interact with the company, will that be a positive or frustrating experience?

Advanced e-Pharma:

The Web offers much more

Beyond the Web site, there are multiple ways to use the Internet.

* Permission e-Marketing. You develop long-term relationships with key stakeholders by meeting their needs. This works for no-see physicians, key opinion leaders (KOLs), payors, and advocacy groups. The trick is to provide added value with every interaction. Hard sell is verboten – that is not the brand experience that these important audiences want.

* Web-based market research. With a database of physicians across Canada (both family physicians and specialists), we have conducted several assessments of creative using this medium. Where else can you get responses from 200 physicians in 48 hours at a fraction of the cost of focus groups?

* Patient compliance. The Internet allows us to access and interact with patients in real time. We can send helpful information not only on a drug but also on a patient’s condition. In many categories, this can include lifestyle tips along with a prescription refill reminder.

* Continuing health education. Rubber chicken anyone? Physicians tell us they are tired of going to company-sponsored marketing sessions. They prefer logging on to a Webcast at their convenience from the comfort of their home. Virtual advisory boards are also becoming the norm with many companies.

Other Internet applications that hold promise include e-Detailing (electronic communication between a sales rep and physician), especially with no-see physicians. A program recently conducted in the U.S. showed excellent ROI and turned many into ‘see physicians.’

As well, the use of personal data assistants (such as the Palm line) will continue to grow – especially among younger physicians – and they can now e-mail prescription instructions as well as access drug information and treatment guidelines with a hand-held device.

Some physicians in Canada have even started communicating with their patients via e-mail. Prescription refills and simple, non-life-threatening diagnoses are being made via the Internet – for an annual fee. These ‘electronic pathways’ are all opportunities for getting your message out.

What of the future?

Imagine a world that is increasingly interactive. There was a time when we used to line up in banks to look after our money. How long can it be before the early adopters among us will balk at wasting time waiting in a doctor’s office – and will want a ‘virtual visit’?

Imagine a world where a company’s interaction with the hard-pressed physician, using all the tools of technology, adds so much value that they are contacting us, rather than the other way around.

Imagine a time when a drug will be launched to doctors entirely over the Internet. Perhaps not yet, but when the time comes we can use the experience of our Euro RSCG partners in New York, who launched the latest line of Volvos this way.

This is the new total brand experience, and the future of pharmaceutical marketing lies in our ability to create it.

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Mehbs Remtulla is chairman and CEO of Euro RSCG Healthcare (Canada) with agencies in Toronto and Montreal. He can be reached at: mremtulla@remtullaeurorscg.com.