Which Projects will Pharma Request from their Digital Agency in 2018

If there is one thing digital agencies working with life sciences should know about 2018 right now, it’s that the upcoming year will be hardly anything like the current one. A lot of changes are expected to happen to pharmaceutical and medical content – and no, this is not solely due to the “invasion” of VR/AR tech. Even if we take the more well-developed content types, like eDetailing and emails, we will find the digital landscape is undergoing changes.

This year has seen a number of profound changes in pharma’s digital landscape, many of which were perhaps overshadowed by legal and social issues in the headlines. Now, the news we have been reading about most throughout the year are not necessarily the driving forces behind content preferences. In fact, what influences the way agencies are getting contacted is the subtle evolution of pharmas’ way of thinking.

During this year, pharma has finally recognized the digital transformation as inevitable – not just a fad. Practically all life sciences companies are now using multichannel approach to digital marketing; for an agency, this means that marketers are looking after quality in content, not its “uniqueness”. At the same time, the stakes are rising in content supply: within the pharmaceutical industry, acquisitions and mergers are happening at a global scale, which means agencies are far more likely to get approached by subdivisions of global companies closely supervised from the HQ.

Another important development is the rising importance of emerging markets. In Q2 2017, Big Pharma’s businesses in emerging markets grew 6.1%, breaking the 2-year record – this means a lot to agencies, as well, in terms of localization services to be offered. At the same time, many of us tend to forget that while some regional markets are not “new” to pharmas, they are new to content. Many channels that were previously not used in a number of regions – and now the ice is getting broken, introducing remote detailing and promotional emails and apps to whole countries’ medical circles.

All of these are going to transform what pharma expects from agencies contacted. Bear in mind that agencies’ pharma customers in 2018 are also not necessarily going to be all the same as this year. Earlier, we have already covered the change in pharma content decision-making; now is the time for us all to have a look at what the agencies’ work is going to be. As of now, we can outline the following 5 types of projects for the next year:

1. Aligning the key messages and branding styles in new portfolios

So what happens to digital content, say, eDetailing presentations, after a number of companies have merged? Suppose you have different products grouped in portfolios, with corresponding key messages that were once designed according to some (now only partly relevant) strategy. It is obvious that the product- and portfolio-based presentations will need to be aligned according to the new vision of joint promotion, etc. This is never as easy as just adding another logo; accordingly, this is a job for an agency. An agency that is sensitive enough to grasp the differences between the previous and current mode of promotion.

Of course, no one will just let the agency do whatever they want: as has been revealed by recent surveys, 72% industry leaders prefer to have global content “very tightly controlled at a global level”, with little to no local autonomy. In “mainstream” companies, this is true of 58% respondents. No matter how breathtaking the content prepared by an agency happens to be, it also has to be compliant to the overall brand strategy directed from the global office.

This means as soon as the agency recognize this sort of eDetailing projects, they should try and collaborate as closely as possible with the responsible approvers from pharma, possibly using technical solutions that allow to integrate into the content system used throughout the relevant departments of the pharma customer company.

2. Localization (in the Broad Sense)

Pharmas are making considerable success on emerging markets, and are constantly expanding. For example, studies have found out pharmaceutical sales in BRICS and MIST countries doubled in 5 years, reaching a market share of around 20%. Meanwhile, 62% leading enterprises admit their content works better when adapted to local markets. This means a lot of localization projects for the following year – with some very specific rules as to what agencies will be picked for the job (see our own analysis of this situation here).

Now, of course, localization is long past the stage when translating the content and swapping several images was sufficient. Different regions and countries have very different healthcare ecosystems, so doing a good localization will require blending medical/legal expertise and tech into a single project.

3. Search for Ideal UI / CX

Of all the different trends that made 2017 what is has been to pharma and healthcare, the spread of health apps is likely the most significant in terms of content trends. It’s easy to see why – health apps are one of the shortest ways to patient centricity – in fact, a revolutionary way, as opposed to organized reform. Besides, apps are contributing to the pool of data and have the potential to reform healthcare and pharma.

However, not everything is so straightforward. At the moment, over 318,000 health are available worldwide – but, shockingly, only 41 apps (over 10 million downloads each) comprise nearly ½ of all app downloads; at the same time, 85% of all health apps have fewer than 5,000 installs. Why are those apps “in disgrace”? The answer might lie somewhere with user experience – after all, apps are meant to be convenient. Convenient here means designed flawlessly in terms of user interface – and UI is something to be developed by the method of trials and errors, even when significant amount of convention is at hand.

