Pharma digital marketing is on the cusp: What's next?

Big Pharma is at a crossroads. Should companies take the full-fledged digital path traveled by other industries? Or continue as-is? Or simply stall there, waiting?

The latter isn't really an option anymore, McKinsey & Co. figures. "Pharma marketers need to recognize that conversations about drugs are happening every day," said Brian Fox, a McKinsey senior partner in the healthcare division. "They need to choose if they want to be part of the conversations, decide will doing so help or hurt them and figure out if they do, can they add value to the conversation."

While the general answer should be "yes" for most pharma companies, it's not that simple. Cookie-cutter strategies won't work, different specialties and therapeutic areas require different tactics.

Still, Fox said McKinsey's experience with other industries leads them to believe that pharma is on the verge of what's already happened in retail, insurance and travel, for instance.

So what's been holding pharma back? Organizational structures or digital capabilities are often blamed, but Fox said the bigger issue is usually philosophical. A company has to commit to real interaction--listening and responding, contributing valuable content, and offering value to people using the information--or else they might as well go back to the traditional "push" method of communicating mostly by broadcasting messages, he said.

A recent McKinsey perspective "The Road to Digital Success in Pharma," outlined four opportunities for pharma companies, including the omnichannel communications Fox is referring to, as well as personalized care, real-time responsiveness and data-driven insights.

Data and analytics are a key area where pharma marketers have lagged when it comes to digital adoption. But it's not the tools that are the problem, as Fox noted many pharma agencies are well-versed in how to use them, but rather it's the pharma decision in choosing a strategy. Strategy that can get hung up on fear sometimes.

"It's important to distinguish between the objective of a marketing strategy and the execution of a marketing strategy. Too often the confines of the execution bleed back into the objective," Fox said. "No one is naïve to the challenges of execution … but the best pharma marketers can still achieve full impact with their marketing strategy despite the confines."

- read the McKinsey article

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