Pharma companies have been criticised in the past for allowing marketing budgets to be bigger than R&D spend. While this may not be strictly true, has the shift to digital initiatives cut down on marketing spends? Where have the savings come from?
Up until 2020, pharma had fallen behind other industries for their investments in digital marketing. The pandemic served as a wake-up call, leading to a change in outlook. Business leaders have come to understand the potential of digital by looking at digital investments as a ‘growth-driver’ rather than a ‘cost-saver’. This in turn led to a rise in personalisation in terms of content creation and delivery along with new capabilities.
While this personalisation at scale required massive funds, our investments to realise these objectives have not seen a dip. Our momentum continues to stay strong, only our channels of delivery have seen a change. Digital is no longer viewed as an enabler, but an essential and integral part of the business model. This disruption has proven that only companies which are able to pivot to innovative ways of working, will emerge successful.
What are the regulations covering such digital marketing initiatives in India? Does the Uniform Code for Pharmaceutical Marketing Practices (UCPMP) hold for these initiatives too and are these sufficient? Any global benchmarks on this?
A prompt and appropriate response to changes and the rush to capitalise on growth opportunities calls the need for greater coordination and updated nationwide regulations. General privacy-focused regulations, permission-based marketing models that respect customer preferences, and judicious use of digital channels (e-mail, SMS, WhatsApp, online ads, website) are a much-needed requisite.
What was the fallout of the pandemic on pharma marketing channels? Did doctor engagements suffer in FY21 as compared to FY20?
While a digital strategy has been a part of organisational plans, we are now witnessing a move towards a digital-only strategy, to survive and to communicate with intended audiences. What initially started off as a compulsion, is now steadily progressing towards convenience. The industry realising the potential in setting up dialog with doctors and patients in a new way, one that goes from digitisation to personalisation. COVID-19 has changed priorities in the healthcare industry and companies are conscious of the fact that in a post-COVID-19 world, pharma sales and marketing will use more of digital platforms and interactions. This change has led to an evolution of the marketing and medical function’s capabilities. Increasing emphasis is being given to the role of technology and new channels, like emails, remote calls, messaging, webinars and social networks available to enable new modes of CX (customer experience).
Digitally, we have been directly in touch with our network of over 30,000 HCPs nationwide, along with over 20,000 HCPs through our partner channels, making our total reach over 50,000. We have continued to emphasise on the quality of interactions rather than quantity and deploy a mix of complementary channels such as Veeva approved e-mails and phone calls. Through our initiatives, we have been able to maintain close to 90% pre-pandemic HCP interaction levels.
Is digital the new normal for pharma marketing in the post-pandemic era? Especially with some hospitals charging consultation fees for MRs to meet with doctors? Are doctors now more open to digital CMEs, MR e-meets?
Doctors are more receptive to digital channels, and time spent on these channels has also increased, improving our opportunities to reach them. Digital channels give undivided attention and give the HCP and the company to not use the time allotted for patients. As of now, hospitals charging consultation fees is still rare and is not spreading as far we see.
What parameters can pharma companies use to identify the right digital marketing initiatives? What are the means to judge RoI, cost-benefits of these initiatives?
Digital is no longer viewed as an enabler, but an essential and integral part of the business model. This sudden disruption has demonstrated that only companies which are able to pivot to innovative ways of working, will emerge successful. The digital medium is also expanding as a platform for information, interactions, awareness, and solutions about healthcare. As a result, a pool of better-informed patients and better-networked doctors will emerge.
For successful implementation of digital projects, marketers must take into consideration customer preferences, their affinity towards digital channels and content types. Every channel has a different role to play in the customer journey and the end objective must be expanding the reach and increasing depth based on brand maturity. Digital engagement rates are metrics that are similar to KPIs used for the measurement of ROI. Like in any other engagement method, ROI, in this case too, can also be used by comparing measurable growth seen by Digital v/s Traditional. Such projects, if not possible on a full scale, can always be done through pilots.
How should pharma cos determine which initiatives can be scaled up and how? Which are the technologies that have already caught on in India and what more could be expected?
Perhaps the best part of deploying digital initiatives (in comparison to F2F) is that it leaves behind a permanent footprint in the form of accessible records which can be tracked, monitored, measured over time. Pharma marketing teams are realising the gaps in their customers’ data, and the gap in digital focus in their marketing strategies. Initiatives such as customer preferences, desirable content and its frequency, e-mail, messaging, remote meetings, webinars, etc. are aspects much of the industry has already caught up on.
With the adoption of digital tech, we now have more now more data available and accessible to understand doctor preferences on therapies, treatments, disease areas, engagement timing, and preferred channels of communication. As pharma marketers, we need to equip ourselves with data-driven insights and robust analytics to derive actionable outcomes.
Have digital marketing initiatives helped sustain/exceed pharma companies’ growth of pre-COVID levels? What is your assessment of the pharma industry’s digital maturity in India versus global markets?
The pharma industry’s digital maturity has accelerated with the adoption of digital engagement channels, on a fast track and is going to continue even once the lockdown is lifted. The industry as a whole has adopted multiple interventions to engage HCPs through virtual ad-boards, podcasts and webcasts to discuss scientific aspects of medicines. Boehringer Ingelheim has continued to support medical practitioners to engage with global experts in these times of need, to provide much-needed support on the impact of COVID-19 in patients and have seen a majority of our HCPs adopt digital at an accelerated pace.
We expect that digital and virtual engagements will become a regular and important part of the new normal even as we move out of lockdowns. This will help us offer improved access to global experts and scientific knowledge and trends and will enable us to offer scientific knowledge on medical advancements to our network of HCPs in India.