Hey, pharma: Data's more than a 'defense mechanism,' ad executive says

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Data is a powerful tool for pharma marketers, but one ad agency data chief says they could be more effective by using it earlier and more strategically. (Getty Images Plus)

Data is here to stay in pharma marketing. However, while most pharma companies have begun to use data to make marketing decisions, one healthcare agency data veteran sees a recurring problem in the way that data is typically utilized.

Pharma marketers too often only use data after the fact, said Kevin Troyanos, senior VP of analytics at Saatchi & Saatchi Wellness. While post-campaign ROI analysis is important to find out what worked and what didn’t for the next effort, it can also lead to confirmation bias.

That’s when data is used to validate the HiPPO—Highest Paid Person’s Opinion—a term coined by a Google digital marketing executive. True data-driven companies use information dynamically to inform decisions, identify what works and what doesn’t work and to make changes on the fly, Troyanos said.

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“Pharma typically puts a lot of research into one tactic, one channel or one creative and are almost locked in to it. What happens then is that teams are leveraging data in a defensive way, essentially using it to say that the decision they made was the right one and this is why,” he said. “Pharma needs to begin to use data as a driver, not as a defense mechanism.”

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Troyanos advocates moving data earlier into the process and adopting a more “fearless” attitude. Accept that some decisions won’t work, tinker with many different approaches and learn from mistakes.

Another way pharma and healthcare companies can use data more effectively is to use it in a more timely fashion. Instead of running ROI months after a campaign ends, use collected data during the campaign to make midstream tweaks to media or creative plans. As he noted, that’s standard operating procedure in marketing in other industries, but pharma companies are mostly still working toward that goal.

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And don’t forget predictive analytics and machine learning, Troyanos said. Instead of just using data to inform a creative execution or media plan, pharma can use sophisticated technology to predict, for instance, which specific doctors are likely to be earlier adopters of a new drug and spend media dollars accordingly.

“The sooner brands move from using data as a means to justify past actions to using data as a mechanism of organizational transformation, the sooner they will experience the benefits of truly data-driven decision-making,” he said.