Pharma must reboot iPads

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Matt Collins
Matt Collins

The pharmaceutical industry has joined the cult of Mac. Since the launch of the iPad in 2010, pharma companies have invested significant time and resources creating promotional materials on the device for use in detailing.

But as an industry, we have yet to provide experiences that leverage the iPad's power to really make an impact in the sales call. According to a study by Manhattan Research (iPad Reps: Evaluating the Success of Early Initiatives & Identifying Strategic Opportunities in 2012), “physicians who touched a sales rep's iPad were significantly more likely to have a satisfactory experience, and more likely to say the experience influenced their clinical decisions. However, only one-quarter of physicians who saw a sales rep with an iPad actually touched the device during the meeting.”

This is indicative of the experiences pharma is delivering. Most “interactive visual aids” on the iPad contain little interactivity. Instead, they resemble static slideshows, which creates a barrier to interaction between rep and physician.

For pharma to truly unlock the power of the iPad, we need to evolve the way we look at the device in three key areas:

1. Create meaningful human interactions: Apple has demonstrated that the way we interact with content can reinforce and enhance the experience of that content. In contrast, pharma brands often present experiences that are akin to a PC desktop slideshow from 1997. Graphs that build, static bullets and charts that enlarge do not enhance the sales call. To leverage the technology to its fullest potential, pharma needs to use the technology to its fullest potential: Pinch, zoom and swipe to interact with content; use native features like gyroscope and accelerometer to evolve the brand story. We are storytellers—technology should be the stage that allows that story to unfold.

2. Embrace interface as part of the detail: Part of the iPad's appeal is the simplicity of the user's interaction with it it. Things “make sense” without long instruction manuals. Why should pharma apps be different? Instead of interfaces driven by intuitive gestures, pharma has created confusing experiences—complex menus, arrays of cryptic icons and interfaces that detract from content. This has led to increased training time, decreased rep utilization and reduced audience attention. Pharma should create flexible, intuitive navigation mechanisms that promote rep agility and keep the focus on message.

3. Stop letting the IT department control your brand: Irreverent as it may sound, that's what is happening in the digital space. If you are doing iPad detailing, chances are you do it on a software “platform” or “framework” that was chosen by IT with little-to-no input from marketing or sales. When IT looks at software, they consider security, integration into existing systems and compliance with corporate policy—and rightly so. Their responsibilities are to maintain and protect data integrity. This limits the ability to deliver meaningful, memorable brand experiences. Security, stability and integration are critical, but they do not increase share of voice.

Despite the “drool” factor of the iPad, there is no disputing the data: physicians want something more than static slideshows. They want to truly experience the brand through meaningful interaction. If pharma can “think different” about how to leverage technology in the digital age, then the results could be something truly jaw-dropping.

Matt Collins is Vice President, Director of Interactive Technology at AbelsonTaylor.
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