Five industry experts advise specialty pharma company on digital strategy

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Five industry experts advise specialty pharma company on digital strategy
Five industry experts advise specialty pharma company on digital strategy

Liz Cermak, Executive Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer, POZEN

At a time when many pharmaceutical companies are reluctant to adopt a comprehensive digital marketing approach in their promotional mixes, we at POZEN, a progressive, specialty pharmaceutical company, are embracing one.  We have taken the innovative step of assembling a Digital Advisory Board to provide advice as we develop the launch plans for our pipeline products.  We recognize that the world has changed, so we have brought together experts to give us insight into developing a new commercial model that will allow us to deliver more affordable medicines to patients as well as engage in more meaningful dialogues with them. 

Five Digital Advisory Board members share their unique perspectives on POZEN's digital strategy below. Click on each name for exclusive video clips and written reports of their contributions:

Raj Amin, Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder, HealthiNation

Bonin Bough, Vice President of Global Digital and Consumer Engagement, Kraft Foods

Marc Monseau, Founder and Principal, MDM Communications

Daniel Palestrant, MD, Chief Executive Officer and Founder, Par8o

Meredith Ressi, President, Manhattan Research

A key element of working with the board is to share their experiences and best practices from both within and outside of healthcare so that everyone in the pharmaceutical industry – including us at POZEN – can learn as we try to navigate the digital waters together.  We have worked with each member of the Digital Advisory Board to develop a paper that showcases their individual perspective on digital opportunities in the industry, and we are excited to share these papers with those at other companies so that as an industry, we can continue to learn and improve.  I hope you find the perspectives of our diverse and elite group of digital experts to be informative and valuable as you tackle digital marketing within the pharmaceutical industry.

Speaking to the Whole Patient

Raj Amin, Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder, HealthiNation; previously Vice President of Business Development, N2 Broadband; member, POZEN Digital Advisory Board


Patients have become key constituents in their own care decisions, a trend that is only going to accelerate especially as the digital landscape continues to provide more information to empower and educate.  The good news is there are a variety of opportunities for pharmaceutical companies to be trusted partners with patients as they address their health, especially in the area of chronic conditions.  But, if these patients are going to accept help from pharma, it's critical that marketers step back and take a “whole patient” view of the issues and reassess how they expect to be part of the solution.

Doctors are reporting more frequently that patients are coming in prepared with real questions based on good information.  The best doctors are embracing this trend and are engaging in a real dialogue with patients about their personal needs and the information a patient brings to the table.  In fact, as the overall healthcare system begins to embrace some of the recent legislation in the broader care delivery sector, my hope is this will add fuel to the fire.  In this broader context, pharma companies have an opportunity to enable services that truly impact outcomes, drive business success and make a difference in patients' lives.

The expectation of quality and the need to speak to the whole patient

In recent decades, pharma has been part of the educational process for conditions with limited success.  It would be difficult to find any pharma-owned websites that rank within the top 50 websites in health.  In my opinion, there are a few reasons for this.  Many patients truly do not trust information that comes directly from pharma and this isn't easy to change.  Every time there has been a cover up of research information that hits the news, it's another hit to consumer trust.  Beyond this, the regulatory requirements for pharma usually make it difficult to create information that is as effective as it could be.  Frankly, regulatory groups can have the tendency to take the most risk-averse approach since they often see themselves as the voice that must save the company from taking any risk.  This is a difficult problem to solve and not one I will dig into here.  Another factor is the focus on most strategies on closing a patient into its CRM funnel.  While this is an important goal, undue focus on this goal detracts from the information that could be provided to service the patient in a meaningful way.

There are certainly some good investments in content for these sites that I've seen, but many of these are “bolted on” and don't reflect the quality levels that you need to compete for time.  Today there are so many choices for consumers to get information, therefore both the quality of the content and the relevance to a patient have to be superb for them to stay and engage.  If this can be done right, and potentially with the right partners at the table, there is no reason why a brand could not start to achieve “organic” activity based on natural traffic and referrals.  A focus on the “whole patient” is required to create a true audience that will consider brands a welcome passenger on their journey, rather than just a sign on the highway.

