PharmExec Blog

Making the Most of Disruptive Digital Technologies

Peter Houston looks at the pharma marketing takeaways from last week’s Digital Innovation Summit.

 

Peter Houston

Peter Houston

I spent the first half of last week in Berlin at the Digital Innovators’ Summit, an event co-hosted by VDZ, the German publishers association and FIPP, the worldwide magazine media association. The event was held in a Deutsche Telekom building that was once the centre of Germany’s telegraph network. Ignoring the ghosts of dead communications technology, 600 or so senior publishing executives spent two days trying really, really hard to imagine a brighter future for their industry.

Change the crowd and it could easily have been a conference for pharma marketers.

The event boasted a hackday with super-smart millenials conjuring mobile news platforms in a 36-hour marathon, clever software that could squirt content into an infinite multichannel array and never ending lines of executives waiting for the Google Glass demonstration that has become obligatory at any future-facing conference.

It was all fascinating, but for me the real learning came from the companies adapting their businesses to make the most of these disruptive new technologies.

“This is the mobile moment“, said Juan Senor of Innovative Media Consultants as he introduced the 2014 Innovations in Magazine Media report. The 100-page publication contains almost 40 case studies for magazine publishers looking to get to grips with the digital transformation. One of the headline prescriptions is to get a mobile strategy. Ring any bells?

Video also played well, but if you haven’t got to grips with video marketing yet, don’t worry — neither have magazine publishers. “I don’t know if any publishers have really cracked video yet,“ said BAFTA-award winning video filmmaker Joseph Wade of London based publisher-turned-creative-agency Don’t Panic.

Editor-in-chief of Now This News, Ed O’Keefe, implied that lack of success came from trying to shoe-horn video developed for one platform onto another. He honed in on the need to create video ‘native’ to the distribution platform, demonstrating how to tell the same story five different ways across Vine, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter and Facebook.

“You wouldn’t take what you produce for radio and put it directly on TV,” he said. “What you create for the web, while a good marketing tool, may not be what the mobile or social consumer is looking for.” Now This News describes itself as the ‘first mobile and social news network’ and O’Keefe warned, “miss the power of social, risk missing an entire generation of consumers.”

The over-arching importance of social media was echoed by Scott Lamb, VP International at Buzzfeed who said that if the social networks shut down tomorrow, his business would need to pack up and go home.

All of Buzzfeed’s revenue comes from what Lamb calls social content marketing, content produced by or on behalf of sponsors and designed to be shared by the audience. He was eager to distance Buzzfeed’s future from the animated cat gifs that shot the site to success, talking about a future in quality content, even investigative reporting. Most interesting for pharma marketers nervous of content marketing, Lamb said when sponsored content is done right, the audience sees it as a “gift from the advertiser.”

Head of brand management and marketing services for BMW, Steven Althaus, made a similar point, but from the other end of the telescope. “Marketing will no longer be the department that puts lipstick on the gorilla,” he said. “It needs to be about a truth well told.”

Althaus said this was particularly true for innovative new products in the age of digital marketing, when claims are so open to close public scrutiny. Speaking about the challenges of marketing BMWs ground-breaking i3 electric vehicle, he said customers will ask if the innovation is real because this is what will drive the decision to buy. “Brands need to be transparent about what they do; the most attractive audience is the most sceptical,” he said.

He offered four points of advice for marketers and media buyers thinking about promoting innovative products.

• Evolve your marketing to make your budget work harder.
• It’s OK to fail as long as you learn from your mistakes.
• Use research as a stimulus for action, not for post-rationalization.
• Think harder about media, agencies, researchers and consultants that can tell you what won’t work.

He had a fifth point — allowing the customer to experience the brand — that doesn’t translate directly to pharma, but the idea of sharing real customer experiences does.

Besides being urged to embrace social, mobile and multiplatform communication technologies as quickly as possible, the strongest parallel between the publishing and pharma communities at DIS was perhaps the focus on partnerships, especially in the innovative start-up space.

Innovations was generally agreed to be difficult for larger, legacy businesses. “No offence, but when it comes to innovating, 80 to 90 percent of you will fail miserably,” said Brian Garret, co-founder of CrossCut Ventures, a California-based seed-stage VC.

A familiar route around that failure is to invest in the IP of smaller, more nimble businesses that can keep up with the changes in technology. “Investment reduces cost of experimentation, and it increases the speed,” said Herman Kienhuis of Sanoma Ventures, the investment arm of $3-billion pan-European publishing house Sanoma Corp.

The need for speed, innovation, multiplatform content distribution, engaged audiences. I’m confused — was this a conference for publishing or for pharma?

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