Why won’t those stupid marketers “do” digital?

Over the last few years I’ve worked in and with Pharma marketers from the digital side, trying to preach and teach the virtues of digital channels. It has been a thankless task, with bucket loads of blood, sweat, and tears of frustration. I have used a number of different techniques, from talking about the revolution in big forums to small softly, softly “express yourself” type workshops (no, there were no incense sticks smoking away in the background to the sound of trickling water).

Once the adrenalin rush dies down after each event I try to analyze what impact this may have had.

To be fair, some glacially slow progress has been made as the median knowledge of the industry inches forward, but it has not been the tidal wave that some had predicted, or hoped for.

Should we be surprised?
Probably not.

Looking back to my earlier days as an eBusiness evangelist in the late 90′s, where a solid part of our strategic recommendations included “give your employees access to email”, we spent many a night conjuring projections with terms such as “dis-intermediation” and the likes floating about on post-its.
I recently took a fresh look at some of those crazy visionary presentations that we churned out, and guess what… many of them were right (Warren Buffet logic), but nearly all the timelines were wrong.

So what went wrong then, and is the same thing happening now?

My analysis is that nothing actually went wrong, it’s just that we all get a bit carried away with the media buzz out there, and forget that the majority of world is shackled with heaps of resistance to change. Some of that change is personal, some of it is corporate organizational, some legal etc. It simply takes a long time for these to all be aligned for things to happen (always longer than I want anyway).

But if you peer through the mist today you can see that there is progress, and that there is no going back. To believe that the current models will not change is simply not accepting the evidence of change that confronts the observer, taken the avalanche of factors currently impacting our industry. I’ve included a small table below from one of my presentations to underline some of these :

Pharma Macro Dynamic Drivers, Multi-channel

Pharma Macro Dynamic Drivers, Multi-channel

So if we all agree that the current model is broken, and that we need to be moving somewhere else why is progress still so slow?

I’ll get to that soon, but at this point I just want to reminisce on the humorous video that eyeforpharma did on the extinction of the Sales Rep last year.

The film served to stir emotions among some, with a certain amount of anger coming from the field, and a reserved smugness among the marketers as we all trundled off to the conference. Jump forward and the emotions are not quite the same as the marketers become more aware of the gaping holes in their own skill-sets and capabilities.
So is it the fault of the marketer after all?

There are many market research papers out there that suggest resistance to change and a reluctance to adopt digital tools as part of a multi-channel approach endure as a consequence of the usual culprits:

  • Lack of senior management commitment
  • Inadequate or incomplete strategy
  • Lack of internal (and external) capabilities
  • MLR resistance to risk or change
  • Reluctance to reassign budget
  • Elusive evidence of ROI

My opinion is that it is all of the above, but that perhaps we’ve not looked at this through the right prism. Think about it: are all the stakeholders related to the above issues only out to defeat the digital guys? I think not. Senior management is there to make educated decisions based on the evidence at hand. They are tasked to steer the ship safely, based on limited information and, to a lesser degree, gut feeling build on decades of experience.

Maybe we have not provided the tools (or maybe they still do not exist…. maybe) to truly read the constellation to allow the captain to steer the ship.
By this I mean we have been pretty weak at building the case for doing some of the stuff that we’re asking our stakeholders to adopt. Yes, in individual impact studies we can demonstrate that an eDetail, or a self-directed video, has a greater impact than none, but if we are honest with ourselves we’re only looking at part of the equation in an artificial configuration, and not even attempting to truly understand the influence and behavioral change attributed to different information coming from different channels.

To build traction and credibility we need to develop and demonstrate deep understanding of channel impact and attribution (including the sales force). There are lots of smart people working in this industry, and there are already pockets of excellence with the thinking going in the right direction.

We need to harness this as a lifestyle, living and breathing multiple channels. Knowing what each channel can bring to the table, within the specific environment of each “business case”, and how to mix effectively a selected number of them in a congruent manner. If we can do this effectively, using the left and right sides of our brain to talk to our fellow stakeholders, we will generate the interest and commitment we’ve been looking for.

