The key elements to any pharmaceutical company’s business models are customers, channels, partners, and competitors, and digital is changing how pharma approaches this. Building digital capabilities must be a fundamental driver of a pharma company’s overall strategy. We have curated seven pieces of information, data, and/or statistics surrounding what consumers, and then separately eight pieces of information, data, and/or statistics surrounding what health care providers, are seeking and expecting from pharma websites. Additionally, we have also presented nine pieces of information, data, and/or statistics surrounding why it’s important for pharma companies to improve the digital experience for all of their stakeholders, which include consumers, health care providers and health systems/hospitals, as well as two industry trends in the pharmaceutical sector that surround digital transformation. Finally, we have provided six pieces of information, data, and/or statistics surrounding COVID-19 and how it is impacting pharmaceutical companies and their digital marketing.
Pharma Websites: Expectations From Consumers
- According to data curated from a survey conducted by Doctor.com, consumers are seeking and expecting pharma brand websites to provide them specific information. In fact, quite a large number of them want the website to offer them treatment information, the ability to find a doctor, and a way to book appointments. Digging deeper into that insight, eighty-eight percent of consumers surveyed specifically want pharma brand websites to feature a find-a-doctor directory, and eighty-one percent said they were more likely to use a brand website that has a doctor directory. Looking directly at Baby Boomers, nearly 80% of people over 60 would find a doctor directory on a pharma brand site helpful.
- Brand loyalty is a key reason why pharma websites should be concerned about what consumers are looking for on these websites. When asked, almost fifty-six percent of consumers said they would actually be more loyal to a pharma brand or product if its website offered tools like a doctor directory and online appointment scheduling. More than sixty percent also revealed that the doctor directory is so important to them that it would increase their loyalty to a doctor.
- The fact is, however, even given these startling statistics, few pharma brand websites have these tools for consumers to engage with. According to Josh Kramon, VP of life sciences at Doctor.com. By ensuring that directories and online appointment features are available on consumer focused pharma websites, these companies can obtain appointment level data which in the end can help patients who want privacy to feel more comfortable. “Pharma spends a lot of money in media to get patients” [to their website] Kramon was quoted as stating. “But if the patient wants to get that medicine,” he continued, “they will lose that patient to the web to find a doctor where they may have a bad experience. Keeping them in that walled garden presence of [the pharma brand’s website] keeps them from seeing competition and controls their experience.”
- Today, consumers rely on pharmaceutical brand websites almost as much as they do their primary care providers when it comes to researching information on medications and medical devices (52.2% versus 54.8%, respectively), which suggests a major shift in patient preferences.
- Respondents to the survey were brutally honest when stating that “finding the right doctor” is the #1 barrier to accessing treatment or medication, meaning patients struggle to locate qualified specialists to further educate, diagnose, and treat their healthcare conditions. “While these patients are ready and willing to appoint a doctor, many will lose their way.” This presents both a challenge and an unprecedented opportunity for pharmaceutical brands to help patients access treatment and improve adherence.
- Interestingly, the Cybercitizen Health U.S. 2018 report from the Decision Resource Group appears to show two different sides to consumer engagement with a pharma website. On one hand it reveals that sixty-five percent of consumers will use a search engine, fifty-eight percent will use social media, and fifty percent will use online video to find answers to health questions versus forty-two percent of consumers choosing to visit a pharma website to obtain information. This suggests that there is a possibility that pharma brand sites are no longer essential to a consumer’s digital experience. However, when it comes to the treatment journey of a patient, that same report also shows that branded consumer pharma sites actually play an important and pivotal role. The study reveals that after a patient receives a diagnosis, twenty-seven percent of them will engage with a pharma site. More importantly, these interactions on the website are motivating consumers to take action. For example, when landing on pharma website post-diagnosis, forty-four percent of consumers request a medication by name. As the post diagnosis part of the consumer journey is key, pharma brands should likely optimize their experiences to encourage more use of the website.
- Direct-to-consumer (DTC) ad spending in the pharma category is rising. According to Julia Phelan, executive vice president and executive director of FCB Health, “Consumers are changing the way they manage their health. By speaking directly to patients, pharma brands are educating consumers on possible treatments. [Patients] can’t write themselves a prescription, but they can ask the right questions.”
Pharma Website: Expectations From HCPs
- The Manhattan Research Taking the Pulse U.S. 2017 study has a disappointing result when it comes to health care providers expectations of pharma websites. While it was revealed that physicians value useful content from pharma that helps them do their jobs and manage care better, such as quality scientific information, patient education and diagnosis tools, these same physicians report that most of what they get from drug companies online is just advertising and they feel few pharmaceutical companies are doing a good job at providing quality digital content.
- When it comes to finding information for their clinical practice, healthcare professionals rate websites as their number one source. There is clearly a disconnect with pharmaceutical companies as websites are not ranked as highly by them. In fact, they are ranked by them as merely the fourth most important channel, coming after medical meetings, sales representatives and key opinion leaders.
