Guest Blog: Will LIKE, SHARE and SUBSCRIBE invade pharmaceutical marketing post-COVID?
The Toughest Is That First Step
Some may ask, is digital in pharma really needed?
Few say YES! Even me because information spread that has been happening all this while has been more through "word of mouth", asserting a perspective, the very purpose we go "digital" is for connectivity and speed. The core reason I am in favour of digitization with "virality" in pharmaceutical marketing is that I relate to the era of "capitalist vs communist" school of thoughts.
In the early years of "India Pharma", a few companies manned the market turf with few as competition, where "word of mouth" worked wonders. Today, with many small or medium companies fighting against several small and medium companies, we need width, depth speed & yet need be patient-centric too then digital is an answer.
Many accept that "India Pharma" was a laggard in adopting "digital" in sales & marketing with a perception of iPad detailing as a giant digital leap. COVID19 made these marketing beliefs fall like a pack of cards and at the stroke of lockdown midnight, everyone wanted to take a digital plunge.
Rise of Digital Quotient (DQ)
Jack Trout, author of "Differentiate or Die" could have a large audience in pharma world if he authored "Digitize or Die" now. Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Internet of Things, Data Science, Big Data Analytics, cloud computing etc. are way ahead in pharmaceuticals, especially in sales & marketing. These are here to stay. For a pharmaceutical salesman and marketer, these are blessing in disguise. If understood to the very purpose, will give rise to a new dimension.
Digital transformation is the only way which will upskill a Salesman into "Smartsman" and a Marketer into a Smarketer".
Companies used to look for Intelligence Quotient (IQ), or Emotional Quotient (EQ) or other Qs like Spiritual Quotient (SQ) till now. But Digital Quotient (DQ) also will garner a pharma company foray further. Several factors like long-term thinking with a belief of developing a digital ecosystem, patient & doctor journey plan with planned experiences, appetite for risk, building on content, Integrating not just SFE platforms but also from R&D, logistics to CRs etc are a few to develop. The journey though is long but has started. Digital is vast and the need is to identify what is not needed. Now I feel those who graduate into "Early majority" with sensible platter of digital solutions will benchmark the future.
Digital Quotient (DQ), experts define as metric of the digital maturity of a company (or an individual), based on the evaluation of a series of practices related to digital strategy, capabilities & culture.
"Viral" - A Quarter Of A Century Back.
When we digitize for connectivity with speed and it has to be viral.
What is Viral? It's a phenomenon that is able to replicate itself into copies of themselves with outreach to the next object. The name itself is derived from the way that viruses spread. Thanks to COVID19, our viral teacher. Almost 25 years back, none of us knew the meaning of "viral" as we know it today. It was on 21st of September 1995, we probably saw one of the earliest case of information going viral and becoming a "mass hysteria". Back then we had no WhatsApp, no Facebook, no Twitter, no Internet and not even smartphones.
Yet, "Lord Ganesha drinking milk" went viral nationwide in no time. A phenomenon that spread like wildfire across India and many countries. Many of us even tried to "feed" with milk that day. The "virality" was so strong that it spread through telephones, "word of mouth" and media then giving attention added to the escalation. This was controlled by the scientific theory of capillary flow. We see a similar yet faster capillary flow of information in a blink of an eye these days. Thanks to WTF (WhatsApp, Twitter, Facebook) etc., The new universities with world-scale coverage.
3 Digital Flavours Of Virality.
Misinformation/ negative spreads faster. No doubt. But if you want your doctors, patients and all the stakeholders of the ecosystem to viral your good content to increase awareness of your brand/company, you need a compelling content that one should feel tempted to send to friends, family and anyone you rarely met but in touch on WhatsApp. PR and corporate messaging mindset
Experts in PR say virality and subsequent social media conversations on it happen due to the presence of 3 main flavours. 1) Fear 2) Anger 3) Hope.
The social media conversations are good for awareness. There is enough evidence to prove a spike in brand awareness with positive social media conversations. You can recall 100s of viral messages, videos, memes etc. You will find them to have one of these three elements for sure. The wink of some south Indian actress in a song clip or that uncle dancing to Govinda's old song, have the element of fun/entertainment which again come under "hope". The same fun and entertainment fall under anger if it is pun/meme intended against some politician of a neighbouring country. We all recently saw a viral video of Pakistan origin in which a medical representative of a pharma company sanitising a doctor's clinic and toilet. You were compelled to share and comment with an opinionated tone because of "anger" and "fear" in your mind. Any political, economic or religious information will mostly generate "fear" or "anger" related emotions and thus conversations.
