PharmExec Blog

Pharma Failing to eMarket Effectively

Pharma must overcome its social media phobia and embrace new technology if it wants to keep the audience that matters most, writes Lauren Procter of L2 Think Tank.

Consumers and healthcare practitioners have come to rely on digital platforms for medical advice, but as Google trumps nurses, pharmacists, and friends and family as the second most frequently named influencer of health decisions,* pharmaceutical companies are disproportionately silent in the digital space.

Many fear the wrath of ambiguous regulatory policies, but brands without a digital presence stand to lose their grip on the audiences that matter most.  Although 89 percent of internet users have looked for health information online, pharmaceutical marketers have largely ignored the digital habits of consumers and healthcare practitioners.

To quantify this discrepancy, L2 Think Tank founder Scott Galloway, has devised an annual Digital IQ Index for pharmaceutical brands. As the first study of its kind, the index ranks the digital acumen of dozens of pharmaceutical brands across site, social, search, and digital.

“The industry as a whole disappoints,” Galloway says, “as most brands offer obsolete technology, anemic content and scant social media programs.”  According to statistics from the first and second annual studies,** only 19 percent of pharmaceutical brands maintain a presence on at least one social media platform and less than one quarter of brands advertise on highly trafficked physician portal sites like Medscape, MDLinx, and The New England Journal of Medicine.

In response to the quality gap, users have voted with their browsers. Brands categorized as genius in the consumer study saw an average one year traffic growth of 175 percent while 40 percent of brands in the Digital IQ Index saw a decrease in website traffic.***

Although many brands are starting to catch onto direct-to-consumer marketing tactics, strategy for reaching healthcare practitioners online still eludes most pharmaceutical marketers.  31 percent of brands in the direct-to-consumer study earned Challenged or Feeble Digital IQs, but more than 60 percent of brands’ HCP efforts led to Challenged or Feeble status.****

Most brands are not purchasing HCP-targeted search terms, deploying email marketing programs, or investing in mobile or display advertising on physican portal sites.  This represents significant low-hanging fruit in the industry, but also huge potential losses amongst some of the industries most coveted influencers.

Fear of regulators may leave most brands silent and stifled, but the cost of not participating in the digital revolution will only increase over time.  Facebook ads alone have experienced a 45 percent year over year growth***** and the investment required to capture the attention of healthcare practitioners and consumers stands to rise.

As the digital revolution takes hold, pharmaceutical companies must find a way to follow in the footsteps of Genius brands like Pfizer, AstraZeneca for direct to consumer digital marketing, and Johnson & Johnson’s Concerta in their efforts to reach healthcare practitioners online.

For more information and tangible flashes of genius in the industry, download the Digital IQ Indices from

Lauren Procter

*         Capastrat & Public Policy Polling, April 2010
**       L2 Digital IQ Index: Pharma 2010, L2 Digital IQ Index: Pharma 2011
***     L2 Digital IQ Index: Pharma 2010
****   L2 Digital IQ Index: Pharma 2011
***** “Facebook Ad Prices Soar More Than 74 Percent”, Financial Times, July 2011Pharma

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  1. Joe Schrei
    Posted September 1, 2011 at 8:26 am | Permalink

    Although I see the logic in your article, it lacks reality! Yes consumers are more techno. savvy and obtain much of there medical information on the web. Yet because of legal and regulatory challenges, the pharma industry plays under a different set of rules. Any blog, facebook or twitter discussion regarding a branded pharma product becomes discoverable in a court of law. Drug companies have no ability to manage consumer discussions which ultimately have the potential to put them in harms way! Our legal system has created an in balance in the risk reward dynamic. Until some degree of safe guards are put into place, drug companies will be forced to market their brands in a much more sterile environment!

    So identifying the obvious in this case is less effective than prescribing some solutions! Look forward to your next article.

  2. Posted September 1, 2011 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

    Hi all,
    I’ve read of recent studies that have found that as little as less than 2% of all comments on drug pages actually warrant classification as adverse events in need of reporting. For one thing, the adverse event needs to be reported by an identifiable person so internet handles or pseudonyms would not apply. That probably eliminates a whole host of potential AE reports. It certainly helps eliminate the possibility of having to report posts from internet “trolls” or those simply out to sabotage a Pharma companies efforts.

    Here is the FDA’s guidelines on AE reports.


    Jason Boies
    Radian6 Community Team

  3. Posted September 1, 2011 at 12:59 pm | Permalink


    I should point out that I’m sure you’ve seen the FDA guidelines. :)

    That link was for the blog’s reader’s benefit.



  4. Posted September 11, 2011 at 1:30 am | Permalink

    Sites with incorrect information can rank high in Google based on search engine optimization techniques.. This may be responsible for spreading bad info that can hurt people to the masses..

    A ad portrayed the wrong way can lead to disciplinary action due to “mis-branding.” Many pharma companies are probably awaiting a FDA guidance on Internet (Marketing) that is due to come out in the near future.

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