Bonin Bough, global director of digital and social media at PepsiCo and now one of the members of Pozen’s revolutionary Digital Advisory Board (DAB), has heard it often from a variety of people: they have better Internet browser versions at home than they do at work.
“That’s crazy,” says Mr. Bough. “You’re going to see more and more companies move to put digital efforts forth. Now, it’s a world of two-way engagement; it’s a world of consumer engagement overall.”
After all, how does a company expect to reach out to consumers when it doesn’t even have technology that is compatible for their use? Despite being the most heavily regulated industry, pharmaceuticals are not exempt from the need to change their current advertising and marketing practices, which includes improving their digital efforts. Gone are the days where television advertisements or ads in print publications will suffice.
“One of the biggest lessons that can be learned from other industries is you have to go where your consumer is, and you have to change your business model to match that,” says Mr. Bough. “We are rapidly becoming a 100 percent digital society.”
In fact, pharmaceutical companies, many of which have only viewed digital communication as an “add-on” and not as central to their marketing and advertising campaigns, are going to have to redefine their efforts if they do not want to be left behind. At least that is what the members of Pozen’s Digital Advisory Board discussed during a roundtable discussion with the media on September 16.
Pozen established the Digital Advisory Board to help progress the company’s vision for revolutionizing its traditional pharmaceutical commercial model as it plans to launch its new products. The new model will be at core of the company’s efforts, and consumer engagement, Pozen’s DAB members agree, is of utmost importance.
Meredith Ressi, president at Manhattan Research and another member of the advisory board, noted that there have been 25 percent fewer drug launches over the past decade. In addition, she says, physicians are now crunched for time, and they can no longer fit meetings with sales representatives into their busy days.
Reaching consumers in the platforms they use, abandoning the one-way messaging model to patients, and instead, moving from a patient-centric model to more of a consumer-centric model – one that also views physicians as consumers – will be crucial.
“It’s about jumping in and really listening to what consumers are saying,” says Raj Amin, CEO and co-founder, HealthiNation, who is also a member of the board.
According to Mark Monseau, the founder and principal at MDM Communications, and former director of corporate communication, social media at Johnson & Johnson, the digital landscape is enabling individuals, whether patients or physicians, to redefine relationships: they are able to self-publish and connect with like-minded individuals. They are also becoming more empowered to make their own decisions. Unfortunately, the traditional pharma model is not consumer-centric, but rather very formal.
That is why a cultural shift within the companies is needed, says Dr. Dan Palestrant, M.D., CEO and founder of Sermo, and another member of Pozen’s DAB. At the end of the day, the biggest hurdle for companies, he says, may not be to determine the appropriate platform – rather, it’s being able to decide the right resources internally. This may require reallocating resources away from existing strategies and dedicating them to one that focuses on a core digital program.
Ineffective organizations, Mr. Bough says, are those that look at digital marking as an “add-on” to traditional strategies. The key, adds Mr. Amin, is to develop a holistic strategy to focus on creating a relationship between the physician groups and the consumer groups.
Dr. Palestrant says pharmaceutical companies also need to realize that controlling the message, including the conversation taking place between the physician and consumer, is no longer possible. Pharmaceuticals need to find ways to become a part of that conversation. He says he was approached by a person he calls an “e-patient advocate.” The woman, who maintained a blog about diabetes, had more than 20,000 people reading her posts each week. Despite the fact that she had this level of readership, the industry was not involved, Dr. Palestrant says.
“Her concern was there is a lot of information that is incorrect or lacking detail, and people were crying out for accurate information in a timely way presented in a format” that they could access, Dr. Palestrant says. “The way to go about doing that is to start figuring out ways to understand that ecosystem and have the structures in place to be able to inject yourself in an appropriate way in the manner in which people are looking for it.”
What’s worse is this: “It will become negligible for companies not to listen to what’s being said in the digital space,” Mr. Bough adds.
Recent efforts by pharmaceutical companies to move into the digital world need improvement, primarily in the realm of building communities. Dr. Palestrant says product portals set up by these companies have been a “100 percent failure. I have yet to see one that actually succeeds.” Rather, if a physician wants to find information, the place he or she is one that is run by the pharmaceutical company.
Ms. Ressi says that while physicians do visit product websites, there will need to be a more distributed model. Companies will need to ask, “How do you be where physicians are?”
Other questions companies can ask: How are they changing their organizations? How are they changing their strategic plans? Is the agency record still focused on traditional approaches only?
“The message is critical in this environment,” Mr. Amin says. Providing real-time information back to consumers when they need it and in the platform by which they can access it is the way to go.
Pozen plans to share the company’s plans for the digital model with other pharmaceutical companies as the company moves forward.
Stay tuned for links to recorded tidbits from the roundtable discussion.