"Fear, Anger & Hope" - 3 ingredients to induce digital conversations.
We always forward that WhatsApp message asking donors of a particular blood group. It's a "hope" that our action may benefit someone. Even the recent widespread conversation on hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) was a great element of "hope" in background. The whole world looked at it like "Eureka"- companies manufacturing it got great PR mileage, sales, stock-out and awareness before ICMR was contemplating to revise the guideline on the use of HCQ. This will go down in the annals of history as how powerful is Social media conversation and virality to induce awareness/hysteria at a lightning speed and can create a brand out of nothing. We can utilize to build brand out of nothing. Think!
We forward an engaging joke of a current situation is again a form of entertainment which is under hope. Knowing these, can we bring the flavour of "hope" in our brand messaging? I am sure you can relate to your brands and derive conclusions. For a doctor, it will be hope & assurance of better results and for a patient, it will be the hope of quick recovery/precaution. With digital, "Experience Journey" plays the engaging game.
Digital Buying Signals
As marketers, we need to take care of even "Like" & "Share" icons seriously and place them at a convenient spot and understand that these are all buying signals. If you get "Comments", If someone "Subscribes" or "Follows" you. Don't ignore!
They are the signals your consumer is giving that he/she wants to get engaged with your company/service / products. Keep a plan ready to give them your product-related experience. It works the same way we behave on our social media. We comment so that the other person sees it and we expect them to react. In addition, the ergonomically user-friendly experiences in digital platform matter the most. Again, let medium be anything, principles of marketing will remain same. The AIDA theory to be integrated for the flow of customer experience & journey should be planned here. So, are we prepared for our pharma brand/company messaging with all the think through planning?
Because That's Where The Money Is.
So much of the digital work or at least thinking has been induced due this pandemic. Now marketers need to find the best fit for their consumers in relation to their products and services. On asking what comes in and goes out of their personal WhatsApp & groups, one of the leading nephrologist echoed other doctors' responses. "We are after all humans. We also share and forward similar jokes but sometimes, sighting the busy work timings, we do share more on new developments, line of treatments, or if we have something interesting come up from any company." He said.
A bank robber's infamous statement "Because that's where the money is" fits various situations of business today. It was his reply when he was asked why did he rob the bank. Thus it's common sense. In a news report from 2015 said: "90% of doctors rely on online search engines to aid their medical decisions". Insights for the digital and virality need in pharma can be deciphered from CISCO VNI Mobile Forecast 2016-2021,
Globally & at Indian level, the growth is expected to rise (mobile data traffic) by 47% and 49% respectively with almost 7-fold rise (2016 to 2021)
Other authentic platforms reported Before COVID (BC) time reflected some facts as below will make us think if pharma overlooked or lacked understanding the trends.
- India adds 10 million new smartphone users each month and already have 400 million + active smartphone users.
- India is the world's 1st, video-1st consuming country.
- 72% of Indian doctors think the internet is the go-to place to know more about the latest drug molecules and related information.
- 26% of doctors like to network with peers.
That is the kind of potential. Imagine the number of doctors silently shouting that they are ready to consume "worthy" content. We all have an appetite for good content. Pharmaceutical marketers can use more IoT, AI, data etc for their customers to connect relative brands, creating long-term engagement with target doctors without being intrusive. There is a full-fledged opportunity to create content marrying data and medicine. Again the 5Cs outlined in my previous article "COVID 19 & Pharmaceutical Marketing: 5Cs for the new normal" makes a lot of difference. After these 5Cs, comes Digital Quotient (DQ) or Viralability Quotient (VQ) of a marketer/company.
The actual need in getting a pharmaceutical brand on digital platform will be necessary with the element of good content, virality of benefits with customer-centric thinking. Digital is vast & the need is marketers should identify clearly what is not needed and bring in some sensible digital solutions only. When you have done it thoroughly and thought over, sit back and enjoy the benefits of worldwide exposure.
The author is a pharma marketing expert and is currently working as General Manager Corporate Strategy at a leading pharmaceutical company in India. Twitter handle - @pawankulkarni
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the above article are solely those of the author in his private capacity and DO NOT represent the views of Medical Dialogues or a corporate house.