Opportunities for pharma to serve the whole patient

The good news is that there are a lot of opportunities to provide real support and guidance to patients.  It must begin with a blank slate and a keen understanding of the patient.  Really, it needs to start by forgetting that you have a product to sell.  Then you can think about the following areas:

  • Quality and format of content.  As brand strategies are built to engage a particular audience the quality and format of the content is critical.  Increasingly, audiences are consuming videos to learn and be entertained in digital environments, so companies should be thinking of their brands in the same fashion, by integrating video front and center in the experience.  While “patient testimonials” can be relevant, they really need to be central to the broader information being presented.  If lifestyle choices can help a patient, create video content that helps them take steps, or partner with an independent content provider to get this content into the experience.  If you choose to engage the audience with emotion to make an impact, make sure your storytelling is truly impactful and the topic warrants this approach.  There is nothing worse than trying to watch an overly dramatic video about a condition that's just not that dramatic.
  • Serve a number of needs.  Everyone is different and they will engage with different elements of information depending on their interests and where they are in their journey.  Some may be in need of lifestyle information, others may want in depth treatment specifics for your product, and others may be learning about the condition itself.  Offer information and tools that can be helpful to various needs of the audience.
  • Empower the patient/HCP discussion.  Digital and mobile tools can be utilized now to provide discussion aids, but they need to be easy to use and ideally customized to the specific patient. Personalization is expected in today's digital world so a “one size fits all” approach isn't as compelling.  If the patient provides some input, could you offer something more customized to that patient's needs?   Can you “gamify” the process of providing information about your chronic condition and discussing it with your HCP?
  • Launch, learn, evolve.  One thing we know about the digital environment is that you need to put something out there and evolve it based on what you learn.  Putting more focus in the post-launch iterations is required to really think digital.  If marketers think they are done when launch day arrives, they completely miss the point.  That really is the beginning and there should be significant iterations planned within the first six months of a consumer launch to hone the value proposition and expand from the interactions that are working best.

Overall, there is tremendous opportunity for pharma to leverage digital capabilities to build new and deeper relationships with patients and doctors.  When looking at overall inefficiencies in the media mix, digital can provide powerful tools that foster long-term relationships with your customers.  POZEN is taking an innovative approach to developing the company's digital strategy by bringing together thought leaders from disciplines beyond the healthcare industry to learn best practices for engaging with consumers in the digital space.  With digital at the core, and a mindset that looks at the patient first, and sales second, pharma can be seen as a valued partner by customers who will welcome the help.  If done right, you'll earn real credibility for helping the patient with all their needs and build a relationship that will affect your bottom line.

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Moving Digital to the Core

Bonin Bough, Vice President of Global Digital and Consumer Engagement, Kraft Foods; previously Director of Digital and Social Media, PepsiCo; member, POZEN Digital Advisory Board


As new technologies continue to emerge on an almost daily basis, we are seeing major transformations in the way people work, learn, communicate, socialize and share.  Yet large organizations, notably pharmaceutical companies, have failed to keep pace with this transformation and now lag far behind the rest of society in their digital capabilities.  For businesses to survive, let alone succeed, they must quickly and continuously adapt to the ever-changing digital environment.  The need is being driven not only by the pace of consumer adoption but also by the pace of change in business itself.

The pharmaceutical industry has not yet fully harnessed the power of digital; however, the industry must evolve with today's consumer to stay relevant.  Digital now provides consumers with rapid response from healthcare providers, actionable and useful tools and resources, and even ways for patients to connect with one another.  Digital is at the core of most people's healthcare regimen, and soon, it is my belief that the healthcare and pharmaceutical industries will become the largest beneficiary of the continued use of digital.

The regulatory environment has largely prevented pharmaceutical companies from making significant strides in the digital space.  Pharmaceutical companies have become masters at abiding by regulatory guidelines in their communications – online and offline – to patients and healthcare providers.  But what they have not taken advantage of is the ability to listen to their consumers through the hundreds, thousands, of digital channels currently being used.  There is a vast amount of data available for pharmaceutical companies to gain real-time, actionable insights into their products and services.

I previously worked at PepsiCo to use various digital platforms and technologies to listen and engage with our consumers.  Gatorade Mission Control, for example, is a physical room inside our Chicago headquarters that is outfitted with wall-to-wall screens fed by robust data feeds of social conversation about Gatorade and issues important to the brand.  It allows for real-time engagement and response and has significantly affected the way the brand is portrayed.

Companies today are launched with digital as part of their core strategy, but retrofitting a large organization with the digital skills needed to thrive in this new digital environment takes a commitment across all functions of the organization.  Companies must first recognize the need for digital within their business model, and the goals it will help them achieve.  They must then build an understanding that implementing digital into the organization will not only impact the consumer facing functions, such as marketing and sales, but also research and development, manufacturing, supply chain, legal, etc.  This requires not only resource allocation but also a willingness to re-skill the workforce to learn the necessary digital skills.  Companies such as POZEN who have adopted a customer-centric approach and are embracing the value of social and digital media are at an advantage, whereas companies who have not will have a more difficult time transitioning to the quickly evolving digital environment.

