The high cost of doubting those ROI numbers

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Bill Drummy
Bill Drummy

Bill Drummy
Founder and chief executive officer, Heartbeat  Ideas

Since the mid 2000s, study after study have shown ROI for digital consumer marketing tactics ranging from 4-1 to 12-1, even as high as 29-1.

Despite these consistently great numbers for dozens of campaigns, many pharma marketers seem not to believe them.

This is important.  Either the numbers are wrong and marketers have reason to continue investing in other channels.  Or the numbers are right, and brands are wasting tens of millions on suboptimal tactics.

To settle the matter, let's examine the most common arguments for doubting the data.

1) The ROI numbers have been cooked: The most cynical assumption in the marketplace is also the easiest to debunk.   All the ROI data I have cited above were collected and vetted by the analytics departments of Top 20 pharma companies—not agencies or publishers.  So unless market analytic departments have reasons to deceive themselves, no one cooked the books.

2) The methodologies are unreliable: A more substantial objection is that the methodologies are not reliable.  It's true that most rely on self-reported survey data, which is not as definitive as tying a particular marketing tactic directly to sales.

If the concern is survey methodology, then why not use Rx matchback methodologies (from companies like Crossix, for example)? Because these studies may cost more, and some marketers choose to rely on less expensive studies that people have a hard time believing.  Go figure.

3) Digital can't “scale”: Some critics say, in effect, “I'd rather spend $20 million on TV and get a big splash of topline revenue, then invest the same on a variety of digital tactics.”  But this is an excuse for laziness.  Yes, it's more complicated to reach scale with a constellation of digital tactics, but marketers willing to work hard and manage complexity can be much more successful.  Isn't that what a marketer gets paid for?

Answering the question for the last time: Those are the rationales some marketers use to ignore their own ROI numbers.  So how do you, a smart pharma marketer, decide what to do?

Here's my suggestion:  take part of your consumer marketing budget, invest in the allegedly high-performing digital tactics, while also investing in a consumer Rx matchback analysis. Find out for yourself what works.

Then if somebody (other than your boss) tells you they don't believe your ROI numbers, just smile.
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