PharmExec Blog

Catch On to Content Marketing

Pharma should have a head start in the content marketing race, but familiar fears are holding it back, writes Peter Houston.

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Peter Houston

You know this: digital marketing means you have the potential to get your message in front of more people than ever before; search and social media offer reach on an unparalleled scale. According to global internet analytics firm Comscore, there are 13.7 billion searches conducted on Google every month. With 60% of US consumers saying they looked for health information online in the last year, that’s a lot of potential patients.
The problem is, that reach is available to everyone else from top-10 pharma to your local Deli: We’re all publishers now.

Actually we’re not all publishers, we’re all authors. Publishers — certainly in the traditional sense of the word — would never allow most of the content on the Internet out of the slush pile. And it’s the public accessibility of that slush pile that might just provide Pharma with its best opportunity to be heard above the noise.

Content marketing — the art of creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire, and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience — is being hailed as the brightest hope for marketers desperate to cut through the Internet’s clutter. So far so good – Pharma has been producing quality, expert-led, evidence-based content for ever.

If you read some of the content marketing blogs you would think these geniuses had just invented the concept. But content marketing has been around almost as long as marketing.

  • John Deere, America’s favourite tractor manufacturer, released the first customer magazine in 1895
  • Guess what brand of flour my mother-in-law has on her kitchen shelf. Here’s a clue – she swears by her BeRo Flour cookbook first published in 1923 and now in its 40th edition.
  • Have you ever wondered why the world’s leading restaurant guide is named after a tyre manufacturer? Back at the turn of the last century Michelin published its first restaurant recommendations to give drivers a good reason to burn more rubber.

What is new is the importance marketers are placing on real value delivered through content. Possibly the biggest reason for this new focus on quality is that Google, the daddy of web search, got tired of people gaming its search algorithms with sub-standard content

To combat SEO tactics that had more to do with keyword stuffing than content quality, Google changed the rules of the game with its Penguin algorithm, introduced this time last year and already headed for its third update. I won’t even begin to pretend to understand how Google’s algorithms work, but I do know they are focusing more and more on the quality and ‘shareability’ of content to improve the search experience and this puts content marketing firmly in the frame.

There’s also the added benefit that, rather than interrupt people with unwanted sales pitches, content marketing offers a non-interruptive approach to customer communication. The ideal is to create a regular stream of valued, trusted content that customers will actively seek out and share.

Pharma’s content-marketing opportunity is to make sure that when a doctor or a patient goes searching for health information — which they are doing more and more — the right content is there waiting for them. When they get exactly what they want, when they want it they’re also happy to pass it on to friends and family. The problem is pharma doesn’t like sharing.

Content marketing principles — valuable content that engages a clearly defined audience – might have been at the heart of pharma’s efforts to help HCPs and patients understand and adopt new treatments for years. Pharma should have a head start in the content marketing race, but it’s firms like Marriot, Old Spice and American Express that are getting noticed for their content marketing efforts, because they love people to share their content

“As a well-oiled content machine that knows how to build relationships, pharma should thrive in this new era,” writes Dr Candice O’Sullivan of Australia’s Wellmark agency on PharmaForum. “Here is an industry well used to the rigours of consistently producing high-quality content — the number one challenge for most content marketers — but finds it virtually impossible to ‘share’.”

O’Sullivan closes by describing Pharma as an industry “too preoccupied by the risks involved to be able to make the most of this opportunity”. Sound familiar?

Peter Houston is former Group Content Director for Advanstar Pharma Science. He is now an independent media consultant and founder of Flipping Pages.

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