Digital has the power to create a vast network for caregivers, to open new connections between patients and doctors, and even to lead to the discovery of more effective treatment plans.  And once pharmaceutical companies unlock the power of digital and bring it to the core of their business model, the opportunities for growth are endless.

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New Opportunities for Reaching and Engaging Consumers/Patients

Marc Monseau, Founder and Principal, MDM Communications; previously Director of Corporate Communication and Social Media, Johnson & Johnson; member, POZEN Digital Advisory Board

Like most people, I go online when I want to find out more about a product.  I not only seek insights from others like myself, but I also look for information and support from the companies that make or sell those products.  If I have questions or concerns, I reach out directly to organizations through a variety of digital channels and social media platforms and expect to receive a credible, informed response in a timely way.  In most cases, I've been successful.

Yet when reaching out to most makers of prescription medicines, people have a very different experience.  There is generally little online interaction, and most communications are formal, highly technical and impersonal.

Given people routinely interact with companies as diverse as airlines, cable providers and consumer goods manufacturers, why is it that when it comes to questions about products that may have the biggest impact on their lives they are greeted with silence?

The reason most often cited is that pharmaceutical companies operate in a highly regulated environment, and that the regulator has yet to provide clarity around what can or can't be done using digital and social media platforms. While that is certainly true, and is no doubt a contributing factor to the reticence, it doesn't provide a complete picture of the situation.  Indeed, the other hurdles to effective online interactions, which encompass the structure of the organization, processes that enable effective and timely interaction and an open and supportive corporate culture, may be the highest gates to clear.

Effective engagement on the social web demands that companies demonstrate consistent behaviors through all their customer touch points - from public relations announcements to marketing and advertising activities to customer service.  Consistent messaging, tone and actions require a close alignment between the different functional areas responsible for those communications channels.  In addition, the expectation that companies will publicly respond online to questions from their customers in a timely fashion requires the creation of teams and systems as well as the dedication of allocated resources that can support this type of content creation.

In all of these areas, most large pharmaceuticals companies are at a disadvantage.  Not only are there institutionalized barriers that make coordination between different functional areas difficult to achieve, but the companies generally do not have the processes or resources in place to support timely, informal communications.

Yet all of this can be addressed if the culture of the organization is one in which the customer—whether a healthcare professional or a lay consumer – is put at the center of all activities.  Such a focus creates an internal environment where the structural changes, process development and reallocation of resources towards online support and engagement are possible.  We've seen such changes take place in other industries, from car manufacturers to consumer goods manufacturers, which have realized this is the level of support people now demand.  It is now time for such approaches to become widespread in healthcare – which, after all, has the biggest impact on people's lives.  The pharmaceuticals industry must evolve with the customer, developing rapid response systems as well as providing actionable and useful information and tools for patients and physicians that together they can use to improve health outcomes.

While many large pharmaceutical companies are starting to recognize the social shift driven by the widespread adoption of different digital technology demands they revise their approach to external communications, the change is slow in coming as the barriers within many organizations are institutionalized.  While internal change may yet occur within established organizations, new and emerging companies such as POZEN are at an advantage.  By building structures, processes and a culture that embraces the use of new technologies as a means to interact and engage, they are able to drive more effective and efficient interactions with their customers.

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Defining a New Doctor-Patient Relationship

Daniel Palestrant, MD, Chief Executive Officer and Founder, Par8o; previously Chief Executive Officer and Founder, Sermo; member, POZEN Digital Advisory Board

Once upon a time, the only way to acquire the knowledge of medicine was through years of scholarly study, followed by an indentured servitude in the form of some sort of apprenticeship or residency.  Start to finish, it was about eight years.  Indeed, the Latin translation of the word “doctor” is in fact “teacher,” as the cycle of teaching and learning was a central feature of the profession.  Today, however, our access to information is not quite so circuitous, arduous or time-consuming.  A layperson can access vast quantities of healthcare information with little effort and almost no cost.  This near-instantaneous access to information would appear to erode one of the key “asymmetries” in the doctor-patient relationship, as a patient is now able to easily gain access to the collective world knowledge of their condition prior to their first encounter with the physician.