The title of this post is “Why won’t those stupid marketers “do” digital?”

Now that you’ve read this far I would postulate a different, and more appropriate cut on this:

Stop pushing the virtues of digital. If you can demonstrate that channel X and Y , used together, will drive the best business and customer outcomes, your marketers will sit up, listen, then beg to know more! Push will become pull, and the marketers will finally skill themselves up with the tools of tomorrow.

In conclusion, we need to become masters of channel selection, capable of building quantified scenario’s based on desired outcomes and limited resources. And yes, that will take real investment, but senior management should acknowledge and invest accordingly.

- – - – -

As usual I welcome any constructive criticism.
Time permitting I will be posting later this year on the topic of channel selection.

8 comments

  1. Nice work Sven. We need to think differently and move on from ‘digital’ to thinking about the customer first. It’s true. But we need skill in all channels to do ‘channel agnostic’ planning surely?

    1. Absolutely Kay, couldn’t agree more in that we need to be able to be masters of channel selection. This does effectively mean channel experience, where perhaps the “marketer” will not have this. The “e” person must be able to understand the touchpoint value to be able to almost simulate options.
      Customer experience is clearly key, and I’m in no way underestimating the need to excel in this for each channel, but that is on a different level.

  2. Hi Sven, thanks for a great post and it has motivated me to reply.

    I agree Digital marketing is clearly the way forward for most industries especially with mobile apps, social media, podcasts and video being being so excessible now in this digital age.

    The difference with the pharma industry is:

    1) It is very conservative and doesn’t easily embrace change, unless it is legislated for or it has an urgent commercial reason to do so.

    2) Most of the time there is no reason to embrace digital as prescription medicines tend be be well received through the traditional channels by the medical profession and then prescribed for patients to use without pharma taking perseived risks with newer digital strategies. If the watch ain’t broken don’t fix it approach has prevailed for decades.

    I spent over 25 years with pharma sales and marketing departments, before leaving to join the digital industry and of all the reasons you mentioned, the legal considerations are one of the biggest blockers for digital.

    3) No-one wants to be sued for making claims about a medicine online where it is visible to everyone and also the regulations in UK and Europe do not allow promotion of precription medicines to patients. This is enforced by the government medicines agencies who can quickly and easily get access to online website and social media materials.

    4) Social media has proved fraught with dangers for pharma when tried directly in-house, as well as being against the association guidelines and regulations. So it seems easier for pharma to partner with a recognised patient education group and let them do all all the visible tweeting under the patient group banner.

    5) Many companies don’t think it is worth the risk of going more digital, when a competitor company can report them for a breach of association guideline codes of practice.

    However, having said this, there is a lot of activity going on with using iPads for e detailing so pharmaceutical companies are making progress. I liked your comment about the breakthrough to use e mail in companies a few years ago, so it shows attitudes do change given time.

    Unfortunately, for all the above reasons, the fast track for digital growth is always going to be outside the pharma industry. But it is a massive market for digital, should things change.

    1. Steve, thanks for the well constructed and thoughtful response.
      I do understand where you are coming from on these 5 points, and would agree with them to a certain extent. And you are right in that some senior directors don’t think it is “broken”. There are also those that know it is.

      There are clear guidelines for digital communications from almost all health authorities. There are however only “guidance” documents from a handful on social media, bearing in mind that social media is only one part of a bigger picture, and in my opinion the guidance is common sense and good, and can be worked with (I agree that a smart way forward is to work with 3rd parties if the strategic intent can be achieved).

      As per our more traditional channels (aka the sales rep and congresses) – yes they do work, but with diminishing returns, and we certainly no longer capture the majority of our audience. In Europe access to doctors has been dropping over the years, with several countries now around the 40% mark. What about the other 60%? In Europe where we can not talk product to patients the focus is either the HCP (many digital channels for this) or awareness material for patients. Here we tend to get into a market-share debate (as the sales managers are often measured on this) rather than an increase in revenues view, and as such this approach is probably not optimized yet.

