Innovations In Healthcare Marketing: Hurry Up and Wait

Unique marketing challenges are not new to pharma – we’ve managed to successfully promote our products while staying within tough regulatory confines and find creative ways to connect with patients to improve health outcomes. What is new to pharma is the recent tsunami of innovations in mobile marketing, health trackers, and other healthcare technologies. Unfortunately, the optimism around the technology-led innovations is balanced by concerns that marketers are facing tough internal battles to get cutting edge marketing plans off the ground.  But there is a path forward, and we’re already seeing signs. 

In our recent study gauging the climate for digital health marketing innovation, industry leaders reacted to a challenging corporate climate balanced with an exciting technology horizon. The study, informed by a survey of digital marketers, agency leads, and technology experts, focused on the marketing efforts of Rx pharma in 2014 to date, as well as predictions for the rest of the year. In essence, while industry experts are confident that innovations in digital health marketing are poised to accelerate, there remain reservations around both regulations and a tough internal pharmaceutical corporate climate.



Turning first to marketing innovation expectations, the study report profiled expert opinions from industry leaders, including David Davidovic, founder of PathForward and former VP and global head of commercial services at Roche and Genentech. Davidovic had this to say, “From a digital health standpoint, there is the ‘big’ digital health, where new computer-based technologies are getting integrated into just about every aspect of healthcare. These include several categories such as: mobile health, fitness monitors, health trackers, integrated/smart devices like glucose monitors and insulin pumps, and comprehensive healthcare management environments provided by EHR/EMR systems.” 

Turning his attention to “small” digital health marketing, he added, “companies are using digital technologies as added communications channels to reach its customer base, good progress is happening.  Even with a restrictive or unclear regulatory environment, companies continue to broaden their foray from apps, enhanced websites, integrated communications, YouTube channels and, yes, even Facebook and Twitter, albeit restrictive.”Supporting his opinion, the surveyed health scholars pointed to mobile digital health marketing as the technology with the greatest impact on pharma marketing in the past year. Looking ahead, experts predict that in addition to a continued focus on both mobile and EMR/EHRs, the biggest marketing impact will come from wearables, as described by one respondent, “Better healthwear, more seamlessly integrated with mobile platforms.” 

Marc Monseau, managing partner of Mint Collective and former director of corporate communication, social media for Johnson & Johnson, referencing innovative marketing efforts by several leading pharma companies, expressed excitement for the back half of 2014.We continue to see great strides in the use of digital communications tools to reach and engage key audiences to achieve business objectives. In the past year, an increasing number of companies have begun to routinely create integrated communications and marketing plans...”He highlighted efforts from Novartis’s Gilenya brand for their use of social media in raising the profile of the brand among a key demographic as well as a savvy media plan by Stelera (J&J). He concluded,“With more and more companies taking chances and creating more comprehensive and integrated campaigns that deliver results, we can anticipate more companies and brands to create increasingly sophisticated campaigns in the future.”

In the survey, respondents cited the corporate climate and lack of internal incentive as two major barriers to innovation. One marketer inside a major pharma company pointed to “the time it takes to move ‘new’ things through the approval process — if it was not such a hassle to get new things approved, the ROI modeling would loose its fuel and real-world/in-market tests would take place.” Marketers must first face down the barriers that have been erected internally, in order to successfully apply mobile/EMR/EHR/wearables’ potential towards improving patient health outcomes. It’s not surprising, then, that one marketer expressed frustration over “senior leadership[’s] fear of allocating resources to new and unproven technologies over previously 'proven' marketing tactics.” 

So what’s the answer? Remembering that some of the biggest companies were started during hardships or recessions (Microsoft, KFC, FedEx, GM), it may be that the very existence of these challenges will make the road to expanding digital health marketing even more of an area to watch. There are a number of tenacious marketers and their partners who fight the good fight internally in order to provide patients with the best possible tools to improve health outcomes, and they should be applauded. Let’s see more.

Our full report is available here

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