Pharma digital marketing: Will it scale?

Digital marketing isn’t innovation anymore.

The piloting of digital tools in pharma marketing, operations and R&D has been pervasive. But full implementation of digital in pharma marketing hasn’t happened yet.

A simple review of sales and marketing budgets tells the story. Digital marketing investments have remained modest. Only a third of pharma marketers spend more than 20% of their budget on digital. Most of that is on brand promotional emails.

Meanwhile, budgets for the field sales force or direct-to-consumer advertising remain strong.

The bottom line?

The bottom line is that digital won’t become core to the healthcare professional marketing mix until it impacts revenue. And in a meaningful way.

Three major changes

Three major changes will need to happen before senior leadership will over-weight digital in the sales and marketing mix. These changes may be difficult, but they are all necessary.

1. Will it scale?

Sales rep access continues to decline and TV drug advertising remains controversial. Yet both channels still command the largest part of a typical brand’s promotional budget. This has less to do with leadership’s enthusiasm for these channels and more to do with lack of confidence in digital marketing’s ability to perform as well at scale.

The simple ROI of digital marketing has been proven. What hasn’t been tested is whether digital can scale to the level of significant revenue contribution. Achieving a 3:1 return on a $2M HCP digital spend sounds good. But what do we offer an executive needing to move five points of market share on a $500M product?

If non-personal promotion could scale to a $20M spend and deliver that same 3:1 return or more return to the top line, we would have someone’s attention…

Digital marketing can scale, but it needs an analytical foundation to prove it. Only when we can offer real-time analysis on revenue impact will we be able to build the business case.

We must be able to credibly deliver multi-channel analytics before executives will take a bigger gamble on digital.

In short, analytics must move from simple reporting to decision support.

2. Purpose-driven data

This shift in the use of analytics is towards what McKinsey recently called “purpose-driven” data. Digital tools enable the processing of volumes of data, but rarely do they answer the right questions.

Data analytics should serve to answer executive and operational questions. It’s not enough to sort through a consolidated database, trolling for insights. Even less helpful is a report on clicks and impressions. The place to start is by asking specific business questions and defining operational KPIs.

Operational KPIs will include engagement metrics of physicians by channel, message and prescribing intent. Business questions include multi-channel ROI analysis. Experimentation and testing will be structured and tracked. Purpose-driven data will drive decisions, not speculation.

The foundation for purpose-driven data is a normalized multi-channel database. But this requires yet another change. Most pharma companies still work within the constraints of independent and siloed databases and simple tactical reporting.

If the digital platform is to be effective, it must capture and report data on every sales and marketing tactic. This requires investments in both technology investment and change management.

3. Senior executive leadership

Using real-time marketing data analytics to power operational decision making is the goal. But this can feel radical within the normal bureaucracy of pharma. It involves a deep level of transparency and collaboration.

Once you start dealing with multi-channel data, you get access to metrics on promotional performance, customer behavior and vendor productivity that you’ve never had before. Pharma marketers need to become comfortable with that level of transparency.

And this is why executive leadership is so important to making this business shift. Historically pharma has done quite well with a traditional manufacturing sales model. This can lead to marketing myopia. But now, business models are being challenged and outcomes are counted in different ways. Pharma and healthcare are being forced to think differently.

It will take leadership to give marketers and the company the cultural permission to think and act differently.

It Can and Should Scale

Three major changes will prepare pharma to scale digital marketing:

  • Multi-channel analytics to provide decision support
  • A structured database approach to purpose-driven data that answers core business questions
  • An executive-level mandate to implement change management and support appropriate budget levels.

Digital marketing at scale has become normative in most other industries. It’s time for pharma leadership to move beyond incremental spend and move down the path of true digital implementation.


Related Thinking

Pharma Marketing: What’s the difference between Customer Insight and Customer Intelligence?


Related Offering

HCP Digital Playbook


David Ormesher, CEO

Founder and CEO of closerlook, a recognized leader in creating innovative relationship marketing solutions that help pharmaceutical companies get closer to their most important customers. Learn more about closerlook here.


Tags: data, innovation, insight

See all articles

The drugs, Optistavin, Easovartis and Librylin, and names, results, case studies and specific information, referenced in this advertisement are fictional and were created solely for illustrating the digital marketing capabilities of closerlook, inc. Any resemblance to actual drugs, medications, treatments, persons, living or dead, or to actual events, is purely coincidental. closerlook, inc. does not assume and hereby disclaims any liability to any party for any loss, damage or disruption caused by such party’s reliance on the fictitious information contained in this illustration.

Let’s talk about what matters most.

Contact us