Developing a pharmaceutical digital strategy.

I was recently asked my thoughts on how a digital strategy could be developed for the pharmaceutical industry. Unfortunately there is no “magic wand” or “one glove fits all” answer to this question. The strategy has to be part of the corporate vision, it also needs to be incorporated as part of the daily business activities.

Ultimately the business pressures will dictate the final answer: there are however a number of factors that should be considered when debating the digital possibilities:

1.    Marketing – “e-space” can provide an extension to the normal marketing activities: giving detail insights of the products to the healthcare professionals and medical education to patients and their caregivers. A point of warning: examination of the legislative boundaries must be made when communicating directly to patients. Innovative educational programmes are likely to be the best way forward.

2.    PR– the digital arena offers a new channel for all PR activities: social media sites like Twitter, Facebook and Youtube can be used to promote the corporate image.  The viral impact of such PR messages can spread much further than the conventional means. It will also hit the audiences that really matter: targeting individuals online can be very specific.

3.    Communications – digital platforms provide effective and efficient ways to communicate internally or externally: they can be live and interactive or static and historical. Here are just some of the options that can be utilised:

  • Webinars / webcasts and podcasts for a variety of messages.
  • Blogs for informal messages.
  • Forums to build communities.
  • Text messaging and tweets for concise information.
  • E-mail marketing for efficient structured news or promotions.

4.    Business generation – e-commerce platforms (creating new business channels) and CRM facilities (to increase sales forces effectiveness).  In most of Europe, prescription only medicines (POMs) will still need to be obtained from a pharmacy. With the increasing pressures on healthcare budgets is this likely to continue? The concept of OTX (over the counter prescriptions) is being reviewed today, are the pharma companies ready for the change. We have already seen changes in animal healthcare: clients can shop around for their drugs (POM-Vs) on the internet if they so wish.

5.    Business process re-engineering – new digital technology could instigate the death of the very expensive ERP systems, particularly for the smaller business. The new “Cloud technology” could offer much more effective and efficient real time information throughout the   business.

6.    Project management & NPD– the complexities associated with the project management of dossiers and artwork generation can be alleviated with a variety of digital platforms. Even twitter can be utilised using its “private mode” to update teams on the status of a project.

7.    Training and Education – the cost of travel and the pressure on individual’s time often curtails business training programmes. The opportunities created by online media will allow individuals to participate in training programmes either live or at their own choosing in the comfort of the own homes or offices. This can be used for both internal and external customers.

8.    Reporting and control – the reporting, monitoring and control facilities offered by the new digital technologies mean that real time information can be processed on the move.

The summary above is just a small example of what can be delivered by the digital revolution. The pace of development means that there is likely to be opportunities for businesses to excel in areas that have not even been considered yet.  Pharmaceutical companies will only succeed if they embrace the technology and incorporate it in their wider strategic planning.

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Dr Alan Shaw is a Senior Lecturer and Marketing consultant focusing on a range of sectors. His main interests are in strategy development, social marketing, digital marketing, advertising, consumer behaviour and marketing application.

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