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Understanding digital maturity in pharmaceutical marketing – where do you fit?

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Cell phone taking a picture of coffee and pastries

It’s no secret that digital innovation has completely revolutionized the consumer experience. Take your morning cup of coffee, for example. The act of buying and enjoying a cup of coffee is probably the least digital experience one has on a daily basis. It’s basically the same as when it was first enjoyed over 500 years ago. But the experience surrounding that cup of coffee has been revolutionized by digital transformation.

Think about it: when you’re out of town, you can find your favourite coffee shop with an app. Remember tracking your cups of coffee with little stamps on a card you kept in your wallet? There’s an app for that. If you have a fantastic barista, you can give her a shout out on Twitter. Or, if the coffee shop gets your order spectacularly wrong, you can go directly to Yelp and let everyone know.

The customer experience in terms of how we think about, talk about, pay for, and track that cup of coffee has been completely revolutionized by digital innovation. And it’s because the most successful companies thought about the totality of our coffee experience. They’ve found ways to remove barriers, like long lines or keeping track of loyalty cards.  They’ve opened up new channels for us to communicate with them and found ways to rectify poor customer experiences. Unsurprisingly, these digital transformations show in the bottom line.In a 2014 CapGemini study of 184 fortune 500 companies, those that were the most “digitally mature” had a 19% higher market valuation, a 23% higher revenue, and turned a 50% higher profit than those that were the least digitally mature. And where was pharma on the digital maturity scale? Unfortunately, just 7% of pharmaceutical companies were in that high-profit, high-revenue stage.

The million-dollar question (or perhaps multi-million-dollar question) is: how can we, as marketers, help move our companies up the digital maturity scale? A good place to start is by focusing on what we can affect: our marketing efforts. We need to assess the way we think about what digital can do for us and for our customers.

Who are our customers in pharma? Typically, there are a few key stakeholders: patients, caregivers, consumers, and healthcare professionals. For now, let’s focus on healthcare professionals (HCP’s). When we think about HCPs, we typically think of detail aids, or e-Details, as being the cornerstone of digital marketing. Let’s take a look at digital maturity as it relates to pharma marketing, and more specifically, e-Details.

The stages of digital maturity

When reviewing the digital maturity level of our clients, we look at six key elements:

Stage 1: Beginners

The first level we call “Beginners”. These are digital newbies.

Five to ten years ago, this was the majority of our clients, but now, we’re happy to say it’s the minority.

This “print, please” group believes that digital is costly and time consuming. They may take a print detail aid and tell us to “make it digital”, or failing that, just put a PDF on their tablets. Since digital isn’t a priority for this group, they tend to have no dedicated digital strategist and often I.T. is tasked with digital marketing. This group doesn’t invest in training their team on e-Detailing which, to be honest, makes sense because they aren’t really e-Detailing anyway.Digital is too much work

Digital is too hard, costs too much and print is just as good, if not better.

Adapt print pieces to be on digital platform

No dedicated digital resources; IT responsible for digital marketing

Linked PDFs, eDetail with little or no interactivity

No training or roll-out plan


Stage 2: Dabblers

Your Stage 2 group are dabblers.

They typically tell us they need to do a digital something-or-other. This group often feels that digital is something they have to do but they haven’t fully grasped its benefits.

There’s no overarching strategy and no dedicated resources. They rarely feel the need to develop a training plan because they might still be doing a print detail aid. In order to fulfill their need for digital, they might develop a digital “one off” such as a dosing app, or an app for a conference. They are dabbling in digital and still feel that digital equals innovation”.

Dabblers know they need to do something digital but lack an overall strategic plan.Anything digital is innovation

Digital is something we have to do

No overarching strategy; digital is done on an ad hoc basis or to solve a particular problem

No dedicated digital resources; some budget allocated to digital

Custom or one-off app that quickly becomes outdated

Print-based training manual

May track downloads or rely on rep feedback

Stage 3: Integrated

The stage 3 group is what we call “Integrated”.

This group has really started to think about digital as an opportunity to achieve goals in ways traditional media can’t.

These companies often have dedicated digital resources available to help brands get the most from their digital tactics. They may have an annual budget line item for the website or e-Detail—knowing that regular updates are needed to keep content current. Communication is still primarily one-way, and metrics are used to drive updates or new content.Digital is an integral part of our marketing mix

Digital is an integral part of our marketing mix

Planned tactic to push information

Dedicated digital resource; budget allocated to creation & sometimes maintenance

eDetail with tracking; comprehensive website

In-person roll out; perhaps with role playing & feedback incorporated

Aggregated data collection used to guide content development

Stage 4: Advanced

For the final “advanced” stage, digital is an integrated part of the overall brand strategy, made possible in part because brand teams have at their disposal digital experts or Digital Excellence teams.

Companies or brands at this stage think not only about what information they want their audience to hear, but also how to provide the information the audience is looking for. They customize the data presentation. Training and content updates are planned and budgeted for on a bi-annual (or even more frequent) basis.

This group has stopped thinking of digital in terms of a tactic, but more about how to optimize the message to the customer.It’s about the message and the audience, not the tactic

Digital is integrated into our yearly brand planning

Use digital capabilities to customize message to audience

Digital strategy manager contributes to brand planning; yearly budget for creation & updates

CRM-connected eDetail with customizable content; comprehensive website

In-person roll out; perhaps with role playing & feedback incorporated

Personalized data collection and paired with doctor-level data to understand message effectiveness

Check out our next blog which describes how we took one of our clients from Beginners to the Advanced with their eDetailing.

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