Pharma Is Missing Its Mobile Targets

Despite a 46% the increase in use of mobile devices for health care information and services since 2010, according to Manhattan Research Cybercitizen Survey, November 2011, pharmaceutical companies lag in using mobile as a way of reach their audiences – both consumer and healthcare professional (HCP). Even as budgets in digital pharmaceutical marketing are increasing, access to convenient and helpful information on the mobile web has fallen significantly behind.

Of the top 25 brands in 2010, only three have mobile websites (that is, specifically built for mobile users). Plavix has a brand site for consumers, Lipitor Savings provides information to consumers about their savings program, and only Nexium has a mobile site specifically aimed at HCPs. In fact, based on recent research I’ve conducted, there are only a handful of mobile websites in all of the pharma space – 15 at my last count.

With the increasing potential of mobile access, why is pharma falling so far behind? Despite the potential associated with the mobile channel, pharmaceutical companies are failing to reach customers when and where they are seeking information about healthcare issues, including prescription medications. The lag can be attributed to three major reasons: (1) not understanding mobile use cases, (2) a misunderstanding of how to convey information in a mobile context, and (3) regulatory discomfort.



Lack of Understanding of the Mobile Use Cases

One of the primary “misses” is that the industry needs to develop a better understanding of the context of users accessing mobile content, and their associated goals. The old pattern - push a marketing message to draw users into asking for a particular product – doesn’t apply to the mobile context because mobile is not an acquisition channel. It’s an information channel, where users are in time-sensitive ‘hunter’ mode. Unlike the standard desktop browsing mode, mobile users on the move have more focused and immediate goals:

            • HCPs are looking to confirm what they think they already know

            • Consumers are often looking for brand information based on having a prescription in hand: the what and how of the drug, plus savings information

At the heart of it, traditional marketing isn’t going to work in this space; we need to deliver on the mobile, fact-checking goals of the users, in the context that where they’re looking at the information.

How to Deliver Content in a Mobile Context

A mistake that many mobile sites have made is to reproduce their ‘full site’ presence on mobile sites. Because the context is very different for a mobile user, the content itself has to be adapted by presenting information in a more precise, targeted manner that addresses time-sensitive needs. This entails re-creating the content strategy toward on-the-go uses and refining the presentation for small screens or limited bandwidth.

Uncertainty Surrounding Presentation of Balance

The most vexing reason many companies have only slowly begun to access the mobile space is the lack of comfort with what constitutes balance on a small screen. Of the 15 sites I’ve reviewed, there are nine distinctly different ways to present safety information, several which may represent excessive prominence of risk to the point of interfering with user consumption of content.

Sadly, the only solution to this issue is some form of FDA guidance, which is unlikely in the short term, so many pharma companies will likely stay on the sidelines until others establish a proven precedent.


Mobile pharma marketing will take a revision of the normal marketing practices. Push marketing won’t work in this market of mobile, on-the-go users. Instead, the marketplace has to develop distinct mobile strategies to engage users in the places where they are seeking our information.

2 comments about "Pharma Is Missing Its Mobile Targets ".
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  1. Tim Murphy from Trapezoid Communications LLC, January 9, 2012 at 1:20 p.m.

    Marty those are all great points. I agree mobile is an information channel and the user is expecting something different than a desktop experience. When visitors are in “hunter” mode they are looking for specific information. Analytics and data from the full desktop site can inform what that information should be on the mobile site.

    And I agree that the mobile site shouldn’t be just a smaller screen version of the desktop site. A link to the “desktop version” can give access to all the information on the desktop formatted site and also sets expectations of the user that the content may be better appreciated with more time on a larger screen.

    Here’s link that explains in a simple humorous way the behaviors of the mobile hunters (tablets included).

  2. R.F. Culbertson from GetABBY, January 10, 2012 at 2:03 p.m.

    Marty - agree with it all. From an 'academic' standpoint the 'give/get' relationship (as you mentioned) needs to be modified to become more ofn an 'interactive' environment that reacts positively to elements like 'sense of urgency' at a 'point of sale' situation. We're seeing the use of an interesting technology - linked to here: --> but what brought it to the forefront wasn't 'patient education' but rather the business model surrounding it whereby the Pharma company could actually earn more thru deployment. Thanks again for your article - and would like permission to use it in my classes at Carnegie Mellon Univ. Thanks again.

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