Ten Digital Marketing Ideas Pharma Companies Will Never Try (But Should)

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I figure this post is the one that’ll get the most comments ever. It’s going to be the one that probably outrages you the most or makes you think that I’ve completely lost it (which perhaps I have). Here’s why I’m writing this. I’ve gotten really tired of all the discussion about social media in pharma and healthcare. I’ve grown bored with all the debates on why these industries should use social media. This despite the fact that I find myself writing and talking about it all the time. So, in an effort to move the debate along to something different, I decided to come up with a list of ten other digital marketing initiatives that pharma companies could try that make basic social media programs look like child’s play. I’m fairly sure that no company is ready to take these on, but they should start getting ready. Some of these just might be the next big marketing channel or idea that’ll vault some company ahead of everyone else. And I almost forgot, it’s what your customers are demanding.

Before I begin, know that I understand the regulatory realities of pharma and healthcare marketing. I lived them for 12 years. So, I’m not suggesting anyone run out and do exactly what I spell out here. I know it’s not that simple. However, I offer these to help stretch your thinking and to challenge you to figure out a way to do something that preserves the spirit of the ideas here, but doesn’t get you fired. If you need help, just give us a call. So, here they are, in no particular order.

Ten Digital Marketing Ideas Pharma Companies Will Never Try (But Should)


1. Create a game for the Wii Fit that helps your patients manage their disease and begin a proper exercise and fitness regimenI just wrote about this. More details on why this is a good idea in my post.
2. Get rid of your brand website. No one is really visiting your site anyway. It’s likely not driving anyone to get a prescription and it’s almost certainly not getting anyone to stay on your treatment. Instead, take all the money you were going to spend on your site and create great content that you syndicate out to credible third-party sites. The information can include branded and unbranded information, but it would now be located where patients (and doctors) are likely to find it and pay attention. It’ll be on the health sites they trust at a time when they’re researching their condition.
3. Add ratings and reviews to your brand site. Don’t want to get rid of your website? Okay, how about adding ratings and reviews to your site. Every other industry has realized that this is critical to building trust with visitors because it shows authenticity. It turns out  that simply having reviews can increase traffic, conversion rate, and average order value (see more detail here). In addition, negative reviews aren’t an issue so long as there aren’t only negative reviews.  Your products are already being reviewed on sites like iGuard, so why not bring this onto your site and build some credibility with your patients?
4. Install Google Friend Connect. Wonder who your real friends are? Install this tool and see. Visitors can join your site, which in turn adds your site to their Google profile as one of their “friend” sites. They can comment on the site and quickly and easily share your site with friends. A simple way to add a little social media to your site without going too far. Not sure what Friend Connect is? Here’s the video from Google explaining it.

5. Allow patients to share their history with Google Health (or Microsoft HealthVault). Yes, more Google. I’m sure you know about Google Health, but did you know that you can become a partner and allow patients to export their prescription history directly from your site into their Google Health record? Why not make it easy for your patients? Oh, what’s that you say, you don’t let people track their prescription history and symptom improvement on your site? Hmmm. Nevermind this one.
6. Add features to your site that allow patients to track their condition and compare with others. If number 5 didn’t appeal because you don’t have any tracking functionality on your site, here’s your chance. The best in class healthcare sites feature tools to help people manage their disease. The best of the best (in my opinion) is Patients Like Me. They feature an array of tools that let you track your progress, medications taken, and side effects. What’s even more important is that you can compare yourself to others to see if you are doing better or worse and see which treatments seem to be working best for the community. You’ve got to give people a reason to come to your site and you do this by adding value beyond your product messages.
7. Hire five “community managers” to help fix your online reputation. Let’s be honest, no brand manager has time to monitor what’s going on online with their brand. They can’t keep track of everything that’s happening and everything people are saying (or can they?). Nevermind the monitoring, how about actually responding to some of the comments? What about correcting the blatantly inaccurate information? It’s certainly your right to do this, but corporate policies make this impossible. How about hiring someone (or a few someones) who are empowered to go online, search out this misinformation and correct it? They also can engage in discussions and help improve people’s overall perception of you. You can give them a set (approved) script of things they can and can’t say to guide where they get involved if you’re really worried about the legal implications.
8. Create a portal allowing physicians to get every piece of clinical information related to your product and its indication in one place. Now, wouldn’t that be useful? More and more doctors are using the Internet to research conditions and medical challenges (no duh?!?), but it’s still pretty hard to find everything you need and it involves a lot of fishing around. Sites like PubMed don’t offer a great search interface (just compare it to Google) making it hard to find what you need. How about instead automating some searches and adding a feed on your physician brand site that allows them to see the absolute latest clinical data about your disease state? Technically-speaking this is a pretty simple exercise, but will your regulatory team allow it?
9. Kick people out of your CRM program. While that might sound a bit Machiavellian on the surface, it’s for everyone’s benefit. Consider that your program probably has thousands of people in it that will never change their behavior, try their product, or be persistent with it. They just won’t respond to your program. Don’t feel bad, they probably wouldn’t respond to anything. The problem with allowing these people to enter and stay in your program is that in order to allow this you have to take money and resources from those who actually would benefit from something. If you only allow access to those you know you can help, then you can concentrate more resources on them, which will allow you to create more robust support systems and programs. You don’t have to completely forget the others if it makes you feel better, but you have to send them a very “lite” version of your program so you can focus where you’re going to make an impact. Don’t think it’s possible to figure out which people you can and need to help? Merck does. They created “‘The Adherence Estimator,’ an elegantly researched tool for predicting which patients will display poor compliance—by focusing on just three core issues: commitment to treatment, concerns over therapy, and cost (source here).” Now, that’s handy.
10. Implement OpenID on your website wherever you require registration. Don’t know what OpenID is? You will. It continues to grow as people have grown tired of having a different user name and password on hundreds of different sites. Instead, they can now have a single, validated user name and password that gets them onto any site that supports OpenID. Why should you care about this as a pharma company? Simple. Remember that most people don’t really trust you that much. Giving visitors a way to engage with you that doesn’t immediately require them to give you personal information (yes, an email address counts as personal) probably will increase the chances that they actually do engage with you. As you build trust over time and they realize that what you are providing is valuable, then they’ll start to volunteer more personal information in order to get even more useful content or tools from you.

