Retail therapy: what pharma brands can learn from the retail sector

Ryan Wallman
October 12, 2012

At our most recent pharma seminar, Danny Phillips, director of the digital communications studio Parca, gave an inspiring presentation about what healthcare brands can learn from the retail sector’s use of digital media. So what were the key take-outs for pharma marketers?

1. Demographics can be deceptive.

The demographic characteristics of some healthcare audiences mean that they have traditionally been considered technological laggards. In some cases, this is now a mistaken assumption. For example, the ‘big’ social media platforms (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn) are not limited to any one demographic segment; when it comes to digital media, it’s not just Gen Y driving the agenda anymore. Even if your target audience is, say, a predominantly older group of specialist physicians, you may be surprised at what technology they are already comfortable with.

The upshot for pharma marketers: do you need to re-evaluate the channels you’re using with healthcare professionals?

2. Don’t expect your customers to be wallflowers.

Like the broader market of consumers, healthcare professionals no longer consume information passively. Just as the old ‘push’ model of TV advertising is being circumvented by savvy consumers who download, curate, slice and dice their own content, your customers are not interested in being told what information they must consume. Taking a doctor through a PowerPoint presentation is the equivalent of old-world TV advertising – the customer will simply switch off if it doesn’t meet his or her needs.

The upshot for pharma marketers: is it time for you to consider genuinely interactive e-detailing?

3. First, do no (online) harm.

For brands entering the realm of social media, it is worth taking Vanilla Ice’s advice (especially if, like me, you’re old enough to remember it): stop, collaborate and listen. Before you start talking, simply listen to what people are already saying about you (and yes, they probably are). In this way, you can discover your customers’ intent and the trending content in your industry/specialty before you join the conversation. Not only will this allow you to gain a better understanding of your customers, it will also avoid the risk of prematurely ‘shouting’ about your brand and potentially damaging your reputation.

The upshot for pharma marketers: start listening to what is being said online. Useful (and free) aggregating tools for this purpose include hootsuite and Google Alerts. You can improve your search results on Twitter by using accepted healthcare hashtags.

4. Be yourself.

While social media are a relatively new phenomenon, the reason for their success is not. Social media are successful because they foster word of mouth – naturally, we’re more likely to trust the people we know. Although this presents a great opportunity for brands, it also demands authenticity. So it’s important that the voice of your brand doesn’t sound like a committee-generated marketing document, and that it has some ‘proximity’ to your customers (read: local relevance).

The upshot for pharma marketers: if you’re a local affiliate of a global pharma company, consider using a regional Twitter handle as a way to add local perspective.

To receive further posts relating to healthcare communications, including alerts about our upcoming pharma seminars, subscribe to our blog. And to find out more about Danny Phillips, visit the Parca site.

Ryan Wallman is Head of Copy at Wellmark

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