Marketers continue to leverage the power of mobile devices, but have learned it’s not all about the apps.


When it comes to mobile marketing for branded pharmaceuticals, the future continues to be now. With digital marketing considered to be just marketing, and mobile device usage omnipresent among consumers and HCPs, making campaigns that can be seen and interacted with in a mobile setting remains paramount. For agencies and their clients, this means optimizing old and new technologies.

Mobile’s impact has been in several areas, says Victoria Summers, associate principal at ZS Associates. These include insight generation and engagement. “More and more launch brands are engaging in mobile-first strategies,” Summers says. “And they’re thinking of how they engage with patients through the mobile device.”

At one end of the spectrum are brands that reach out through mobile-enabled websites. Then there are brands that are using mobile apps as a tool for education. At the other end of the spectrum are pharma-developed apps that integrate into devices such as a Fitbit, and provide recipes and other tools for managing health, according to Summers. “We’ve done a review of all the apps available through the Android store and iTunes and there are a little over 200,000 available,” she says.

“But a vast majority, more than 60 percent, are downloaded less than 5,000 times.”

Since every campaign has a digital marketing component these days, this means mobile plays an inextricable part.

“Generally, the funny thing about mobile is that it’s now part of the conversation even when it’s not specifically intended to be part of the conversation,” says Alex Tamayo, VP, Cross Strategy, Digitas Health. “As a matter of fact, we really stopped talking about mobile as a separate practice almost entirely.”

According to Dori Cappola, senior VP of Media at Klick, for the world in general including pharma, mobile has become second nature. “Mobile is an extension of the human being, regardless if it’s a patient, or a professional,” she says.

A few years ago, Klick was being asked to make desktop strategies, and then clients were asking for mobile strategies. “Now what you’re really making is a brand strategy,” Cappola says. “And your brand strategy is inclusive of all platform and all things of which a person may get information.”

These days, responsive design is used to create digital assets such as websites, to make them accessible through whatever device is being used. “The way we view it now and the way that we are encouraging our clients to view it, instead of talking about segments of your strategy being device based, let’s talk about it more in terms of the media,” Cappola says. “Where a plan used to say, ‘here’s where desktop is, here’s where mobile is, here’s where TV is,’ it’s now along the lines of, ‘these are maybe banners, these are maybe e-mails, this is point of care, this is EHR, and this is in-app advertising.’”


HCP, patient views of mobile

In discussions with clients about engaging with patients and HCPs, Digitas Health talks about “moments of importance,” and when talking about the resources at hand, mobile almost always is part of them, in some shape or form. “Mobile is probably the most frequently used tool by HCPs simply because that’s how they Google things, which they do all day long, because they can’t find answers fast enough on their EHR,” Tamayo says. “It’s the most important second screen to them.”

Between “Dr. Google” as a consultant and the tablets increasingly used by pharma sales reps, mobile is pervasive, according to Tamayo. And Digitas Health’s clients are asking most often about optimizing the use of tablets.

“Tablets help reps customize a conversation,” Tamayo says. “And our clients want to know how do we bring the insights about the HCP that happen in that moment of conversation that we can pull out. HCPs have given reps a lot of feedback about what their barriers might be, what they’re interested in, and how do we capture that information and data and build really smart contact and content strategies that will last long after that meeting and tie them back into the meeting itself.”

For as long as clients have been using sales force automation and rep triggered emails, they are starting to see those tactics as the first step in a very coordinated content strategy. Previously, companies did not have any of that input and largely had to guess what clients wanted to hear about a particular brand or condition, Tamayo told Med Ad News.

While HCPs are seeking information, on the patient side, the motivation for using mobile is different. “They want to be understood,” Tamayo says. “Quite honestly, when we talk about rare conditions or chronic conditions, patients don’t necessarily feel the empathy that helps them deal with their conditions. So they’re using mobile, particularly social platforms, to both express themselves and find commonality with other patients. And even caregivers are finding commonality with other caregivers, who are struggling to provide aid to patients.”

Even though patients and physicians have different needs, “at the end of the day, we like to remind our clients that physicians are people,” Cappola says. And there is really no difference between older and younger physicians when it comes to how comfortable they are using mobile.

Mobile devices act as a pull medium instead of a push, Cappola says, so this means interactions are more transactional and messages need to be more targeted and personalized. “A lot of times in pharma, when it comes to using things on the mobile device, we do find a lot of the in-app types of placements that are specifically geared towards the healthcare industry, such as ePocrates, are helpful because they’re designed to offer things like placements for fair balance. Because that’s the difficulty in mobile for pharma, saying everything we need to in that tiny screen.”


Mobile helps pharma master social

Pharma’s embrace of mobile technology may have been initially cautious, but had an unexpected positive outcome, Tamayo says. “We used to complain a lot that pharma was late to the game, late to adopt technology, late to adopt social media platforms,” he told Med Ad News. “What turned out to be a very happy unintended consequence of that is pharma embraced social after social had become primarily mobile. So we only had one learning curve, instead of two.”

