The Digital Future: Pharma Edition (Predictions Included)

I am a little late on this, but I couldn't help but think about Conan O'Brian's skit "The Year 2000" as I read the predictions about the digital future from Jonathon Richman via Ad Age.

I didn't find anything in the article particularly revolutionary but more evolutionary. Although I agree wholeheartedly with his take that brand Web sites are (nearly) dead.

While the website continues to be the center of attention for every brand in digital and not just in pharma, most people still prefer to get their health-care information from a neutral third party, a trend that will only continue in the future. To combat this, at least one pharma company will take a leap and completely eliminate its site and instead syndicate all of its content to a handful of the health-care-related sites that create personalization through aggregation.

I agree no one cares , but I will raise him on the fact that distributing disease or condition related content is already beginning and it's not a stretch. However, I think brand sites will morph into customer service portals with rich experience that will include real-time chat, perhaps some skype-like face-to-face service to put a human touch on the brand and company Web sites will strictly inform about the products and service should the customer need it. It will become smaller, more nimble, service oriented and very on-demand.

Companies will need to branch out to therapeutic communities, social networks and bloggers to distribute content.

Wait, did I say bloggers? Yes I did. I think bloggers or what I would refer to as new patient opinion leaders will accept content contributions and money from Rx companies to advertise/sponsor to their audience. This will be fully disclosed and the money will go to foundations or co-ops ( I had a lengthy post touching on this at ) that I think these communities use to then use to their collective benefit.

The issue here is that companies haven't yet come around to criticism and transparency, but they will and in the future they will gladly take an 80% favorable post with 20% criticism if they can get their message out to a target audience (More on this to come. I am big believer in the Health 2.0 movement).

The days of big search engine marketing (SEM) and display budgets to pull people to a brand site are gone. I think the push to small, engaging micro sites, social networking sites and sponsored minimally branded communities are on the way in.

This has all been about patients so far, but what about doctors? Social networking for physicians continues to become a standard practice -- and there will be one more development in the future that will ensure almost complete participation: An insurance company will pay doctors for social-network use.
I personally don't see this. The doctor's are too busy to do this unless they carve out specific time from 5-6 at night. But then what is the benefit? Will they have to prove out a result ala pay for performance? Too many questions for this to be viable. The insurance companies are already putting pressure on them let alone making nominal payments for consults that may prove to be meaningless.

However, I do see sales rep access continuing to decline and doctor's continual movement online to get information. I can see a time where e-detailing, videos and clinical information all comes via the Internet to the Doctor when he/she wants to see it. It's not a great time to be a Rx sales rep and I don't see it getting better anytime soon. Although I do think there will be a "key account manager" with deep expertise for top doctor's in the therapeutic area. Relationships still play a role, but the salad days of blanketing a territory with sales reps catering lunches are gone.

What you will see is a continued march towards social media as a replacement for traditional forms of media. DTC will continue to to decline as it will bear out that social media and building relationships in networks, as Jeremiah Owyang might say, is "fish where the fish are" will continue to grow. The efficacy of marketing in general will take a beating until social efforts are in long enough to bear some fruit. For some, I don't think the patience will be there to bear fruit and there will be some deemed failures.

I have said this before and I will say it again, big ships don't turn easily and this transformation will not fully take effect for a few years. I think people are coming around to social media, but it is by no means taken root as quickly as it should and I don't think it's all related to legal and regulatory risk. I think it's because it confounds some people who haven't yet taken the time to understand and embrace it quite yet.

That is why the marketing leaders of tomorrow will be required to know online marketing, interactive development, social media, sponsorships, and I think PR/communications skills become more important.

There is the quote, "change is inevitable, growth is intentional." That's my .02, what's yours? Add a comment.

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