Good news, reps: Docs still prefer traditional marketing to digital when writing Rx

Christopher Wooden

In the land of pharma marketing, the shot heard round the world sounds more like a door slamming in reps' faces. Digital media is said to be taking the place of face-to-face meetings with doctors, and restrictive access policies certainly put a damper on the marketing party.

But the much ado about digital doesn't mean there's little hope for reps. Nor does it mean that digital pharma marketing is fully functional. A new study shows that doctors still prefer traditional forms of communication to digital when deciding which drugs to prescribe.

Cegedim Strategic Data looked at how doctors in 13 countries--including the U.S., Japan, Brazil, Russia, China and Canada--prescribed meds, and found that all doctors preferred some mix of digital and traditional marketing. The U.S. had a 24% rate of digital interactions, while Japan boasted 34% digital contact including webinars or e-mails. Countries such as France, Canada, Spain and Germany trailed the list, with Germany citing just a 5% rate of digital interactions.

For physicians who did prefer digital to traditional marketing, a large portion mentioned email as the most common mode of communication, Christopher Wooden, Cegedim's vice president of Global Promotion Audits, told FiercePharmaMarketing. A streamlined, easy-to-use interface could help marketers reach more doctors before they write prescriptions.

"Doctors are just like you and me. They are going to be receptive to digital channels if it's easy," Wooden said. "It has to bring them what they need to know, when they need to know it in a form that they're comfortable with. They have to be confident in the interaction."

Doctors aren't the only ones adjusting to digital marketing changes; the pharma industry is still warming up to new technology and finding the best ways to reach doctors before they write scripts. Techniques such as automated detailing--or providing information to docs without reps--and video streaming are becoming more commonplace as companies try appeal to doctors and control their marketing costs.

"The industry is at a moment of trial and error," Wooden told FiercePharmaMarketing. "There is no one standard that is working for everyone perfectly. It will be several years before something like Webex or Skype rises to the top of the pack."

In the meantime, pharma reps will continue to play an integral role in marketing to doctors, Wooden added. More docs are watching YouTube videos or using new technology to learn more about branded meds, but hearing from a rep could influence a doctor's prescription choices. Wooden mentioned the example of a consumer checking for an item on sale on Amazon. A user can look at the prices themselves, but interaction with a knowledgeable rep may have swayed the person's initial decision.

"Doctors are extremely busy and some of them wouldn't care if they never see a pharma rep again. But there's a reasonable proportion of them that don't want to lose touch entirely with the industry on a personal basis and believe that the interaction is necessary," Wooden said. "The personal and the individual relationship is an essential part of the whole, multichannel environment that the industry is trying to develop and leverage."

- read the Cegedim release (PDF)

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