Digital marketing push for pharma in 2009

From iMedia:

“The pharmaceutical industry is preparing to make a big push in the digital marketing space in 2009, according to a new survey from MarketBridge. Although the industry is largely behind the curve when it comes to digital marketing, nearly 45 percent of pharmaceutical executives made it clear that they need to better understand the opportunity, and more than a third said they’re not adequately organized to take advantage, ClickZ reports.

“Half of all those who responded to the ‘Digital Marketing in Pharma’ survey said less than 10 percent of their company’s marketing budget is allocated to digital. Moreover, there’s still a great deal of uncertainty among pharmaceutical companies about whether they can prove a substantial return on investment if they put more efforts into digital marketing.

“At least 72 percent of all respondents said they would be investing more in 2009, although that may be tempered somewhat by the recession. Partha Krishnamurthy, director of the University of Houston’s Institute for Health Care Marketing, suggests that large pharmaceutical companies face significant risk if they embrace Web 2.0. By its very nature, digital marketing will give consumers a louder voice in shaping a brand’s message, and those with the most negative experiences can easily rise to the top.”


Patients embracing Web 2.0 / Health 2.0

The number of consumers in the US using Web 2.0 technologies in relation to health matters (dubbed ‘Health 2.0’) has doubled in the past year to 60 million people, according to a study just released by Manhattan Research.

Manhattan defines Health 2.0 consumers as people who have: 

  • read health-related blogs, message boards or participated in health-related chatrooms;
  • contributed or posted health content online such as: writing or commenting on a health-related blog, adding or responding to a topic in a forum or group, or creating health related web pages, videos or audio content; or
  • used online patient support groups, message boards, chatrooms, or blogs.

The report says, “Pharmaceutical marketers are catching on to the trends, but there’s a long way to go before brand media closes the gap between where consumers are and where budgets are going – only a small fraction of overall pharmaceutical advertising spend is currently allocated to online campaigns. But as we’re seeing with our clients, consumer trends are prompting marketers to put more weight behind digital strategies.”

“…. Social media is a powerful force impacting the pharmaceutical industry – whether or not brands choose to participate. Taking too conservative of an approach to a channel which thrives on two-way dialogue and open communication will undoubtedly distance brands from consumers – especially for those looking to reach the groups most engaged in Health 2.0. And even if brands aren’t yet ready participate in conversations, some sites sell aggregated data to pharmaceutical companies looking to understand the experiences and challenges that patients face.”

‘GPs rely on drug reps for info’ – is anyone surprised?

Choice has just published a survey saying that Australian general practitioners are reliant on pharmaceutical reps for much of the information they learn about new treatments, the Sydney Morning Herald reports.

“Even though only 24 per cent of doctors trusted the information as much as an independent source, most (81 per cent) would rather receive it because it was often the only way to get timely information on new drugs,” the SMH reports.

“The survey of 180 doctors found that 73 per cent referred to pharmaceutical companies or their representatives for drug information. This made the companies the second-most important source for doctors after clinical evidence.

“Drug companies are the main source of information for 16 per cent of doctors when deciding whether to prescribe a new drug, the survey said.

“‘[Drug company marketing is] often the only way you get information about new drugs in a timely fashion,'” one doctor said.”

Unlike most media reports, which paint pharma companies as worse than tobacco companies, this report stresses that the main reason GPs rely so heavily on pharma companies is the lack of independent information available. Although there may be a difference between “lack of information” and “lack of knowledge of information”, as half of the GPs surveyed said they were not aware of the government-funded National Prescribing Service (NPS). Hmmm, maybe the government needs a national field force armed with brochures, pens and Post-it notes…

Diabetes sites rank top among pharma product web properties

Maureen Malloy, strategic marketing and corporate communications manager from Manhattan Research and one of my news sources, has sent me some preliminary data on Manhattan’s most recent physician marketing research. She writes:

Manhattan Research just released its annual Top Pharma Product Site list from the ePharma Physician® study.  Overview: Diabetes treatment brand sites from Januvia, Actos, Byetta, and Avandia are among the top pharmaceutical product websites in terms of primary care physician visitation

Top 10 Product Sites Visited by Physicians in 2008

Ranked by Number of U.S. Primary Care Physician Visitors

Position               Product  

    1.                          Januvia

    2.                          Actos

    3.                          Chantix

    4.                          Gardasil

    5.                          Actonel

    6.                          Vytorin

    7.                          Amitiza

    8.                          Byetta

    9.                          Avandia

   10.                         Aciphex


Quote: “This year’s rankings show that market events, rather than just advertising alone, can be critical drivers to brand websites,” points out Meredith Abreu Ressi, VP of Research at Manhattan Research. “Pharmaceutical companies need to ensure that brand websites contain the latest, most accurate content possible and can be found relatively easily by physicians using search engines to research pharmaceutical information.”

Source: ePharma Physician® v8.0 (2008)

More info is available at

Mixed results for ‘academic’ drug reps

In the US, a bill is before Congress proposing to send trained clinicians into doctors’ surgeries to provide independent data about the relative benefits, risks, and costs of drugs, following research that suggests that such “academic detailing” reduces potential prescribing bias from the influence of drug company reps.

Medscape, the top-rating medical website for doctors and consumers, has just released results of a poll of its professional members asking what effect doctors think such a program would have? The results:

  • 18% thought it would significantly reduce bias
  • 33% thought it would somewhat reduce bias
  • 13% thought it would not reduce bias
  • 5% were uncertain
  • 28% said: “My prescribing decisions are not influenced by drug company representatives”

Should pharma companies be worried? As someone who has worked on both sides of the fence, my view is that the ones who should be worried are the ones with less effective or useful products. If your medication is the most effective at treating a worrisome condition or has a great life-saving profile, an academic drug rep will help you, not hurt you.

Online analytics and pharma companies

Erika Morphy has written a great article published today in CRM Buyer about the need for pharma companies today to use analytics to sell more effectively. As a Datamonitor researcher is quoted as saying in the article: “Traditionally, all pharma had to do to sell more drugs was employ more sales reps and equip them with the right technology, such as mobile solutions. Now, because their main drivers of profits are being squeezed – the end of blockbuster drugs’ patents and the dearth of new blockbuster drugs coming to market – pharma has come to the realization that is has to be more effective in selling drugs.”

Read the story here.