PharmExec Blog

Why Don't Those Damn Marketers 'Do' Digital?

By Sven Awege.

Over the last few years I’ve worked with pharma marketers trying to preach and teach the virtues of digital channels. It has been a thankless task, with bucket loads of blood, sweat, and tears of frustration. I have used a number of different techniques, from talking about the revolution in big forums to small softly, softly‚ “express yourself” type workshops (without incense sticks or trickling water).

Once the adrenalin rush dies down I try to analyze what impact this may have had.

To be fair, some glacially slow progress has been made as the median knowledge of the industry inches forward, but it has not been the tidal wave that some had predicted, or hoped for.

Should we be surprised? Probably not.

Looking back to my earlier days as an eBusiness evangelist in the late 90s, where a solid part of our strategic recommendations included “give your employees access to email”, we spent many a night conjuring projections with terms such as “dis-intermediation” and the like.

I recently took a fresh look at some of those crazy visionary presentations, and guess what: many of them were right, but nearly all the timelines were wrong.

So what went wrong then, and is the same thing happening now?

Nothing actually went wrong, it’s just that we all got a bit carried away with the media buzz out there, and forget that the majority of world is shackled with resistance to change. Some of that change is personal, some of it is organizational, some legal etc. It simply takes a long time for these to all be aligned for things to happen.

But if you peer through the mist today you can see that there is progress, and that there is no going back. To believe that the current models will not change is simply not accepting the evidence that confronts the observer, taken the avalanche of factors currently impacting our industry.

So if we all agree that the current model is broken, and that we need to be moving somewhere else why is progress still so slow?

There are many market research papers out there identifying the blocking factors to the adoption of digital tools as part of a multi-channel approach. Here are the usual culprits:

  • Lack of senior management commitment
  • Inadequate or incomplete strategy
  • Lack of internal (and external) capabilities
  • MLR resistance to risk or change
  • Reluctance to reassign budget
  • Elusive evidence of ROI

It is all of the above, but perhaps we’ve not looked at this through the right prism.

Senior management is there to make educated decisions based on the evidence at hand. They are tasked to steer the ship safely, based on limited information and gut feeling built on decades of experience.

If we are honest with our selves, we have been pretty weak at building the case for doing some of the stuff that we’re asking our stakeholders to adopt. Yes, in individual impact studies we can demonstrate that an eDetail, or a self-directed video, has a greater impact than none, but we’re only looking at part of the equation in an artificial configuration, and not even attempting to truly understand the influence and behavioral change attributed to the information coming from different channels.

To build traction and credibility we need to develop and demonstrate deep understanding of channel impact and attribution (including the sales force).

We need to harness this as a lifestyle, living and breathing multiple channels. Knowing what each channel can bring to the table, within the specific environment of each ‘business case’ and how to mix effectively a selected number of them in a congruent manner.

The title of this post is “Why won’t those damn marketers ‘do’ digital?”

Now that you’ve read this far I would postulate a different, and more appropriate cut on this:

Stop pushing the virtues of digital. If you can demonstrate that channel X and Y , used together, will drive the best business and customer outcomes, your marketers will sit up, listen, then beg to know more! Push will become pull, and the marketers will finally skill themselves up with the tools of tomorrow.

In conclusion, we need to become masters of channel selection, capable of building quantified scenarios based on desired outcomes and limited resources. And yes, that will take real investment, but senior management should acknowledge and invest accordingly.

Sven Awege runs the Pharma Strategic blog.

This entry was posted in E-Media, Guest Blog, Sales, social media, Strategy and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Trackbacks are closed, but you can post a comment.


  1. Steven Lederman
    Posted January 23, 2013 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

    Excellent analysis. The issue should never have been around what technologies or what hardware were being used. What matters is how well you measure the results of the different channels. Success has always been shown as “more customized details” or “the ability to capture information from the physicians”. What matters, though, is how well a specific message increases brand awareness/usage and (most importantly) how to we demonstrate the correlation. For all the time and money being spent on digital marketing in pharma, there is very little focus on the “so what” and “what’s next”.

  2. Posted January 29, 2013 at 7:33 am | Permalink

    While I believe your thinking is accurate as well as a deja vu in terms of my own experiences in trying to present digital solutions as an element of marketing, I am hardpressed to agree that it’s because of a lack of effectively showing the rationale of using digital. Pharmaceutical marketing is still stuck in a reflex that understands and supports traditional paid advertising. It is safe, regulated and the company can control placement and timing. Like everything else in life, change is difficult, especially when it trys to take you into waters that the marketer is unfamiliar with. But in my view, it’s not because of flawed presentation. Sophisiticated online monitoring as well as other measurement tools and research are easily accessible and, depending on the initiative, can provide considerable information about where and how stakeholders get their information and what they consider to be trusted sources of information as well as the impact of the campaign. Non-pharma companies are in the digital space for good reason. Where appropriate, it works. Adoption of digital strategies is a two way street. Pharma marketers know who they need to reach, but will increasingly be required to pick up the pace in terms of how their audiences are being influenced. As “partners” it takes two to tango.

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