Survey Finds Pharma Marketers Poised to Embrace Digital

  |  December 29, 2008   |  Comments

Respondents admit limited understanding of digital marketing, but the're still testing videos, podcasts and other innovative tactics.

The pharmaceutical industry is behind the curve in many areas of digital marketing, but it is likely to make a significant leap ahead in the coming year. That is the conclusion of "Digital Marketing in Pharma", a new survey from MarketBridge, in conjunction with Pharmaceutical Executive magazine.

The Bethesda, MD-based sales and marketing consulting firm found nearly 45 percent of the pharmaceutical executives it surveyed felt they need to understand digital marketing better and that more than one-third believed that they are not appropriately organized to take advantage of digital marketing opportunities. Half of respondents spend less than 10 percent of their marketing budget on digital, with most of the spending going into their own Web sites and "Web 1.0" tools. And even though their investments in digital have been slim to date and in familiar channels, those surveyed said they are concerned about their ability to prove the return on investment for any digital marketing strategy they implement.

So where's the hope? MarketBridge executives R. Scott Gillum and David Johnson believe that, compared with the equally regulated and risk averse financial services industry, the pharmaceutical industry is further along in its acceptance of digital marketing. They point to pharma's usage of physician-education videos and podcasts, and to the survey's findings that pharma planned to invest heavily in digital marketing in the coming year: Seventy-two percent of the respondents said they would be investing more. Some of that spending may now be tempered by the recession, and be a shift of resources from other marketing vehicles rather than incremental spending, but Johnson is optimistic. "These investments will lay the groundwork for future solutions," he says.

Partha Krishnamurthy, director of the University of Houston's Institute for Health Care Marketing, concedes that big pharma faces big risks in embracing Web 2.0 because these tools let consumers shape the brand message and the consumers with the most negative experience can be the loudest voices.

"Can companies contact all the people who have had experience with a product and ask them to contribute content in exchange for money-off coupons?" he muses. "By opening up dialogue to all consumers, you are giving equal opportunity to all views."

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