June 28, 2017

Digital Pharma West: From Anticipating Needs to Measuring Success

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Executive Summary

The Digital Pharma Series is a life science digital marketer’s forum for learning about the latest digital, social and mobile strategies that generate results. This year’s Digital Pharma West (DPW) was held over three days — June 13 to June 15 — in San Francisco. While there were no groundbreaking revelations this year, much of what we’ve been hearing at other conferences — and writing about ourselves — was reinforced at DPW. Notable themes this year included practical insights for professionals in the pharmaceutical, biopharmaceutical and medical device industries on topics like creating great customer experiences; consumer and health tech trends; healthcare marketing; immersive technology like virtual and augmented reality; social media strategies and data measurement.

In this POV, we summarize key takeaways from the conference and identify ways pharma marketers can keep up with changing consumer expectations, meet their audiences where they are online, successfully engage with those audiences — patients and healthcare providers — and measure the effectiveness of their marketing plans.


Patients and HCPS Are Not Exempt From “Expectation Transfer”

“Expectation transfer” happens when an innovation serves a basic need in a novel way and becomes the new standard for customers — for example, now that mobile phones have gone from being just a phone to being a computer-calendar-camera and more, the idea of going back to just a phone is out of the question.

Paying attention to innovations from successful brands like AirBnb, Uber, Instacart, Amazon Echo will help you anticipate customer expectations:

  • 62% of online U.S. consumers and 46% of physicians expect more than just a product from pharmaceutical companies.*
  • 59% of U.S. online consumers expect their healthcare customer services to be as good as Amazon’s.*

Speaker Molly James-Lundak, senior director of corporate digital at AbbVie, cited one example of tech that’s meeting modern expectations about convenience, ease of use and access to medical care. OneMedical is an app that lets users schedule appointments, request prescriptions, locate nearby doctors’ offices, and receive vaccine and medication records on their phones.

*Source: Cybercitizen Health® US 2016, Cybercitizen Health® EU 2016, ePharma Consumer® 2015.


Communities Are the New Commodities

Humans are social creatures, and in today’s never-slow-down world, we need to feel connected more than ever. Online social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and patient communities such as Patients Like Me and You Don’t Know Jack About MS are so successful because they make people feel connected and heard, even when they’re thousands of miles apart.

Pharma marketers can foster a sense of community through dialogue and storytelling. Listen to the people engaging on your social channels; let them tell their stories, and respond — with preapproved response language, of course. Enlisting the help of patient influencers is another effective way to build trust and drive engagement. One online community found that patient-leader videos resulted in a three-fold increase in monthly video views when compared with brand-created videos.

“When information about a specific medication from a pharmaceutical company is shared by someone influential in the online health community, 87% are likely to ask their physician or another health professional about the information.”
Source: 2016 WEGO Health Behavioral Intent Survey of 202 followers of patient influencers.

Business Is Business, But Good Business Is Personal

These days, one-to-one marketing is everything. And the best way to make consumer experiences personal is by leveraging the stockpiles of data now at our fingertips. For example, as we said recently, “With every site visit, ‘like’ and click they make online, web users are leaving a trail of clues (data) about who they are, what they want and need, and what interests and concerns them.” If you’re not doing something with all the data you’re collecting, you might as well stop collecting it. By applying behavioral insights gleaned from the data, you can make customers feel understood, safe, informed and in control at every touch point.

Pay to Play – It’s Okay!

Americans spend at least 5 hours a day on mobile devices, and 51% of their online time is spent on social media. Among the 3 billion people online, 2.1 billion have social media accounts.

The days of organic social reach are over, and paid social is now imperative. Sure, paid social is a “necessary evil,” but it’s necessary nonetheless.

Logos of social media apps

Benefits of employing paid social:

  • Allows for hyper targeting
  • Aligns with the marketing funnel (awareness, engagement, action, advocacy)
  • Provides endless opportunities for creative re-use of content
  • Makes message testing easy, so you can adjust as needed

Considerations for selecting a social platform:

  • Design for governance and compliance.
  • Don’t choose social platforms solely on popularity, but on your audience’s presence and preferences.
  • Evaluate the paid, owned and earned ecosystem and how channels work together.
  • Remember your brand promise and your duty to deliver more than just marketing messages. Be human, helpful and handy to/for your customers.


Test. Fail. Learn. Act. Repeat.