- Although a sign-up and download is required, we found a white paper from EPG Health, called “Accomplish Meaningful HCP Engagement Online: The Art of Delivering Valuable Customer Journeys Aligned to Your Key Messages”, that we felt might be of interest. It is described as a road map for pharmaceutical companies that want to better engage with HCPs on their own or third party websites. While we could not review it in full as we cannot sign up for accounts, there is a table of contents that can be viewed here.
- According to AnswerLab, many HCPs feel that pharma websites can be biased and cannot always be trusted. If a website is nothing more than a glorified ad campaign, then the mistrust intensifies. Pharma companies can combat that by ensuring that the website content has a clinical tone, ensuring that links to prescribing information is at the top of the site page or within the navigation to meet HCP expectations, and that links to full clinical trial papers are available for viewing to reinforce that all site content represents scientific, objective data.
- AnswerLab’s research reveals that healthcare providers feel they waste time trying to locate the data they need on drug manufacturer websites. This is in contrast to how they feel it is much easier to find information on other sites like UptoDate, PubMed, and Medscape. The takeaway? “Help HCPs efficiently find the information they care about most by presenting content in a clear and transparent way.”
- HCPs do not care about beautiful imagery and this will not encourage them to interact with a drug brand. Instead, what they want is for these pharma websites to work more like Google and take a more clinical, text-focused approach. This allows them to grab the desired information quickly and get out.
- Research from AnswerLab indicates that pharma websites should spend less time ensuring that there is efficacy data and statistics for their products and more effort should go into content related to dosing, safety, and mechanism of action on pharma sites. Health care providers state that If they are looking for efficacy data, they prefer to seek out third party sources like UptoDate.
- It appears, at the end of the day, pharma credibility is on the right track. While there is room for improvement, DRG’s Taking the Pulse Study found some good news for pharma brands. DRG has tracked physicians’ perception of the credibility of pharma websites over three years (2017 – 2019). Specifically, in 2017, only 27% of HCPs felt they were a credible source of information. In 2018 that increased to 35%, and by 2019, 46% felt they are credible. Verbatim from the study: “HCPs feel that pharma is being more objective; showing more background info on trials; have more offerings that they can pass along to their patients; have more materials for them that are disease-related; even though it is related to product. Information is more helpful, not just there to boost product. The websites are more patient-centric.”
Importance of Digital Experience Improvement
- To set the table for this section, we felt it was interesting to note that a recent survey revealed that a mere seven percent of healthcare and pharmaceutical companies reported they had transitioned to digital, compared to fifteen percent of companies in other industries.
- Digital transformation is improving the digital experience for everyone in the pharma industry. Stakeholders from consumers to HCPs to hospital systems have unprecedented access to data surrounding the impact of a healthcare strategy or pharmaceutical product, which enables them to experience how it may impact their overall well-being and everyday life. According to a report completed by McKinsey called The Road to Digital Success in Pharma, the first step in adapting to large flows of valid information is to develop processes to give a pharma company the ability to use this new information effectively. By doing so, pharmaceutical companies can make sure that they remain the primary source of authority on the efficacy of their product.
- How information is presented is crucial to the success of a pharma company. Sharing data-based insights must be done in a way that is concrete and welcoming to a broader audience, not just the scientifically-minded people on the non-consumer facing side. For example, showing data as an infographic or chart could strengthen how data is communicated to a patient or consumer or how certain medications and treatments are affecting different areas of the physiological system.
- According to TTec, keeping in touch with stakeholders is happening outside of traditional venues. Pharma must come to grips with the fact that new audiences are looking for new products and new information in new channels. “Additionally, pharma must develop trust with Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) and physicians in order to change the perception of the industry from being sales-focused to a provider of valuable information.“
- A study of nearly 6,000 healthcare consumers, reveals that there are areas where pharmaceutical companies excel, while other areas need improvement. For example, fifty-six percent of these consumers stated that it was very important for a pharma company to provide an easy to navigate website.
- This new frontier of consumer engagement requires pharmaceutical companies to consider factors that were less impactful in the past. For instance, the needs of consumers, in addition to businesses, are now factored into customer support strategies. Pharmaceutical companies are also in a position to play an educational role by helping end consumers get the most from their medications or ensure correct administration or dosage.
- Over half (51%) of U.S. consumers consider relevant offers or rebates from pharmaceutical companies to be very important, suggesting there may be an opportunity in some markets to take cues from the modern retail playbook and take this digital.
- Sadly, only fourteen percent of consumers state that they completely understand communications from pharmaceutical companies which suggests that they need to do a better job in conveying data in layman’s terms across all their digital touchpoints to increase engagement, drive preference, and improve outcomes.
- Customer experience in pharma has bottom line impact, according to a quantitative McKinsey study. It clearly shows that by “paying more attention to the customer experience, (pharma) companies can not only increase satisfaction but also boost sales and market share”. Pharma customers, whether we’re talking about HCPs, patients or payers, are people too, and the basic behavioral principles of customer experience apply to them just as they do in every other business environment.
