You know this sort of things everyone starts discussing to show off how cutting-edge they are? VR/AR advances have been spoken of quite much recently in pharmaceutical circles, marketers being no exception. The U.S. pharma VR market has been lately estimated to grow to $976 million, which hardly qualifies as a joke. You might have read a lot online about how this or that company implemented a breakthrough – and what’s characteristic of this area, VR and gamification techniques are mostly never talked about at conferences and meetings – they’re just solemnly announced.
In pharma marketing, they have become the new Premier League, where the “cool kids” know what’s it all about. Sort of.
This may leave most marketers somewhat annoyed. Why’s everyone so crazy about the new trend, and if it’s as unavoidable, then why don’t we see it right next door? What makes these “risqué” tactics such a reasonable investment? Let’s try and get a coherent view; a full picture of the current situation without hollow buzzwords.
Why VR and gamification tend to go hand in hand
No, really. If you stick to definitions, “gamification” is turning some process into something resembling a game – fun, competitive, engaging, you name it. True, Virtual, Augmented and Mixed realities may seem inherently gamelike, but can be used for, well, anything. So?
Seems it all goes back to a specific game we were all shocked by last summer. (You knew what was behind that link, didn’t you?) The way AR was combined with playing experience proved to be epic, and marketers all over the world were investigating the potential of that combination in entertainment.
Much to the pain of numerous VR experts who were (and still are) developing more practical ways to use the technology. As of now, though, apart from pilot projects, virtual and augmented reality is still regarded as a “toy” by a big share of the public. Apart from the obvious reason both gamification and VR are exciting, there are two other causes for this view. They are fear of “unseriousness” and “expensiveness”.
These two notions haunt the newborn industry segment and are possibly the prime reason you still don’t get VR and gamified patient apps in every hospital. They also prove to scare off marketers, providing their more daring competitors free space for pioneering action.
And they’re getting more and more ridiculous when you think of them. First, lack of seriousness, a.k.a. “adultness”. Games are kids’ stuff, and industries like pharma are oriented toward mature people like HCPs, they say. This sounds familiar, though: these very things were said about mobile tech about 5 years ago. In reality, over 59% of Americans play games, and the average age of the gamer is (brace yourself) 31 years old. In fact, Jurriaan van Rijswijk, founder of the Games for Health Europe Foundation, says it’s the elderly who make up the largest group of gamers in the world. This means fully grown up people enjoy making a game out of, say, checking their blood pressure. This is hardly a step away from physicians playing a game of virtual diagnoses and prescriptions.
The other concern is money investments. Up to late 2015 (months after Microsoft HoloLens became a word), VR tech was largely considered to be somewhere in between private islands and NASA in financial terms. Now, we get a totally different picture if we compare the cost of virtual learning (even with classy graphics) to what it takes to train a doctor in, say, UK – which is about £312,000, including £62,000 on living costs. Technology can help save a lot here. This is why VR is pushing its way into healthcare, and the breakthroughs happen.
Why and how pharma should be using these things
Now that we’re done with the myth-debunking part, let’s look at what place both VR and gamified activities tend to occupy in healthcare – and what footholds pharma marketers can get here.
Generally, we now seem to have three distinct emerging trends in VR/game use: a) for educational purposes; b) disease awareness; c) patient-centric healthcare. While the two first points are more or less clear (and we’ll talk about them in a moment), the third comprises anything from pain management to adherence programs.
As to why this works, there are numerous psychological mechanisms. Humans are wired to play regardless of age and occupation. Yu-kai Chou, creator of the gamification framework Octalysis and the author of Actionable Gamification, defines eight principal drives that make a playable game – and these are roughly the reasons why humans choose gamified settings as such.
In our case, we can probably give the shorter list as follows:
- Competitiveness. Have you ever completed a quiz and then clicked to found out how you rate among the other users? In case with physicians, providing such an element in a mobile app, eDetailing or email could encourage them to participate more actively.