      Your conclusion is also spot on – progress will be slow, but it will happen. My article was trying to say this too, and we should build better ways to industrialize the multi-channel approach where we clearly know how to choose our mix of channels and can demonstrate sales attribution.

  3. [...] Sven Awege (@svennieco) writes: Over the last few years I’ve worked in and with Pharma marketers from the digital side, trying to preach and teach the virtues of digital channels. It has been a thankless task, with bucket loads of blood, sweat, and tears of frustration. I have used a number of different techniques, from talking about the revolution in big forums to small softly, softly “express yourself” type workshops (no, there were no incense sticks smoking away in the background to the sound of trickling water). Once the adrenalin rush dies down after each event I try to analyze what impact this may have had. To be fair, some glacially slow progress has been made as the median knowledge of the industry inches forward, but it has not been the tidal wave that some had predicted, or hoped for. Should we be surprised?Probably not. Looking back to my earlier days as an eBusiness evangelist in the late 90′s, where a solid part of our strategic recommendations included “give your employees access to email”, we spent many a night conjuring projections with terms such as “dis-intermediation” and the likes floating about on post-its.I recently took a fresh look at some of those crazy visionary presentations that we churned out, and guess what… many of them were right (Warren Buffet logic), but nearly all the timelines were wrong.So what went wrong then, and is the same thing happening now?  [...]

  4. [...] Sven Awege (@svennieco) writes: Over the last few years I’ve worked in and with Pharma marketers from the digital side, trying to preach and teach the virtues of digital channels. It has been a thankless task, with bucket loads of blood, sweat, and tears of frustration. I have used a number of different techniques, from talking about the revolution in big forums to small softly, softly “express yourself” type workshops (no, there were no incense sticks smoking away in the background to the sound of trickling water). Once the adrenalin rush dies down after each event I try to analyze what impact this may have had. To be fair, some glacially slow progress has been made as the median knowledge of the industry inches forward, but it has not been the tidal wave that some had predicted, or hoped for. Should we be surprised?Probably not. Looking back to my earlier days as an eBusiness evangelist in the late 90′s, where a solid part of our strategic recommendations included “give your employees access to email”, we spent many a night conjuring projections with terms such as “dis-intermediation” and the likes floating about on post-its.I recently took a fresh look at some of those crazy visionary presentations that we churned out, and guess what… many of them were right (Warren Buffet logic), but nearly all the timelines were wrong.So what went wrong then, and is the same thing happening now?  [...]

  5. [...] Sven Awege (@svennieco) writes: Over the last few years I’ve worked in and with Pharma marketers from the digital side, trying to preach and teach the virtues of digital channels. It has been a thankless task, with bucket loads of blood, sweat, and tears of frustration. I have used a number of different techniques, from talking about the revolution in big forums to small softly, softly “express yourself” type workshops (no, there were no incense sticks smoking away in the background to the sound of trickling water). Once the adrenalin rush dies down after each event I try to analyze what impact this may have had. To be fair, some glacially slow progress has been made as the median knowledge of the industry inches forward, but it has not been the tidal wave that some had predicted, or hoped for. Should we be surprised?Probably not. Looking back to my earlier days as an eBusiness evangelist in the late 90′s, where a solid part of our strategic recommendations included “give your employees access to email”, we spent many a night conjuring projections with terms such as “dis-intermediation” and the likes floating about on post-its.I recently took a fresh look at some of those crazy visionary presentations that we churned out, and guess what… many of them were right (Warren Buffet logic), but nearly all the timelines were wrong.So what went wrong then, and is the same thing happening now?  [...]

  6. Nice post, Sven. Thanks for sharing your insights; we’re in accord here.

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