How pharma firms can tread the digital path to build brand preference
While stringent healthcare industry regulations and compliance issues present a significant branding challenge for the sector, in today’s digital era, pharmaceutical companies cannot afford to not leverage and tap into this ever-evolving space.
Even as most brands across sectors have been scrambling to create a lasting digital presence over the past decade or so, pharmaceutical companies have been, in this space, conspicuous only by their absence. While stringent healthcare industry regulations and compliance issues present a significant branding challenge for the sector, in today’s digital era, pharmaceutical companies cannot afford to not leverage and tap into this ever-evolving space.
Go where the consumers are
The erstwhile ‘patient’ is now the consumer with easy access to information and the ability to make well-informed decisions – and to effectively reach and engage with this new class of consumer, who spends most of her time online, the medical community must explore digital marketing and make strategic patient-centric decisions.
There is much to learn from online consumer behaviour data around healthcare – and this doesn’t end with medicines. Online search plays a big role in the entire patient journey – from searching for symptoms and researching medicines to making hospital appointments. Up to 84 percent of patients, for example, use both online and offline sources for hospital research. Search is an indispensable part in the tech-savvy patient’s research process, and the task for pharmaceutical companies is to understand what influences preference for medicines, hospitals, treatment plans, etc. in the patient’s medical journey. While healthcare providers like doctors were the only points of contact for patients in the past, due to the transformation brought about by the digital era, pharmaceutical companies now have the opportunity to directly engage with patients – this not only has the potential to increase awareness but also build trust with transparency.
There are several ways in which pharmaceutical brands can reach out to patients, potential patients as well as their caretakers.
Direct consumers: While most OTC medicines can and are easily advertised to patients, brands need to go that extra mile to build preference. Engaging with consumers on a deeper level by actively demonstrating an interest in their wellness can go a long way in developing a meaningful relationship with them. This can be done by having conversations with them on the digital platforms where they spend their time online.
Indirect consumers: In addition to reaching out to direct consumers, pharmaceutical brands also have the challenge of speaking with patients who are not decision-makers about their health – infants, incapacitated patients, the elderly. In this instance, the caretakers become consumers. Mothers, for example, are the best decision-makers for infants, and can be reached via communities they frequently engage with – bloggers who create content about parenting and lifestyle, for example. Connecting with them via content they consume on a regular basis will help create mind share among primary caretakers.
Long-term consumers: Patients with chronic illnesses usually look to pharmaceutical companies to provide them with solutions that can help reduce their dependence on medication. To build a relationship with this set of patients, brands need to speak to their primary goal – improving their quality of life and effectively managing their long-term illnesses. Starting online support groups, creating educational and informative videos are just some ways brands can help these consumers.
Engage more with the medical community
In order to scale up their consumer business, pharmaceutical brands will also need to work more closely with medical practitioners.
Language + platform: Brands will need to take a holistic approach where they speak to doctors, hospital management, MRs in their language and on the digital platform they most engage with professionally. Professional platforms like LinkedIn and other forums especially dedicated to the medical community can be leveraged to start and sustain conversations with this community – these conversations have the potential to create a direct positive impact on patient preference for a particular brand/company.
Thought leadership: The communication needs to go beyond illnesses and medicines – there is huge potential for pharmaceutical companies to establish themselves as thought leaders in the wellness and lifestyle space. Communication around diabetes need not necessarily be about the types of diabetes, symptoms and their treatment plans; instead, it would be more insightful to talk about things like how Type 2 Diabetes, for instance, can be prevented, what’s being done globally to meet the shortage of insulin, etc. This gives the company a chance to be seen as a brand that goes beyond the pill, fully immersing themselves in the diabetes journey.
Digital marketing will be the next frontier for transformation in the pharmaceutical industry and leveraging the myriad opportunities the digital landscape presents will pave the path for innovation, continued success and mindshare among all stakeholders.
Sanjay Mehta is Jt. CEO at Mirum Digital.