Digital Transformation Trends: Pharmaceutical Sector
Trend #1: The Importance of Big Data
- Big data collects and provides a summation of information about a business through formats such as social media, ecommerce, online transactions, and financial transactions, and identifies patterns and trends for future use. In the pharmaceutical industry, marketing dynamics are repeatedly changing. In fact, pharmacos believe that big data gives them an edge in how it helps them understand the market. “With that understanding, they can determine product iteration and product budgets based on existing and predicted future demand.”
- When a pharma company has a firm grasp of the market, the marketing and sales teams will have an easier time identifying the ideal consumer by being able to create a customer persona. By compiling demographic information on what these people want and need, and the platforms where they can be reached, this gives a pharma company the ability to narrow their focus on the ideal stakeholder. Big data is a game changer in this regard.
- If pharma companies want to lessen the costs of drug discovery and the costs of manufacturing, big data can assist with that. In fact, big data can even assist with the decision-making journey insomuch as deciding which drugs should be developed.
- Investments from healthcare and pharmaceutical industries will account for nearly $4.7 billion in big data. With continued investments, pharmaceutical businesses will be aiming to develop several innovative applications.
Trend #2: Artificial Intelligence
- Some top pharmaceutical companies are harnessing AI through machine learning algorithms to decrease the cycle of drug development. In fact, recent findings show that artificial intelligence can reduce early drug discovery schedules by four years against the industry average, and produce cost savings upwards of sixty percent.
- Overall, AI is predicted to bring $150 billion dollars in annual savings for the US healthcare economy by 2026. Startups are already jumping on this opportunity; the number of active AI startups has increased 14-fold since 2000. These numbers alone should be enough to convince any CEO looking to usher their pharmaco into reaching digital maturity that AI is worth the investment.
- According to the HIMSS Analytics 2017 Essentials Brief, less than 5% of healthcare organizations are currently using or investing in AI technologies, despite all the benefits that artificial intelligence has already brought to the pharmaceutical industry.
- Novartis, Roche, Pfizer, Merck, AstraZeneca, GlaxoSmithKline, Sanofi, Abbvie, Bristol-Myers Squibb and Johnson & Johnson are ten major pharma companies that have either specifically joined forces with or secured Artificial Intelligence technologies to leverage the opportunities AI brings to the table.
- Research from L.E.K. Consulting reveals that artificial intelligence will become standard in the pharma operating model over the next decade. The use of AI in life sciences, specifically surrounding drug discovery, is set to become widespread and this trend will lead to a definite change in pharma’s operating approach, especially in traditional and time-consuming approaches (such as high-throughput screening) that will be needed less frequently and in a more focused manner.
COVID-19: Digital Marketing Impact on Pharma Companies
- COVID-19 has merely hastened the continuing decline in accessible prescribers in the United States, which pre-pandemic had declined by forty-seven percent. This had already resulted in significant progress in accelerating the use of digital channels by pharma companies to complement in-person visits. After over 5 months of lock downs the growing crisis has made the use of digital channels a necessity to keep doctors informed on the latest treatment options for their patients in any therapeutic area. Just in a matter of weeks, there’s been an abrupt shift to virtual health care provider engagement among many pharmaceutical customers.
- InTouch Solutions recommends that pharma companies rethink their marketing and sales strategies by altering the types of messaging used and the channels chosen to communicate with customers. Additionally, technology should be capitalized on that facilitates person-to-person interaction without in-person contact.
- Pharma digital marketers need to understand that COVID-19 is affecting different HCPs in varying ways. In order to effectively communicate with them, it’s important to understand the different pressures and pain points that exist for each kind of medical specialist. For example, immunologists are directly affected since they treat COVID-19. On the other hand oncologists, while not directly treating patients for COVID-19, have patients that are at high risk for contracting the disease because of their underlying condition. For psychiatrists and primary care providers, it can be expected that the patients they would see would be those who are suffering panic attacks and those struggling to cope with the chaos and uncertainty.
- According to MM&M, messaging techniques that pharma companies used pre-pandemic might have been effective, but now may sound tone-deaf when the world is fearful and on edge. To combat that, three principles are being suggested for digital pharma marketers to build on the core best practices already developed by healthcare brands. They are to be responsible, to be adaptable, and to be authentic.
- Most healthcare marketers say they’re slashing promotional budgets this year because of COVID-19, as they ramp up use of digital. According to a poll done in April 2020, 46.2% of healthcare marketers said they’re reducing 2020 budgets, versus 18.5% revealing they would be increasing their budgets. Another 35.3% reported that there would be no change in their spending. “A further 75.9% reported that COVID-19 was either a significant or very significant factor in those decisions.”
- COVID-19 has effectively made digital interactions imperative and are no longer nice-to-haves. “Pharmaceutical companies are relying on these channels to engage with patient and provider communities. In fact, according to the Yale School of Management, pharmaceutical companies are accelerating digital transformation in R&D.”