Friday, May 25, 2007

Pharma marketing (2.0) and the media: reading the tea leaves

Marketing plays an indispensable role in business operations. The unique binary orientation of marketing helps the sales force align with the market opportunities and at the same time, helps make the non-sales department employees develop sensitivity towards the customers. Thus, there is a two-way role of marketing – one directed inwards and another outwards - towards the market.

Media and marketing processes have an intimate relationship. One depends on the other. Media transports marketing messages, and in turn the media thrives on marketing support. Although, this is very evident in the case of non-pharma product promotion, Pharma product promotion too is heavily dependant on media.

Traditional Pharma marketing

Pharma marketing approaches are directed towards generating prescriptions and addressing OTC (over-the-counter) push and pull forces. The most common approach is use of human media. Medical Representatives typically carry messages to doctors, detailing products, and are responsible for ‘in-clinic’ activities. The in-clinic effectiveness is responsible for prescription generation and sales of Pharma products. In turn, MRs also transact with pharmacists to ensure product availability and influence OTC (over-the-counter) push and pull forces. In recent times, in-stall activities at medical symposias attended by doctors, have become influential to create demand for Pharma products.

In the case of USA and New Zealand, Pharma product promotion enjoys another avenue – DTC (Direct-to-customer) promotion. Advertisements in media directed to patients and caregivers are common in these countries. In the rest of the world, disease awareness marketing and therapy advertising help address the patient needs. DTC for drugs is disallowed. For eg., Schedule H and Schedule X drugs cannot be advertised as per the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940, and the Drugs and Magic Remedies Objectionable Advertisements Act, 1955 in India.

The medium of printed materials is used extensively to support marketing communication activities in the form of literatures, mailers, advertisements in medical journals and magazines. Thus print media is very widely used too.

Pharma marketing 2.0!

The Internet era has revolutionized health and medical matters by putting out information in the reach of society. Web 2.0 developments such as blogs, message boards, social networking sites, newsletters, and other interactive components of the media have further revolutionized healthcare communication and marketing messaging. For eg. plays a major role in marketing concepts and ideas to diabetics. The distinctive feature of web 2.0 is that customers and other stakeholders are co-creators of marketing messages. Earlier in web 1.0, pharma companies would put a product website and messages as per their wisdom, and that was it. Web 2.0 goes beyond this phenomenon. Conversation marketing has come of age with prospects and customers across continents connecting to each other on Pharma products, concepts, experiences, and ideas. For instance, is seriously in to creation of knowledge and software tools to empower patients for active healthcare decision-making. This approach has the potential to redefine the way patients connect to healthcare providers and thus access healthcare options. This is Pharma marketing 2.0 for you!

The convergence phenomenon, the web 2.0, and 3 G handsets beckon

Convergence technology is the future. The 3 G handsets are all set to rewrite the way we transact, particularly to meet health goals. Here is how convergence technology can impact the way Pharma marketers meet society’s health goals:

1) Web enabled community building initiatives centered around diseases or concepts will empower patients and care givers, such a community will significantly influence consumption of Pharma goods.
2) Internet telemedicine will pave the way for Internet telephony aided e-clinics and e-prescriptions. After all, what is stopping an Ayurvedic doctor sitting in Bangalore helping diagnose and prescribe to a patient in USA? E-clinics will enable such a reality.
3) E-clinics will lead to e-polyclinics: the concept here is an Internet enabled ensemble of online consultants from diverse specialties offering advice on health issues. This concept strengthens collaborative healthcare.
4) Holistic healthcare portals aiding healthcare consultation and advice including healthy food recipes. The portal will also aid meet the demand for alternative healthcare services like that of ayurvedacharyas, physiatrists, nutritionists, podiatrists, Health Counsel Providers (HCPs , about this concept there is more on this blog) etc.

The 3 G handsets have the potential to offer healthcare data and services like never before:

5) A parent can subscribe a free or Pharma Company sponsored mobile alert service for ensuring timely vaccinations for their children.

6) 3 G handset facilitated service that reminds the (obese or weight conscious) user through sms, on dietary restrictions, at an appropriate time of the day.

7) Mobile facilitated service on what medicines to carry and the type of clothing to carry/wear on a tour.

8) Companies can offer a service - an alert - such as this: a consumer or patient sends an sms STRESS to a number; in response the company sms says ASHVAGANDHA (Himalaya). This will facilitate the purchase of a product while offering value to the customer.

9) Mobile commerce is all set to redefine the way payments are made for purchase of healthcare products or for availing diagnostic services. This is the eCash concept.

10) Music therapy through mobile music concept.

11) Psychological & healthcare counseling (sponsored by Pharma companies and paid services – call charges can be higher) over 3 G handsets.

12) 3 G handset doubling up as instruments of body parameters – eg. Blood pressure, pulse, temperature, blood sugar etc.

13) Accessing an automatic emergency number through a single button on the 3 G handset for emergency medical services including calling for ambulance and advice on first aid matters.

14) Accessing health care search engines on the Internet for instant informed decision-making on purchase of health care and fitness equipment, dietary supplements, and other healthcare items.

Although convergence technology and the 3 G handset technologies seem to have a lot of potential, there is a note of caution at this site:

The convergence phenomenon is not just about convergence technology, but also the convergence of marketers and customers on a platform. Today, the customer is a co-creator in the marketing process. Blogs and message boards are reflective of the trend.

Today the customer is playing a key role in essaying the brand story telling process. So if a compelling marketing success is required, a key element of the same is customer centric conversational marketing. Traditionally, Pharma marketing, by the very nature of the medical professional being an informed target customer has indulged in dialogues with the target audience and hence conversational marketing. Today this has to be expanded to include other stakeholders since health is not only in the ken of doctors. The community is itself a custodian of health.

Although the nature of marketing and its complexities have changed over time, with technology and social changes bearing influences, the basics of marketing have not changed. From the enterprise perspective, marketing function is to identify and address market opportunities, create, communicate and deliver value to customers. In the Internet age, it has become CO-CREATE, communicate and deliver value to customers and other stakeholders. Marketing is a key force in demand management and increasing consumption. Marketing helps increase brand and corporate equity. In short, marketing is any activity that facilitates the SALE TRANSACTION.

Pharma marketing 2.0 will in a sense be a child of web 2.0, 3 G technologies, convergence technologies, mobile commerce and new media.

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