Digital Marketing for Pharma: Just Do It

File under: Global Pharma Marketing, Multi-Channel Marketing, Pharma innovation, Relationship Marketing

I don’t want to be overly skeptical about the role of innovation in pharma, particularly in the digital marketing space. But a couple of experiences in the last few weeks have led me to wonder whether, a few outstanding individuals and companies notwithstanding, most of pharma will never really build that capability in-house.

Increasingly, what I’m hearing from pharma is, “I just need someone to do it for me.”

bell curve 3aA simple bell curve helps to paint the picture.

Where do you fall on the curve?
On the left hand side of the curve is a very small minority of digitally savvy marketers who know what they’re doing. That’s labeled, “I’ll do it.” The big hump of the curve, where most pharma marketers are, is labeled, “You do it.” At the trailing end of the curve is the “Do what?” segment, the laggards – those who haven’t even figured out the impact of digital marketing. They’ve heard about it, maybe they’ve done a couple of one-off projects, but they still don’t recognize that digital needs to be core to their strategy.

Most of the digital pharma marketing conferences and trade magazines champion those on the left hand side of the bell curve – the minority of marketers who get digital and are willing to experiment and try things. They have been given a budget to prove out digital – senior management has given them some rope to see if they will either make something happen or hang themselves.

But most pharma marketing leadership is beginning to sense that they can’t really do it themselves. Digital is moving so fast that it’s hard to get and then keep expertise. Once a company builds a digital center of excellence in-house, an agency or consulting firm comes along and poaches the best people. No surprise there: most digital elite are more comfortable in an agency work environment that’s more nimble, innovative and creative than most pharma headquarters.

What pharma is telling us
While many of us in the agency and consulting world assumed we were going to help our clients build digital expertise internally to make them smarter marketers, we’re actually beginning to hear the smart ones say this:

“You know what? I know enough to be dangerous. So here’s what I need from you, digital agency.

“First, I need you to invest upfront in the capabilities and tools you need to be experts. Secondly, you need to get it right. Don’t  experiment on me, but figure it out, and have a platform or a set of tools you can show me. Convince me that you know what you’re doing and that you’ll be able to target and influence the right customers.

“And finally, I want you to manage it all for me. I don’t need more data. I don’t need lots of web analytics and transactional records flowing into my own customer databases. I need you to prove to me that the data exists. I need to know that you know what you’re doing.

“But at the end of the day, I need you to develop the services to be able to automate this for me. Because I’ve got a lot of other stuff going on – I’ve got budgets to manage and senior management to keep happy. I don’t have the budgets to hire the kind of full-time employees I need. So, give me a link to a full analytics dashboard. Better yet, push me PPT-ready graphs and trend lines that I can drop into a report. We will start by sitting down and setting goals. But then you just need to do it for me.”

Am I wrong?

A new model of partnership
This is what I’m beginning to hear, see and sense from pharma marketing teams – they need a different model for their agency partnerships. They need their agency partners to not only be good brand stewards, but good operators. They don’t need just another software application or platform they can run internally. They need someone to help them actually manage the multi-channel programs on their behalf.

If they can find the right partner, pharma is really hoping to outsource its digital marketing campaigns and strategies. Spending for digital marketing is on the rise, but it won’t last forever if it doesn’t show an outsized return. Just like outcomes measurements are coming to healthcare on the provider side, marketing outcomes are going to come to the agency and digital worlds. As marketing agents, we’re going to have to be able to prove that the money clients are spending on digital advertising, digital marketing and CRM is actually having an impact.

What it will take to win
The mandate for those of us who who are here to support pharma is to invest upfront to build the right kinds of tools and platforms for our clients. We need to get it right. We need to bring a rich depth of digital experience so we can advise with confidence. And then we need to be willing to do it for pharma, even if that means going at risk sometimes.

We need to be willing to step into the fray with pharma on a daily basis to help them win.

We need to be ready to say, “we’ll do it.”

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