- Sense of achievement. Source of positive emotions for the player – and a powerful drive to enthusiasm. This is why educational programs work.
- Avoiding everyday routines and escaping into the gaming world. Let’s be honest. It’s our job now to put this escapism to more productive use – like learning, promotion, you name it.
- Curiosity. Trying new things, especially the ones that are talked of, is simply interesting.
- Excitement. This is the “augmented” in “augmented reality” – people like more intensified settings from time to time, and augmented reality excited our senses more than just reality. This is why AR/VR learning is generally more effective in terms of memorization – powerful impressions make us remember well.
OK, now let’s look at our a), b), and c) above and analyze them from a practical point of view. What can pharma do with these technologies, and where do you as a marketer step in?
Scenario 1: Pharma companies providing gamified VR physician training projects
The potential of gamified learning is something any teacher can confirm. About ¾ American K-8 teachers use digital gaming as a method for kids – not because the information is difficult to explain (come on, it’s elementary-middle), but because it fits into today’s humans’ short attention span. With more complicated, professional information? Why not? And with this more complicated information that requires heavy visualization – e.g. locating the mitral or aortic vault when you’re an aspiring cardiologist – the VR tech literally comes to rescue for students, interns and specialists.
Yes, literally. Not figuratively. These programs exist and they take anatomy knowledge to the level of having read Grays’ Anatomy for 7 long years.
Marketer’s foothold: Massive brand awareness boost, as a minimum. Additionally, increase in the amount of leads.
Scenario 2: Pharma companies developing apps for disease awareness
Strictly speaking, this area has been less touched by VR, simply because the supremacy of mobile in it. However, disease awareness apps are a way to appeal to both physicians, nurses, other staff, and patients alike – and have shown a clear gamification tendency. Of course, sensitivity is very important here – but it seems both gamified experience and VR will eventually take over here, as soon as peripherals (lenses, glasses, etc.) become more widely available.
Marketer’s foothold: These campaigns are made to be socially relevant, which means creating a positive image for pharma. Bonus: database coverage and DTC marketing possibilities.
Scenario 3: Pharma companies providing patient-centric healthcare with gamification and VR
Apart from the yet-insufficiently-investigated therapeutic effects of VR, there are plenty of ways VR and gamification are used for patients. Again, there are projects designed to help patients understand their condition with the help of VR, gamified adherence apps and such.
Marketer’s foothold: Yet another aid in closing the loop at the patient’s level. Of course, the data from patient apps will find its way to the HCPs, and then into your CRM if you want it. VR and gamification just help make sure those apps are used.
How to make it actually work?
However, it’s not as sunny as it seems. As of right now, we all can’t but notice that in most cases, the VR tech-involving campaigns are rarely correlated with measurable outcomes. Don’t take it wrong – it doesn’t mean these campaigns don’t pay off; they totally do, and you can be pretty sure Salix Pharmaceuticals will eventually get the desired ROI out of their brand new IBS project. But the more you read such announcements, the more you see that there’s still no strategy as to how the outcomes of these tactics can be measured and controlled. Instead, they all have this brand awareness aspect to them.
As a marketer, you will be interested in making the VR and gamification a tool. The principle here is often forgotten in the midst of romantic pioneering sentiment, but is now more frequently voiced:
VR should be regarded as means, not a goal
The possibilities are enormous here. The trick is to integrate VR and gamification into the wider strategy, to overcome the boundaries of a single “pilot project”. If you implement VR and gamification in separate episodes, without a consistent storyline, funnel or place in your vision, they will always be brand awareness things. This is something many professionals sharply feel now, and there already are suggestions as to how VR is best integrated.
The most reasonable thing a pharma marketer can do is think of how to embrace these tactics and technologies and direct them to lead generation. The second most reasonable thing is to do this faster than your chief competitor does. Pioneers’ advantage can be quite big on many types of markets. To get more information on how VR and gamification could fit into your strategy, contact our team of specialists and see your company among the game changers of the industry.