The industry adjusted to FDA’s restrictions on making brand claims in social media by using mobile and social more aggressively in other areas, such as disease state education and unbranded communications; and helping patients with disease-state recognition and understanding when it might be appropriate to see a doctor. “But they’ve also started really pushing regulatory barriers in terms of branded communication as well,” Tamayo says. “That side isn’t growing as fast, but it’s certainly something we’re continuing to strive to make inroads on, when it’s appropriate for a brand.”

The industry is not making a great rush to mobile apps such as Instagram and Snapchat. “[Clients] will sometimes come to us with a particular platform in mind, but there’s less and less of that now,” Tamayo explains. “There’s more on how do we find the community of patients where they are, how do we find our client users where they are and can tell us where that is, and then we start to build the story based off that platform and the conversations that are actually there.”

One of the early lessons about social experienced by the industry was about not forcing a brand conversation in a community that was talking about something else, and Tamayo adds that by the time pharma actually embraced social, “that lesson was already understood. We know not to be that unwanted guest at the party. So we come to it with our ears first before we really start to speak in those areas.”

There are areas like Facebook closed groups, where patients are identified by name and speaking very candidly and very directly about their condition, their treatments, their physicians, and their insurance problems, “where we can participate in that conversation in one way,” Tamayo says. “However on a platform like Tumblr, where we see a lot of patients expressing frustration with mental health issues or with other stigmatized issues, in an anonymous way, we have to address that community differently. We have to give them different kinds of content for them to respond to and share. And if we do a good job of sharing on a platform like Tumblr, that sharing goes from generation to generation, it gets reshared many times over. But we only get to the point after we’ve listened first to what questions are being asked and what help is being sought, and that validity to help themselves and share with others.”


From old technology to new

Sometimes the simplest solutions in mobile can work the best. According to Brent Turner, senior VP of Solutions at Cramer, when it came to creating a mobile-optimized patient-interactive component for client Sanofi’s website for the multiple sclerosis drug Aubagio, the answer was email. For a medical device company seeking to reach out to customers using the company’s extranet, the answer was targeted native ads.

These solutions may sound old-fashioned, but Turner argues that they do the job precisely because they meet the needs of the customers, providing information in a manner that they are apt to use.

“Everybody has been buzzwording on content marketing in the last few years, and now the shift there is it’s not about content, it’s about value,” Turner says.

“Especially if we’re thinking about the whole customer experience, we are looking at how do we provide value? That layers into why are we saying e-mail, or native ads? Because they’re more content oriented, and we are saying, ‘We are in a state where we can now connect with you, you being a patient, you being an economic buyer, we can now connect with you at different points in your experience with us and provide value at those points.’”

In non-pharma marketing, according to Turner, there has been a resurgence of older solutions such as newsletters. “You have brands like MIT Technology Review, they’re launching newsletters left and right,” he says. “We’re seeing bloggers shifting to newsletters, we’re seeing newsletter platforms rise.”

Podcasts are also popular right now and those are mobile in their native state, Turner says. “They’ve all been around forever, but two of the most trendy things right now is to have a podcast and to have a newsletter,” he says.

The advantage of both mediums is “they are where you are,” Turner says. “If you’re a commuter on a train, you’re on your phone. If you’re watching TV, you’re on your phone. We just live with a phone in hand, at all times. And if you’re on a phone, you don’t want to do lots of clicking. It’s nice to have a newsletter curate the world for you. Podcasts and newsletters are a curated set of value. Part of the value they provide is by curating, and part of it is to provide a narrative, editorial, journalism, providing you a view from a trusted brand or voice that you want to engage with.”

Pharma could find value in podcast series recorded at conferences such as ASCO, Turner says. “If [the recording] was done in the back of the booth, it would be like fireside chats. There would be 50 people, or even 10 people, who have come by the booth to watch it, so now you’re getting extra content, you’re getting more viewers, you’re getting a booth draw, so its becoming an interesting multitenant strategy.”

According to Turner, although there was considerable buzz about virtual reality, or VR, going into 2017, the biggest challenge has been the scale of adoption. “E-mail, everybody who has a phone has some version of e-mail or messaging; everybody who has a phone has a web browser,” he says. “Most people have Facebook. Not a lot of people have X app they have downloaded that does the augmented reality thing, with x headset that they could put their phone into, or they’ve spent another $400 to go buy an Oculus. You start to get a funnel challenge, where some of these very interesting technologies that are very compelling just don’t have the mass adoption to be worth anything more than an innovation-esque investment that gets you excited.”

VR does work very well in live settings, such as meetings, conferences and roadshows, Turner says. “Two yeas ago, most of our clients who were playing with virtual reality were doing it in a booth activation, at a trade show or a roadshow,” he says.

Cappola says Klick has had VR and augmented reality at conferences. “The more that becomes commonplace and accessible when you don’t have a booth sitting there, the more of it people will want,” she says.

