Express Pharma

 Future of pharma marketing lies in ‘Hybrid Model’

Preetha Vasanji, MD (India), Doceree emphasises that digital is here to stay, and for pharma marketers, it can’t act as a band-aid anymore. She opines that the pharma marketing ecosystem will have to evolve to a hybrid model consisting of both offline and online modes

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Just more than a year back, the world witnessed a grave health situation arising out of the COVID-19 virus attack. Not just it was unprecedented, it happened all of a sudden, not giving ample time to anyone to take a grasp of the situation. World leaders scrambled to contain the spread of the virus that fanned out like a wildfire, and then happened what was never thought of – the lockdown, globally. The pandemic and simultaneous clamping of lockdown crippled all industries and the pharma industry was no exception. Perhaps, it was much tougher for pharma brands as their sales representatives were shut indoors and engaging with physicians almost became impossible for them. The restlessness in not being able to manage the system was very much palpable among pharma marketers. 

Digital became a saviour for pharma marketers 

Amidst the chaos, pharma marketers looked for ways to keep the interaction with physicians going, but in vain. Healthcare practitioners themselves limited physical meetings for fear of contracting the virus and even shifted to online mediums to consult their patients. The physicians’ shift to digital mediums pushed pharma brands too to take the digital route to engage with healthcare practitioners. Until now, digital was not more than a checkbox activity for pharma marketers. The hesitance for digital technologies dwindled in times of crisis and the medium became much sought for. Brands tested the medium, and for the very first time experienced the value it offered in terms of improved business outcomes. With the activity around digital gaining pace, the next big question was ‘what the future of pharma marketing would look like?’. 

Digital’s popularity dipped as the first COVID receded

As opposed to how euphorically pharma marketers reacted to digital mediums in the initial days, its popularity dipped as the virus outbreak faded in various parts of the world. Most of the pharma marketers went back to their comfort zone and meetings with physicians the offline way resumed. A bunch of marketers, however, stuck to the medium, understanding full well that the medium can’t be ignored. But overall it appeared digital failed to make an impact on marketers, who now stopped short of giving digital medium the due importance it deserved. Some of those who benefitted from the medium during the days of the first COVID wave struggled to replicate the experience of digital at an enterprise level. Did it mean the future of digital technologies was bleak and the medium could never make a strong impact upon pharma marketers as it did on consumer marketers?

Digital gains ground with COVID’s resurgence 

Just when the popularity of digital medium seemed to be waning, COVID-19 resurfaced – this time in a more ferocious manner. The resurgence of COVID-19 has once again put a halt to physical interactions. Physicians are limiting meeting sales representatives and pharma marketers are again moving to digital channels to keep the flow of communication going with healthcare experts. The use of digital mediums is quite need-based at the moment with no clear view of how essential the medium is for marketers. 

Digital, more than a stopgap arrangement

The pandemic has underscored one thing: digital is here to stay, and for pharma marketers, it can’t act as a band-aid anymore. The pharma marketing ecosystem will have to evolve to a hybrid model consisting of both offline and online modes. Digital would deserve a more sustained and continuous approach to build brands. The ad hoc efforts will not yield desired outcomes and would not unleash the full potential of the medium. It needs investment of time and efforts, and an unflinching commitment by marketers to understand the digital platforms and strategies that could work in their favour and increase the brands’ ROI substantially. Creating a brand story without involving digital in all seriousness would now be only a half-baked attempt. Marketers will have to move to a hybrid model to improve business outcomes. 

Pharma brands that had understood the importance of digital medium and integrated it into their plans, had leverage. When the resurgence happened, they did not have to jostle all over again to shift to digital to gain access to physicians. Creating gaps in digital marketing will only hamper the efforts as marketers will not be able to understand the medium fully, nor could they be able to explore the positive impact it can have. A hybrid ecosystem is every industry’s future and the pharma industry, certainly, is not an exception.

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