“Cause we’re living in a (digital) world…” sic. Madonna


Is your company investing in digital partnerships and innovation? Many companies have an innovation group that is operating outside of their commercial enterprise. But are you – yes you, pharma marketing professional – engaging with these teams on a regular basis to find out what’s new, what’s possible, and feeding back your (and your customer’s) specific strategic and user needs on a regular basis? Do you even know a person who works on your “Pharma Innovation” team? Maybe not, but you should make it a priority to get to know those guys and stay tied into what they are doing and how it can help your brands and initiatives stand apart!

Here’s why: a few weeks ago before I went to bed, I spent an hour or so watching the live political debate while posting somewhat pithy comments on Facebook so my friends could share the experience with me. Then I flipped over to Apple TV to see if there were any new series worth watching on Netflix. When I woke up the next morning, I reached over and picked up my cell phone to see if anything earth-shattering appeared in my email while I was sleeping. After pawing through the dozens of news updates about the most recent debates and the special offers from your standard catalog retailers, I strapped on my Lumo. That done, I sat down to plug in earphones and meditate with my Muse biofeedback headband before I got ready for my day.

We are living in a digital world – it’s here to stay and it gets deeper into our lives every day. I don’t even read books made of paper any more. And while my weekend New York Times tradition is hard pressed to change, pretty much everything else has.

Digital is a part of the fabric of our lives – literally. Sensors monitor our sense of peace, the steps we take, how straight we are standing, and even soon maybe how badly we smell (see here for more on this innovation that I am waiting with bated breath to see). So, it seems to me we are determined, or most of us are anyway, to move forward with a digital world. Everyone, some might say, except for most of the pharmaceutical industry. Wait – that is simply not true! Maybe at one time, 5 or 10 years ago that could be said. But pharma is getting in the game, and I can’t wait to see what everyone comes up with.

Here’s what I mean: over the last few weeks several very interesting partnerships have hit the news that involve pharma and technology.

Sanofi and Google are teaming up to combat diabetes (read about it here). This is only one of many partnerships that Alphabet (or Google X or just plain Google) has been furthering with the healthcare industry, like Oscar, the fully digital self-serve insurance company. Seems Google has finally made healthcare a priority, though that hasn’t stopped Google from reducing pharma’s ability to easily use adwords due to character restrictions.

Or how about Otsuka and Proteus? I have had my eye on Proteus for a few years now. The concept of attaching a chip to a pill or a patch is simply brilliant from a data perspective. It will enable us to gather deeper understanding around patient compliance and adherence issues without the need for active patient data input (when patients need to actively input data, a serious decline in usage results, hence why that FitBit is sitting in your dresser drawer right now).

So my big question is, “will any of these efforts actually drive sales?” (I know that is your big question too, by the way.) Maybe. If you have the best product in a category, these value-added technological enhancements will certainly help you retain market share. If you are toward the bottom of the pack, an innovative connection to your product could raise it into the spotlight, which would certainly help sales, especially if you believe that physicians are just as interested in the latest shiny object as we all are. Sustaining their attention is another matter, however.

The opportunity is, like many communication efforts in this world of crowded messages, only as good as the innovation itself. And I do have many reservations about pharma becoming software or hardware developers when that’s just not our focus or skillset. At the very least, we need a shift in the mindset of the industry to accommodate these partnerships – a shift toward investigation with a scientific approach that sees failure as an opportunity to grow and learn and acknowledges that sometimes success isn’t easily quantifiable in the moment. I’m excited for these partnerships to blossom, I am hopeful that we can be curious and enthusiastic as an industry, and optimistic that we can stay committed to better outcomes, giving ourselves the freedom to explore and innovate in order to get there.

Zoe Dunn
Zoe Dunn, President and CEO of Hale Advisors, is a digital marketing and communications specialist with over twenty years of experience in the field. She has extensive experience in both the agency and commercial marketing side of the pharmaceutical, medical devices, and biotech industries.

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