Pharmaceutical Marketing: Moving Forward

Marketing, Science 2012-01-23

The pharmaceutical industry is undergoing greater turmoil and change than ever before. With the expansion of CROs and the flux of the global economy, the pharma sector is rapidly reshaping and redistributing its infrastructure.


2011 was the year of the CRO consolidation deals, and facts and figures released in December’s Drug Discovery News confirm that CROs are gaining popularity and further raising outsourcing expectations. It is predicted that 41% of biopharma’s pipeline will be outsourced within the next five years, and potentially increase to 55% within the next ten. The occurence of these dynamic changes in large pharma have primarily focused on the reduction of budgets and the impact this has had on internal capacities in R&D and manufacturing. More and more pharma companies are outsourcing to Asian facilities, where overheads and costs are significantly cheaper than CROs and CMOs in North America and Europe. The implementation of lowered budgets, heavy regulations and a commonly competitive market is also influencing how pharma companies operate their marketing communications and this is perhaps an underestimated and potentially cost-effective tool that is currently widely neglected. From these persistent challenges stems a new expectation that requires organisations to address and evolve their business model in order to survive the transformation and thrive off the opportunities created. Pharma Times Online drew upon ratings agency FITCH’s analysis to conclude that industry outlook is ‘tough’ for 2012 and will bring additional hurdles with the heavily predicted and “unprecedented period of patent expiration.” This dynamic period has created great change in industry operations and it is becoming increasingly crucial that marketing teams realign themselves with developed operations and the expansion of global footprints.


Though there is an undeniable demand for a more direct marketing approach in large pharma – there is of course the matter of the sector’s own industry related obstacles. Where most other industries have made significant use of advances in online technology and social media, the pharmaceutical industry still remains largely traditional in approach. This overcautious behaviour stems from the widely recognised heavy regulations surrounding pharma communications, and a lack of guidance and clarity. The most common grey area concerns the discussion of off label information regarding drugs and medical devices. Looking back again to December, the Food and Drug Administration released an anticipated guidance report that whilst brief, acknowledged social media platforms such as You Tube and Twitter, and indicates the start of incorporating these into pharma regulations. However, this has still been met reservedly and pharma still feels in need of a definitive outline from the FDA. To those disappointed by the release the former FDA associate commissioner and now president of the Centre for Medicine in the Public Interest, Peter Pitts, urges companies “use your judgment, if you wouldn’t say it offline, don’t say it online.” Brands should take note of this and look to their traditional media values and create strong internal guidelines to ensure that they keep up with the remodeling of the sector.


In reality large pharma spent more than $1 billion on online promotion in 2011, and for those who remain inhibited by the digital landscape they will soon discover that this comes at its own cost. Adopting a strategy in this field can raise efficiencies – meaning maximum impact for lower cost. Creating a cost effective and advanced business outlook with an integrated visionary proposal has the power to attract new partnerships that will drive revenues and deliver ROI. Communication is key, and brands need to ensure that they are maintaining a competitive advantage. Lauren Procter of L2 Think Tank has expressed to PharmExec that “Pharma must overcome its social media phobia and embrace technology if it wants to keep the audience that matters most.” For those organisations brave enough to challenge their existence within the digital and social realm, there is the potential to reconnect with your customers, enhance your corporate reputation and promote products and industry awareness. Digital media runs far beyond the presumed platforms (Facebook, Twitter, blogs and video channels such as You Tube), and for those that are still wary there is many other channels that could be considered ‘safer’ routes. Email has the ability to reach many targeted individuals whilst possessing full control over the distributed content and is a greatly undervalued device.


Two pharmaceutical companies that have positioned themselves at the front of the digital revolution are Pfizer and Astra Zeneca. They demonstrate an understanding of pharma and media trends and have integrated these social platforms solidly to advance their corporate strategies and contribute to one of the most sought after topics on the Internet.


1. Pfizer – Present across all of the common social platforms (Facebook, Twitter, You Tube, Linked in) the volume of Pfizer’s online following impresses. Just fewer than 45,000 social media users have engaged in ‘liking’ the Pfizer Facebook page and with regular and valuable updates it is no surprise that near 1000 people are actively ‘talking about this.’ Pfizer’s Twitter also boasts significance with more than 22,000 followers. Content frequently comes from leveraging news events, and by promoting reports published on their blog ‘Think Science Now’. These profiles demonstrate how social platforms have the potential to drive traffic to engage with your brand and interact with your knowledge and expertise. Whilst most pharma organisations are held back through fear of regulations, Pfizer have impressively retained partial control of their Facebook page by outlining the uses of the page and how it is to be interacted with. This alongside the updated guidance from the FDA last month should inspire other pharma companies to update their marketing operations and modernise their position with a newfound confidence.


2. Astra Zeneca, like Pfizer, also uses Twitter and Facebook to promote corporate news and recent postings on their blog. Though a slightly smaller following, Astra Zeneca still has an impressive 10,000 people interacting with its social profiles. Notably this is also efficiently governed and the disclaimer is evidence of professed plans to develop new communication strategies that work within the regulatory framework. In 2011, Astra Zeneca released a Social Media White Paper that examines social media as a fundamental part in advancing public health and consequently the responsibility that this places on pharmaceutical companies to engage within the digital space. Through this document Astra Zeneca outlined 5 key principles:


  • To ensure truth and accuracy
  • To be respectful
  • To protect and advance patient health
  • To be transparent
  • To respect the views of others


The constant evolution of both the pharma industry and social media highlights the need to align operations as have Astra Zeneca and Pfizer, and maintain a continual review . A solid and consistent message should integrate itself at the heart of all marketing platforms and corporate values to create a firm stand on a global scale. Advances in technology occur rapidly and not only do they make it easier to communicate in a cost effective manner, but the arrival of analytics and real time media mean that it is even easier to leverage new relationships and increase SEO. The above examples accent how the compliant nature of pharma can be safely overridden and give way to corporate expansion and a host of differentiating and innovative strategies. As another competitive year looms for pharma organisations it is critical that brands keep seeking ways in which to move forward and ensure that they are well positioned and communicating effectively.