However, the body of knowledge acquired by a healthcare provider over years of experience is vastly different from that acquired by a single foray onto the Internet.  The key difference is context.  Context is what allows us to weigh various pieces of information, understand their overall importance, but perhaps most importantly, the relative importance to that patient with that particular circumstance.  Unfortunately, context also appears to be the most prone to subjective pressures, especially when the inquirer is the patient themselves or the loved one of a patient.  Subjective truths can differentiate cold facts from perceived truths and are the gray area of healthcare that largely dictates the variation in treatment paths.  In the future, those subjective truths will increasingly become the battle zone between the forces who wish to influence the patient's journey.  Ironically, those forces are not the doctor vs. patient but rather the doctor and collectively all the other forces, often commercial, that are trying to influence the patient.  With patients now able to access vast quantities of information independent of the physician, the successful doctor needs to evolve into a new role, as a partner to the patient in understanding information rather than a gatekeeper to that information.

For physicians, who can imagine no other role other than a paternalistic gatekeeper of information, the future will be very challenging because the information asymmetry – and, with it, the perceived power – is gone.  However, for those physicians who can literally join the patient on their side of the table, the future is bright.  The explosion in treatment choices and information available make a physician's experience and ability to provide context more valuable than ever.  Likewise, a physician has the experience to be able to provide a counter-weight to the subjective truths that often can be the differentiator between a path of least resistance and one that might have tougher near-term choices but ultimately a better long-term outcome.  On a very personal level for physicians, this means relying less upon the rote memorization and recall of information and more the relationship building and bedside manners that are so often overlooked in the clinical arena.

In this “new world order”, industry will need to pick its role very, very carefully.  As patients and consumers seek out information online, industry will not be able to resist the urge to cater to this demand, nor should they.  However, industry will need to learn from their prior experience with direct-to-consumer advertising, where the opportunity to appeal directly to consumers came at the expense of alienating healthcare providers.  This time, industry will have a much broader set of tools, including the entire social media medium, to establish two-way channels of communication with consumers that need to educate without embellishing information and inform the consumer without undermining the healthcare provider.  A provider's perception of any given piece of information coming from industry will be flavored as much by whether the information is respectful of the provider's role as by the accuracy of the information itself.  This requires a new type of communication where industry communicates to patients in concert with providers rather than in competition.  Newer companies, such as POZEN, are at an advantage because they can begin with a customer-centric approach interacting with providers when, where and how they want to be communicated with, compared with larger companies that have an already-established protocol for communicating with providers.  By any measure, all parties are in for a period of changing and evolving roles during which the opportunities are at least as great as the challenges.

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New and Emerging Selling Model

Meredith Ressi, President, Manhattan Research; previously Chief Operating Officer, Integrated Wellness Solutions; member, POZEN Digital Advisory Board

One of the biggest challenges we at Manhattan Research see our Big Pharma clients facing is how to evolve their commercialization models to adapt to how healthcare is delivered today.  The traditional pharma commercialization model was developed in a different era.  Over the last decade, there was a 25 percent decline in new drug launches in the United States.  Additionally, many compounds in development are more-targeted therapies that are applicable to a smaller group of patients.  With the pharma industry moving away from blockbuster drugs, the approach of marketing products through mass-market media such as television ads or large-scale sales forces will be less feasible in the years ahead.

The current model for promoting prescription drugs to physicians was developed in a time when sales force representatives were one of the only methods available to reach physicians, in addition to direct mailings and conferences.  For today's physician, personal selling is, in many ways, at odds with the busy workday of physicians and their evolving information and service needs.  In our research with physicians, one resounding sentiment across specialties is how incredibly busy they are and how they need help being more time efficient in their practices so they have more time to devote to patient care.  The army of reps in the waiting room – each with their “three points and a close”—is just not what these busy physicians need today.  The pharma industry must to evolve its selling approach to best align with the changing behaviors of physicians.

Luckily, digital channels have created more opportunities for companies to reach physicians more conveniently and on the physicians' terms, as well as for engaging them and meeting the new needs of today's busy doctors.  Although sales force representatives' visits and time spent with physicians are declining, physician's professional digital access time surged by an average of three hours per week between 2010 and 2011.  Eighty-one percent of physicians own a smartphone, and 30 percent own a tablet device.  These devices are being used throughout the day to access information on-the-go and, as a result, are changing physicians' expectations for interacting with content.  Physicians, as tech-savvy consumers themselves, are able to, for example, tweet JetBlue to change a flight, yet the service infrastructure of most pharmaceutical companies is not designed to be sufficiently responsive to physicians' expectations and needs.

For most companies, it is a real struggle to rethink marketing and sales strategy from within the confines of their organizational structures and the degree to which these tactics are entrenched as the way things have always been done.  POZEN is in an enviable position of being able to ask, “What is the ideal business model for taking a product to market in today's landscape?” – a question most large pharmaceutical companies are not able to swiftly address.

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