Perspective| Pharma's unassertive presence on digital platform

D Yellow Elephant recently released Indian Pharma Digital Health Report 2015 covering 40 companies across 10 key digital parameters ranging across websites, apps and 10 social media platforms namely Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Google+, Instagram, Pinterest, Vine, Slideshare and Blogger.

Basis the ranking the companies have been segregated in key buckets of Digital Primes, Aspirants and Onlookers.The report says that Pharmaceutical companies, mostly the home grown ones are still not ready to engage with their shareholders digitally.

As per a Mc Kinsey report the sector has immense opportunities and is poised to grow to $24 billion this year, and would reach up to $55 billion by 2020 and create up to 45,000 new jobs in the coming year. One would sure expect a much bigger digital presence by a sector of this magnitude.

Coming back to D Yellow Elephant report, it states that even though all the pharma companies are present on most social media platforms, the level of social media engagement continues to be low.

While the consumer market of patients and healthcare professionals (HCPs) is ready to embrace an inflow of information from the healthcare and pharmaceutical players, the companies are still reluctant to use the digital platforms proactively. Unlike other industries, pharma has been a late entrant to reap the benefits of the digital space but over the past few years, some of the pharma companies are making conscious effort to work towards comprehensive patient care and are up on the ladder to become a patient centric entity rather than a molecule promoting arm.

Reflecting on the slow growth of Indian pharma industry on digital platform, Vivek Bhargave, CEO, iProspectCommunicate 2 says “I would attribute it to the lack of expertise in the marketing departments of most pharmaceutical companies and also the lack of understanding on how digital can be leveraged by the top management of pharmaceutical organizations. The consumer is getting more aware and would soon be an influencer of the products he has been prescribed - it is critical that pharma companies get that digital act together quickly.”

Stringent laws and sensitivity of information are stated to be the other key reasons. A senior industry professional states, “The laws are very stringent in the pharma sector. Hence it becomes difficult to understand what can be advertised and what cannot be advertised. Because of this, digital as a platform for pharma marketing has not picked up.”

Namrata Balwani, Senior Vice President and Head of Office at OgilvyOne Worldwide too stresses on the same point. She says, “Most pharma brands cannot be advertised as these are prescribed by doctors. Reaching consumers on digital media therefore has limited opportunities. These brands also have to be careful about what they say / do to elicit consumer opinion on social media because of the nature of product.”

Experts believe that while sensitivity of data is one issue, no player coming forward to initiate a large digital marketing initiative is another key reason. Vivek Bhargave states, “I believe it is thinking on the lines 'why fix something that isn’t broken?' Almost none of the pharmaceutical companies are actively leveraging digital, so status quo continues. I believe that a current non-competitor could come and topple the apple cart. Hope the consumer trend report and articles like these make the pharma companies take notice of how Digital could impact the industry and why investing in it is critical to their future.”

While marketing on digital platform has not caught pharma giants’ fancy, its use for better patient facilitation and interaction has definitely increased. Santosh Kumar, Head- Digital Marketing, Digital Quotient explains, “In last two to three years start-ups have geared up and created infrastructures from getting medical records online, appointment, getting prescription online etc. It has improved a lot with new platforms entering the domain. With a lot of start- up entering into this, I am very hopeful that in the next one year a lot of changes would take place.”

Namrata Balwani too agrees, “With an increasing amount of information available to patients on digital media, disease awareness and education is now possible on a larger scale. People are more empowered with knowledge about health and maintaining the right lifestyle. With the growth of mobile, there are apps that monitor aspects of health or help people achieve a healthy lifestyle. Geo-local capabilities help patients connect with doctors in their vicinity. These are all areas where Pharma companies can participate and increase their digital presence.”

Whether pharma marketing takes off on digital platform or not remains to be seen. A lot would depend on the Government policies and pharma industry’s self-regulation decisions. With the increased stress on doctors’ prescribing generic medicines instead of specific brands, it is an interesting situation. While the need for brands to create noise about themselves being in a specific space increases, restrictions on promoting pharma brands beyond a few specific categories does not allow them to promote themselves. What we might see in near future is an increase in digital information on healthcare by major pharma companies. 



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