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Digitalisation of pharma industry

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Mudit Vijayvergiya, Co-founder, Curofy, speaks on the advancements of technology and the revolution it is bringing about in the pharma industry

Mudit Vijayvergiya

Digital revolution is here and in a big way. It has in a way revolutionised the way we go about our daily business. We don’t catch up with our friends in a coffee shop, we Whatsapp them. We don’t stand on a walkway waiting for the next cab to arrive, we book an Uber. We don’t shop at a mall instead we will get it from Amazon. In every aspect of life, digitalisation is involved also. Beyond the realms of an individual life, industries are being defined by their adoption of technology. The Ubers, Amazons, the Air BnBs of the world have truly disrupted industries and have made lives of the people infinitely better.

However, the pharma industry has been able to resist the temptation of riding the digital wave for long now. This in no way gives us the right to tag them as technology laggards. In fact, the reality is quite the opposite. They have been early adopters of technology in many aspects. Their Internet adventures can be dated back to 1996. 24X7 rep visit was an initiative that was aimed at reduction of sales force. However, that failed. Sites like WebMD do indicate that the intent was always there, but the doctors, the focal point of the healthcare ecosystem never went digital. And hence the entire industry was branded as a late adopter.

Meaning of digitalisation

It is almost trivial to ask ourselves this question. However, the crux is simpler than we think. Digitalisation is bringing an offline phenomenon online. It’s that simple. This basic bare bones definition holds true for any industry as well. Today, customer engagement happens on Facebook. Twitter is the preferred channel to listen to what your customers think about you. Even interviews happen over Skype, and dates on Tinder. Wherever you look today, whatever we do, we have an alternative in the palm of our hands. Hence the activities, which used to happen offline, have now shifted to online platforms.

Market dynamics

One of the major markets out there for digital wave to kick in is the consumer healthcare market. A market that calls for direct to consumer marketing. It is a four billion nascent and ever-growing market that is waiting in the wings for the digital marketers to take advantage of. Right from the very inception of the idea of the drug to the brand perception, customer engagement and social listening could hold the key to arrive at actionable inputs. This can reduce the efforts of the offline team to painstakingly collect data. The best part here is that the consumer is already online. Hence, it makes a lot of sense to shift the direct-to-customer marketing to online. Digital platforms can give the pharma marketers ample opportunity to market products more effectively and at a fraction of a cost. It’s no wonder that YouTube is slowly taking over from TVCs for the social animals. This is in line with how a heavy spending FMCG industry took digitalisation seriously and using it for their own advantage. Today, FMCG companies spend an average of 12-15 per cent of their marketing budget in digital technonogy. However, there are some companies who are already spending 30 per cent or above on the technology.

That being said, for pharma companies, the marketing towards doctors takes the brunt of the budget. Hence for them the latter has to be brought online. They spend on an average 20-25 per cent of the sales towards reaching out to doctors which is roughly $4 billion out of $16 billion pharma industry today. Taking analogies with other industries, if doctors are online, at least 10-15 per cent of this $4 billion will go online in next four to five years.

Status: Present and future

Digital marketing is merely an extension to orthodox methods and makes up for one to two per cent of their marketing budget. It’s time it increases.

Doctors are slowly but surely waking up and taking notice of digital platforms. The pharma industry is already taking baby steps towards it. And the possibilities are immense. Digital platform  makes the inaccessible accessible. For example, Facebook has not only redefined the way we interact today, but also the way we think about various products.

From market research to brand recall, to brand building to e-detailing, every function can be moulded in the form of buttons. Think webinars and you get ‘Register now’ button for a doctor. Think scientific contentment or detailing and you get ‘Learn more’ as the action button for a doctor.  Market research, competitive intelligence, quick feedbacks will be converted into a few buttons for doctors on the digital platforms. With mushrooming of niche networks like Doximity, Sermo, Curofy and Figure 1, doctors are taking a liking towards it. The time is right for pharma big guns to embrace the digital makeover.

Pharma industry needs to take a RoI-driven approach to penetrate deep in the markets. With regulations taking its toll, going digital will go a long way in reducing the burden on these companies. Who knows it might turn out to be the ultimate marketing avenue for them. Today, digital marketing is merely a platform change from bill boards to laptop and mobile.

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