Now, this is where eDetailing projects enter the picture. It is a tempting idea to test out the different options of UX on the more information/promotion-oriented material, such as presentations, to see which of them work fine. Modern eDetailing presentations, with interactive elements like calculators and dosage tables, are a convenient test field for user interfaces – and also a way to try out whether an agency can provide this level of experience. If digital agencies want to impress their customers, it pays off to recognize this type of projects in time – and make sure the interactive elements function flawlessly.

4. The Two Roles of Email Marketing (and Marketing Emails)

So far, we have covered how the various eDetailing projects will look in 2018; and although presentations are still the core of pharma-agency collaboration, no one will cancel emails at any time soon. According to statistics, full 100% pharmaceutical marketers in the United States are using emailing as a channel; the prevalence of email on a worldwide scale is as impressive. Across industries, 73% marketers report emailing has provided a considerable ROI during 2017, so no matter what new channels emerge, they are not likely to “kill” email. This means agencies will get contracted to develop templates, and especially fragments and materials to be used in templates.

A very important thing to bear in mind is what types of email campaigns will circulate. On the one hand, in life sciences, the amount of information required is much larger than in retail: pharmaceutical information tends to be extensive. Besides, email communications can be used to provide doctors with the educational value that pharma reps just can’t fit into the several minutes of F2F visit. This is evident from market research, where only 12% of doctors claim to have contacted their rep via email in the past 6 months, whereas 36% said they would like to.

On the other hand, email has its mobile potential, which means rather shorthand previews than extensive reading/watching/clicking sessions. By 2018, 80% of email users will be accessing their email accounts on mobile devices; doctors are no exception. Mobile friendliness traditionally means content brevity and near-universal compatibility. But then again, 32% respondents in the same research say it’s a major “putoff” when the email is “too small to read and interact with”.

It looks as though pharma email templates will exist in two types. The one type, providing informational value, will be designed based on templates and fragments approved by pharma’s managers; these will be initially designed for laptops but agencies will be encouraged to make them as mobile-compatible as possible. The other type, the initially brief and mobile-friendly, will serve to bind together various channels, including rep visits, VR sessions where necessary – and remote eDetailing, which is an important issue to discuss on its own.

5. Presentations for Remote Calls

Just several years ago remote calls by reps were rather an exception that a norm, and they met with much success in the medical circles; the famous statistics were, 97% physicians would like to repeat the experience. This is understandable: there are many reasons for doctor audience to prefer having both remote and F2F visits on a 1:1 ratio, so marketers naturally rely on these to transmit key messages effectively.

The trick here is that although both F2F visits (tablet in hand) and remote calls rely on interactive presentations, there are some differences between the ideal F2F-oriented content and something that works well for remote eDetailing. Earlier, we have made a rather thorough analysis of how exactly these types of presentations differ – what important here is that agencies may be asked to repurpose existing content assets for use in remote visits, so it makes sense to be ready for that sort of projects, as well. At the same time, this type of content reuse projects may happen simultaneously with localization or adaptation.

Preparing for 2018 (the Fast Way)

For an agency to get ready to 2018, it is important to react quickly to the situation. Just recognizing the different types of projects is only the first step; no one expects that “simply a brilliant presentation” will do. Apart from being brilliant, content now needs to match a whole number of expectations from pharma departments and approvers along the entire chain of command.

As we have seen, there are three trends that impact the projects:

  1. Increased global control over local content;
  2. Requirements for content reuse (due to various factors above);
  3. Need for closer cooperation between pharma and content supply chain.

If one attempts to start addressing these needs from the agencies’ side, the sheer amount of work would take over half a year to get through. However, the good thing is that pharmas have already taken their own steps, most notably by using integrated systems for content management, many levels above simply CRM. In this way, they often provide their content suppliers with assets to be used and communications to ensure less rounds of approval.

However, agencies will still need specific solutions to work effectively. Pharma’s platforms are designed to facilitate marketers’ efficacy; those who create and repurpose content will want to have their own platform with tools for development that will cut time-to-market and increase productivity. The trick is to make sure that your agency’s powerful solution is easily integrated into what your pharma customers use – and you can try such a solution at any moment. Once your agency masters the art of collaboration and understands what life sciences companies will want tomorrow, addressing it will become an irreplaceable point in many pharmas’ strategic planning.