So, who’s going to be first to implement any one of these? If you know of a pharma or healthcare company that’s doing any of these, I’d love to hear about it. Also, if there’s anything I missed, feel free to leave a comment.

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16 Responses to “Ten Digital Marketing Ideas Pharma Companies Will Never Try (But Should)”

  1. Fard June 4, 2009 at 3:55 pm #

    Jonathan:

    Thanks for starting this conversation. However, I think this list should focus on other, bigger, issues. See my post here: http://www.healthcarevox.com/2009/06/a_counterproposal_four_digital.html.

    • Jonathan Richman June 4, 2009 at 6:30 pm #

      Fard, Thanks for the comment and nice post (as usual) on your blog. For the record, my post wasn’t meant to be a larger strategic discussion, but rather just to provide some other things for people to think about. Agree that tactics (which this post focuses on) have to follow solid strategies.

  2. Fard June 4, 2009 at 11:55 am #

    Jonathan:

    Thanks for starting this conversation. However, I think this list should focus on other, bigger, issues. See my post here: http://www.healthcarevox.com/2009/06/a_counterproposal_four_digital.html.

    • Jonathan Richman June 4, 2009 at 2:30 pm #

      Fard, Thanks for the comment and nice post (as usual) on your blog. For the record, my post wasn’t meant to be a larger strategic discussion, but rather just to provide some other things for people to think about. Agree that tactics (which this post focuses on) have to follow solid strategies.

  3. Andrew Spong June 4, 2009 at 4:23 pm #

    That is one great post.

    Andrew Spong’s last blog post..Batten down the hatches

  4. Andrew Spong June 4, 2009 at 12:23 pm #

    That is one great post.

    Andrew Spong’s last blog post..Batten down the hatches

  5. Fard June 4, 2009 at 7:49 pm #

    Jonathan:

    Thanks for the clarification. Thanks also for starting the conversation, which is one we need to have (from the tactical and strategic side). :) .

    Fard

    Fard’s last blog post..A Counterproposal: Four Digital Activities Pharma Companies MUST Engage In Now Or Next Year

  6. Fard June 4, 2009 at 3:49 pm #

    Jonathan:

    Thanks for the clarification. Thanks also for starting the conversation, which is one we need to have (from the tactical and strategic side). :) .

    Fard

    Fard’s last blog post..A Counterproposal: Four Digital Activities Pharma Companies MUST Engage In Now Or Next Year

  7. John Mack June 5, 2009 at 12:42 pm #

    Jonathan,

    Some great ideas!

    May I suggest a “threesome” with Fard Johnmar?

    See: Let’s Make it a Threesome: One Other Social Media Activity Pharma Can Do Now! http://tinyurl.com/qpkt9f

    John Mack’s last blog post..Let’s Make it a Threesome: One Other Social Media Activity Pharma Can Do Now!

    • Jonathan Richman June 5, 2009 at 6:08 pm #

      Where to begin with a reply to this one? Where to begin?

  8. John Mack June 5, 2009 at 8:42 am #

    Jonathan,

    Some great ideas!

    May I suggest a “threesome” with Fard Johnmar?

    See: Let’s Make it a Threesome: One Other Social Media Activity Pharma Can Do Now! http://tinyurl.com/qpkt9f

    John Mack’s last blog post..Let’s Make it a Threesome: One Other Social Media Activity Pharma Can Do Now!

    • Jonathan Richman June 5, 2009 at 2:08 pm #

      Where to begin with a reply to this one? Where to begin?

  9. Wex October 14, 2009 at 8:22 pm #

    Great post, was actually able to cross off your #8 as I helped launch Pfizer’s pro portal, PfizerPro.com in April 2007 which offers all product indication and clinical info for professionals.

    Agree with your #2 as well – we shut down all of Pfizer’s HCP brand sites and migrated specific content to PFP. Probably saved a few hundred thousand dollars based on maintenance and filing expenditures.

  10. Wex October 14, 2009 at 4:22 pm #

    Great post, was actually able to cross off your #8 as I helped launch Pfizer’s pro portal, PfizerPro.com in April 2007 which offers all product indication and clinical info for professionals.

    Agree with your #2 as well – we shut down all of Pfizer’s HCP brand sites and migrated specific content to PFP. Probably saved a few hundred thousand dollars based on maintenance and filing expenditures.

  11. TDI India February 11, 2011 at 6:25 am #

    this is an interesting post. Enjoyed going through it.

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