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Pharma companies must leverage the digital medium better

To effectively reach and engage with this new class of consumers who spend most of their time online, the medical community must explore digital marketing and make strategic patient-centric decisions.

Even as most brands across sectors have been scrambling to create a lasting digital presence over the past decade or so, the absence of pharmaceutical companies has been conspicuous. While stringent healthcare industry regulations and compliance issues present a significant branding challenge for the sector, in today’s digital era, pharmaceutical companies cannot afford to ignore this ever-evolving space.

Go where the consumers are

The erstwhile ‘patient’ is now the consumer with easy access to information and the ability to make well-informed decisions. To effectively reach and engage with this new class of consumers who spend most of their time online, the medical community must explore digital marketing and make strategic patient-centric decisions.

There is much to learn from online consumer behaviour data around healthcare — and this doesn’t end with medicines. Online search plays a big role in the entire patient journey, from searching for symptoms and researching medicines to making hospital appointments. For example, 84% of patients use both online and offline sources for hospital research.

The task for pharmaceutical companies is to understand what influences preference for medicines, hospitals, treatment plans, etc, in the patient’s medical journey. Pharmaceutical companies now have the opportunity to directly reach out to patients, potential patients as well as their caretakers.

Direct consumers: Engaging with consumers on a deeper level by actively demonstrating an interest in their wellness can go a long way in developing a meaningful relationship with them. This can be done by having conversations with them on digital platforms where they spend their time online.

Indirect consumers: Pharmaceutical brands also have the challenge of speaking with patients who are not decision-makers about their health — infants, incapacitated patients and the elderly. In this instance, the caretakers become the consumers. Mothers, for example, are the best decision makers for infants, and can be reached via communities they frequently engage with — bloggers who create content about parenting and lifestyle, for example.

Long-term consumers: Patients with chronic illnesses usually look to pharmaceutical companies to provide them with solutions that can help reduce their dependence on medication. To build a relationship with this set of patients, brands need to speak to their primary goal — improving their quality of life and effectively managing their long-term illnesses. Starting online support groups and creating educational and informative videos are just a few ways brands can help these consumers.

Engaging the medical community

To scale up their consumer business, pharmaceutical brands will also need to work more closely with medical practitioners.

Brands will need to take on a holistic approach by speaking to doctors, hospital management and MRs in their language and on the digital platform they most engage with professionally. Professional platforms like LinkedIn and other forums specially dedicated to the medical community can be leveraged to start and sustain conversations with this community.

There is huge potential for pharmaceutical companies to establish themselves as thought leaders in the wellness and lifestyle space. Communication around diabetes need not necessarily be about the types of diabetes, symptoms and treatment plans. Instead, it would be more insightful to talk about things like how Type 2 Diabetes, for instance, can be prevented, what’s being done to meet the shortage of insulin, etc. This gives the company a chance to be seen as a brand that goes beyond the pill.

The author is joint CEO, Mirum India

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