How Pharma Marketing Is Playing Catch-Up

June 16,2015

For years, one of the knocks against pharmaceutical marketing has been that it just hasn’t kept pace with more innovative and creative B2B and B2C marketing efforts. Much of that’s due to the regulated environment pharma marketers work in—along with a lack of timely guidance from the FDA over the last few years. Even with that hurdle in mind, though, I believe the industry has made significant progress recently.

Conversing with the customer
Let’s look at a retail example. Say you’re a daredevil trail rider looking to buy a new mountain bike. Whether you go to a local bike shop or jump on Google, one of the most common and critical elements of making your purchase will be finding out how other customers feel about the bikes you’re considering. How has the bike performed for them? Are they happy? What do they like? What don’t they like? Face it: We all want to know what other people are doing and thinking. Customer reviews are king.

So, why would a patient or healthcare consumer behave any differently? Many pharma brands have finally learned that they need to allow patients to hear one another’s voices and share impressions. That’s evident in the creation of brand or disease ambassadors who are patients; content that focuses on patients—or is created by them; and patient communities like Gilenya on Facebook that help the end users tell the brand story—instead of marketers or prescribers. Gilenya is giving its brand the voice that matters most to the customer—that of their peers.

Disintermediation of the brand message in a way that generates real conversation and lets patients know, “There’s someone out there like me, and now I know what they think,” builds brand credibility and loyalty far beyond what pharma marketers have traditionally done with painfully boring and important-safety-information-laden consumer ads. Take the excellent unbranded videos and testimonials Vanda Pharmaceuticals produced around non-24 circadian rhythm disorder, for example.

It took some time to get here, but we’re finally leveraging peer-to-peer customer influence much like our unregulated B2C brethren.

Creating relevance
Following success in other verticals, pharma marketers have begun to capitalize on the shift in the way their prescriber targets consume information: on mobile devices. In fact, more than 80% of prescribers use mobile devices for professional purposes at this point. This shift has allowed pharma marketers to leverage data and technology into contextual advertising that uses geotargeting to optimize their brand message and content delivery for a specific subset of the audience.

In this arena of contextual advertising, I believe that Tomorrow Networks (summed up in this YouTube video) is a fantastic example of how pharma is using contextual advertising innovatively. Tomorrow Networks leverages customer data, such as an HCP’s specialty, age, gender and location, to deliver message in a hypertargeted, efficient manner on mobile devices. They even offer the ability to create “geofences” so that, as a target enters a “virtual zone,” he or she receives relevant brand content, messaging, or offers like copay coupons.

The trend is positive
Pharma advertising still has some distance to make up. Lately, though, I feel like we’re getting more and more innovative. We’re leveraging the tried and true, such as customers influencing customers, while embracing state-of-the-art tools like big data and mobile devices.

Keep the faith, my pharma marketing friends! The industry’s catching up faster than you might think.


Andy Pyfer heads up Fingerpaint’s office in Villanova, PA, where he applies more than 20 years of client- and agency-side pharmaceutical sales, marketing and advertising experience to support clients in his role on the Strategy team.

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