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We are currently working with almost all major pharma companies in Asia Pacific


Sylvia Hii, Founder & VP – Marketing, Digital A Plus Group of Companies in an interaction with Usha Sharma, elaborates on the immense opportunities provided by digital service providers within the pharma industry

What is the business potential of digital communication within the pharma sector and how fast is the market growing?

Sylvia Hii

There is a huge potential for digital communication in the pharmaceutical sector as evidenced by the robust growth year-on-year. This is the only industry which has withstood recession and political turmoil. Global spending on medicines is expected to reach $1.2 trillion by end of 2017, according to a recent report by the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics. With increased competition and cost cutting and with more customer getting text savvy (use of smart phones and Internet), the market is skewed towards digital engagement. Digital communication is not only between pharma and doctors, but it is a three-way communication where all the stakeholders are involved giving ample opportunity for all the digital service providers in this industry.

What services do Digital A Plus offer to pharma companies? Do you also cater to other sectors?

Digital A Plus strives towards empowering its customers with all possible offerings that will add value to their business/service/life. The offerings can be mainly categorised into business promotion (marketing support to the pharma companies), medical training (to the medical field force), HCP education, and patient education and awareness. Although most of our offerings are skewed towards business promotion, recently patient education is gaining rapid momentum.

Recently, the PM announced that medical practitioners should prescribe generic medicines. According to you how will this impact market dynamics? What role will DigitalAPlus play in this change?

Our services to pharma companies includes training, marketing and patient education outputs. We do not specifically cater to specific brand or generic and it would depend on the client for which we are working on and their objectives and marketing directions. We do see increase in the medical communication of generic drugs as well. With this we expect shift in the market dynamics with more generic coming through the bio-equivalence study and pricing also playing a major role in the prescription habits.

Till now how many pharma dedicated projects have been executed and which are they? How many are in the pipeline? Who are your major pharma clients?

In the past five years, we have executed at least 2000 projects to various clients like MSD, AstraZeneca, Sanofi, Novartis, Cipla, Torrent, SunPharma, DRL, Allergan, Takeda, Eisai, Mundipharma & etc. The projects extend from a simple print leaflet to complex 3D output via virtual reality or augmented reality. Projects like, pharmacists engagement portal for all mobile devices, theme-based social media campaigns for women’s health and men’s health related, Ipad gamifications for doctors and internal sales training, annual email marketing end-to-end solutions for multiple brands etc. We are also undertaking bulk html programming projects from pharma companies since we are certified content partners for CLM platforms like Veeva, MI Touch and Viseven Group. We have been continuously improvising to cater the ever-hungry requirement in the space of digital. We are currently working with almost all the major pharma companies in Asia Pacific including few regional ones.

How much do pharma companies invest in digital marketing than traditional marketing? According to you, how much should a company invest while contemplating for digital marketing?

Most pharma companies have realised the importance of digital marketing and takes the lion share of their budget. At the moment, they are allocating between 20 per cent – 30 per cent of their budget to work on digital marketing campaigns. The focus has also shifted from outbound marketing to inbound marketing. It is natural in traditional media to reach out to a generally broad, public to draw people’s attention to your product or service. With digital media, it enables consumers to proactively seek out for your products or company and come to your digital marketing channels willingly. However, traditional marketing includes F2F is most appreciated by most doctors even now due to the emotional connect. The actual spending on digital would again depend on the brand and company direction. Although the budgets are slightly skewed towards the digital side. To be very frank, in India at the moment, pharma companies are not contemplating for investing in the digital marketing campaigns, they are trying out new ideas almost every other days. The digital budget will definitely becoming 80 – 90 per cent in the next three to five years.

Are Indian pharma companies reluctant to adopt digital communication?

No, there is a huge transformation in digital spending, we could see that almost all the major Indian pharma companies have endorsed digital marketing with investing high on different tools. Most companies have been using tablets or iPAD as part of general communication tool to the doctors.

What challenges do you foresee for pharma digital communication? What solutions would you suggest?

Healthcare or pharma sector is governed by strict regulations and legal restrictions. This makes it more challenging in delivering the marketing/educational services in digital format. We cannot apply the regular policies of advertising, educating or consulting. Each communication has to undergo multiple levels of reviews and approvals. This delay and limits the scope of creativity and innovation. However, the challenge and key to success lies in how you quickly and efficiently adapt to this environment.

It is important to include all  stakeholders at every stage of planning and execution, especially medical and legal, regulatory department. Imparting training to the field force who are executing the output is also important.

Recently, there have been news about Ransomware attacks. What precautionary measures would you suggest to avoid malware attacks?

Most of the digital communication done for pharma companies are not hosted on public domain but on firewall protected servers. Also, they are hosted on devices where internet usage is minimal or protected. Further, those which are hosted on public domain such as portal, website, we follow policy which can safeguard the content and secure servers to protect from any malware attacks.

A few Indian pharma companies have created platforms which are connected with patients, for eg: DRL’s Purple Health. How can pharma companies go for better patient engagement activities in respect to patient safety and compliance issue?

Patient education content needs to be de-branded and not intended for promoting the brand but to manage disease and quality of life. Pharma companies need to frequently update with relevant content and make it more interesting and engaging. This could be in the form of games, Q&A, using kiosk machine, reminder application etc.

Presently, the company has its presence in Malaysia, Singapore and China. Are there plans to foray into new geographies?

Currently, we are focusing on these geographic including India, however, we are planning to expand to remaining Asia Pacific countries and the Middle East in the next two years. However, this again would depend on the market dynamics, company policy, direction and need for engaging newer customer.

Tell us about the company’s future plans for next three years?

Pharma is the only sector that will never slow down, as health cannot be compromised. With rapid growth of pharma, innovative, cost-cutting, effective digital trends in terms of personalised apps, AR, VR and social media marketing is the future. We are also planning transform ourselves into an institution that not only caters to the need of individualised pharma companies, but also enables the pharma and healthcare stakeholder as well as patients to provide quality services and care and improve overall quality of life respectively.

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