Every media plan deserves an accompanying “testing plan,” but what should you measure? Here are some examples of channels and what to test in each:

  • Paid search: keyword expansion; day-part/day-of-week testing; brand-spend optimization; landing page optimization
  • Paid social: creative variation; ad copy; call-to-action optimization; retargeting frequency and recency
  • Display (banner, video): retargeting expansion; ad viewability; hour of day, day of week; frequency

Regardless of what you test, don’t be afraid to fail — as long as you learn and then apply that lesson.

A Measurement Plan Is Just as Important as a Marketing Plan

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How will you know if your marketing plan is working? In short, by measuring its effectiveness. What you measure is up to you — engagement, purchases, doctor referrals, requests for information — but here are some best practices to keep in mind when creating your measurement plan:

  • Align with key internal and external stakeholders on the goals, objectives and key performance metrics.
  • Include members of the analytics team as early as possible, and keep them close every step of the way.
  • Allocate resources and time to test, analyze and optimize based on insights.
  • Establish realistic benchmarks based on previous brand activities, corporate activities or industry standards.


Clinician Educator vs. Consumer Marketer

Think like a clinician when it comes to what, how and when that audience wants to receive new information.

  • The right question has the ability to change behavior by piquing their interest.
  • Create engagements that result in the HCP feeling like your product solves real world problems specific to their practice, patients or specialty.

Scannable, Selected and Specific

Physicians want information that’s short but not oversimplified, curated and customized for their practice or specialty.

  • Bring the reading level down to between 10th and 12th grade on most of your HCP targeted communications.
  • Use visuals as much as possible so that the content is easily scannable.

Make Learning Fun Again

Create digital content that tells a powerful story in a unique way perhaps using virtual and augmented reality. “Mixed reality” experiences will help to immerse HCPs into powerful storylines that increases retention of information and differentiates the sales rep. Gamification is one way to make learning fun — going on “a mission” to accomplish a goal or discover what happens next while facing “mini challenges” along the way is a lot more appealing than reading a printed brochure.


Customer Experience

  • Analyze data to identify patterns by channels.
  • Identify channel preference by rate of engagement.
  • Communicate to them in that channel in the future.

Paid Social

  • Align on measurement plan including goals, objectives and key performance indicators.
  • Identify top-performing Facebook posts based on organic engagement rate.
  • Select one post with at least 50% higher organic engagement rate than the established benchmark.
  • Allocate funds to “Boost” the selected post to reach incremental followers or people that “Lookalike” your current followers.

HCP Engagement

  • Set up A|B split testing for subject lines on emails targeted to HCPs.
  • Create alternative subject lines containing a question.
  • Test against subject lines that do not contain questions.


The overarching theme of this year’s Digital Pharma West reinforced what we already know — it’s all about making things feel personal now. People — including patients and healthcare providers — have come to expect experiences that are customized to their interests and needs, and we as pharma marketers must provide them when and where our audiences are. Immersive technology like virtual and augmented reality, plus strong social media strategies, measurement plans and data analysis, can help us create engaging, informative experiences our audiences are excited to engage in.


  • Glock has a health division and they make G-Pur, the world’s first dietary supplement of its kind that blocks the absorption of heavy metals into the body.
  • Sharecare created the YOU® VR Experience; it’s an immersive experience that brings medical education to life.
  • Virtual reality anatomical training for surgeons is already here, thanks to 3D Systems.
  • Telemedicine – remote procedures and patient care using digital technology (robots, video conferencing, etc.).
  • Total users of the top four messaging apps is greater than the combined user base of the top four social networks.
  • Quiet, Visual and Quick” is the winning recipe for content that has the highest chance to connect and be shared, granted they provide value and are made for mobile users.
  • Zero UI” means using the voice or body movement to interact with digital content (e.g., Amazon Echo or Magic Leap),
  • The Amazon Diabetes Challenge is a challenge from Merck that calls on innovators, to create holistic voice-enabled programs that will help people living with type 2 diabetes.
  • Help Around is a social network where people provide support to anyone living with diabetes.
  • Facebook Health is a division of Facebook focused on creating ad products catered to Pharmaceutical companies.
  • Facebook “HCP Verification” is something Facebook is quietly working on to compete with LinkedIn and other HCP-focused social networks.
  • Health-related Facebook pages have over 70MM users combined (just under a quarter of the U.S. population)
  • A new tool from Facebook called Facebook Creative Hub creates working mockups of ads that are helpful during MLR review.