Klick’s Sensei Labs created a virtual reality experience that simulates the effects of having Parkinson’s disease. “I think that’s one of the more powerful things the healthcare space can use, to help create empathy and understanding and create messaging for needs, which will hopefully help patients in the future,” Cappola says.

And when it comes to meeting with HCPs, virtual reality can make every pharma rep meeting into its own roadshow. Agency experts say their clients are always looking for new ways to bring information, data, experience, or understanding of symptomology to HCPs. VR at present “is completely at a scale that is effective on the HCP side” through conventions and congresses and enhanced detailing opportunities.

“That’s gotten a lot of excitement from our clients right now, who want to know how can we take an in-office meeting to the next level, how can we get beyond the flat data and really build an experience around that. So we’ve been putting a lot of effort into incorporating that into in-office materials.”

According to Tamayo, rather than using VR to tell a patient story to a physician, it has been more effective in telling a science story. Virtual reality demonstrations of how an antibody protein slots into a cell may not seem that thrilling, but clients are demanding more of this type of material. “It doesn’t sound all that intriguing to us, but when we put these kinds of concepts in front of [physicians], they respond with a level of glee that’s kind of surprising,” Tamyao says.

By using VR, a rep can switch from educating an HCP – “which they hate” – to “allowing them to consume the information in the way that they want, which is how they prefer to be communicated with, particularly in office settings,” according to Tamyao.

HCPs are not always going to take a pharma rep’s word for it on the science but by using VR to change the parameters of how the science is presented, “we’ve done two things,” Tamayo notes. “We’ve earned extra time with them that we wouldn’t get if we were presenting printed items or even simple animation. We’re also helping them decide for themselves if what we’re saying is relevant to their patients if they were considering changing their prescribing habits.”
Another technology that is expected to shape pharma’s mobile marketing strategies is voice.

As HCB Health Chief Innovation Officer Robert Palmer explains in “Siri Speaks: The Human Behind the Voice of Siri – and How Marketers Can Benefit from Voice Recognition Technology” on page 30, the new enterprise chatbot solutions that have arisen since the launch of Siri – such as Amazon’s Alexa – promise “revolutionary change in the ways we communicate, work, perform specific tasks, and even browse the Internet.”

“Consumers are now conditioned to interact with their smartphones and other devices in a less intimidating and more intuitive way,” Palmer says. “Marketers now have the ability to use this technology to remove the psychological and emotional barriers of customer interactions with machines that rely on hunt-and-peck technologies that date back to the dawn of the Web. And healthcare’s regulatory barriers can be overcome with the intelligent structuring of how the voice-activated interactions return information.”

According to Tamayo, “If our clients three years ago were telling us we needed a content strategy, and last year they needed a branded app, this year they’re wondering what their Alexa skill needs to be. We’re still fairly early on in that wave and we’re having a lot of fun with it, but again we’re trying to what makes sense for physicians and patients.”

In other industries, voice is “becoming as commonplace as search was years ago” in sales, Cappola says. “For pharma, I think it’s going to be less about true sales and it’s more about the ideas of how to leverage and use that to enhance the experience.”

Among other things, interactive voice technology offers simplicity, having faster and clearer answers, and being able to multitask, Tamayo says.

“And the doctor’s office is in such a ripe position to be taking away complexity,” with voice technology allowing a physician to “ask Alexa” for the answer to a clinical question or for the dictation of a prescription to the EHR during a patient exam, he says. “For patients, it’s going to be a little bit different, it might be something that lasts over time, such as building in reminders. It could be as simple as, ‘Alexa, did I take my pill today?’”

According to Cappola, if the system is a learning one and can sync with other systems properly, even asking about the weather could create a response such as, “‘Ah, the weather is probably going to be like this. Bring a jacket. You should also probably bring your inhaler or remember to take your allergy medicine.’”
These voice systems could also be used for keeping a log of illness episodes, to be sent or shared even in a real-time fashion to their physician, Cappola says.
And VR could possibly not only bring sight and sound, but touch as well to the detailing experience.

According to Turner, Cramer is currently one of three agencies piloting the use of technologies from a UK-based company called Ultrahaptics. The company is developing a technology called ultrasonic haptics, which uses sound waves to create objects that can be felt in midair. The company’s website talks about “invisible buttons and dials that you feel when you need them, through to tangible interfaces that track your hand.”

As sci-fi as that sounds, there are very real ways healthcare can use this technology, Turner says.

“Say for example, you’re doing a medical device demonstration … it’s a suture, and you want them to feel what it’s like when there’s resistance,” he explains. “Not just hold it in your hand, but through VR, you’re in a surgery. The tech is still new, but it’s another one of those experiential things where we can create a moment, especially in a high-value sales meeting or a trade show or a road show, where we can set this up and say, ‘Let me blow your mind.’ But at the same time, give you a meaningful sense of what the product or offering can do for your patients.”