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How digital technologies are reshaping pharma marketing in India

Healthcare marketing spends in India are growing at an average of 26 per cent a year

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MUMBAI: India holds an important position in the global pharmaceutical sector. As per an IBEF report, it is the largest provider of generic drug globally and supplies over 50 per cent of global demand for various vaccines, 40 per cent of generic demand in the US and 25 per cent of all medicine in the UK. However, marketing and advertising spends of pharmaceutical giants have been minimal for the past many decades, focusing mainly on B2B aspects of it and catered mainly through newspapers.

But the advent of digital technologies, social media, and a whole new culture of evolving direct marketing, marketers associated with pharmaceutical and healthcare industries in India are exploring new ways to reach out to not only business partners but consumers as well.

MedTrix Healthcare founder and CEO Vimal Narayan feels that doctors and patients both have become comfortable in accessing medical information on the internet, thus increasing the scope for healthcare and pharma marketers exponentially.

He says, “With the rise of chronic illness, increased per capita income, disease awareness, and immediate access to healthcare facilities, marketers in India have plenty to room to innovate. The traditional marketing channel and campaigns may not work due to the above-mentioned reasons and we need a specialised marketing strategy for each disease/therapy areas. For instance, up until 6-8 years ago, patients were not comfortable searching for doctors online, but they are comfortable now and the trend doesn’t seem to slow down. This simple example illustrates that both patients and physicians are online.”

This increasing scope of opportunities to innovate and scale a client’s business has pushed pharma & healthcare marketers to spend better and across platforms.

‘Healthcare Advertising Expenditure Forecasts 2019’ report by Zenith indicates that India is the fastest-growing market when it comes to spends on healthcare, surging at an average of 26 per cent a year between 2018 and 2021. The report also states that rising incomes and increased access to health insurance are making healthcare more accessible and encouraging a more direct-to-consumer marketing of healthcare products and services.

Publicis Worldwide MD Srija Chatterjee notes, “Traditionally pharma marketing was all of a nattily clad medical representative with glossy literature trying to impress upon the doctor. Over the years, this has changed to a much more complex process. Hyper-fragmentation of the market, breakdown of legacy models, patient empowerment and changing definition of care has brought in greater opportunities for marketers. A number of global brands losing patents have led to Indian generics competing at lower price points. MR time with doctor has gone below 30 seconds. Hence, there is more emphasis on 1:1 relationship, richer consumer behaviour, newer sales model design and newer points of engagements.”

Mirum general manager-sales Srikant Subramanian adds that there has been a tremendous growth from the digital perspective in Pharma marketing in India.

He says, “With the advent of social media, and digital in general, in this post-Jio world, we see a lot of fragmentation of core audiences of doctors, patients, and policymakers. As a result, contextual communication becomes a necessary tool, and there is larger scope for innovative, creative marketing to be done across the entire marketing sphere of digital, social, ATL as well as BTL.”   

Surely, the growth of digital medium within the country has given birth to newer dimensions of healthcare and pharma business. Online platforms such as Curofy, DocPlexus, Practo, Medshr, Lybrate, Healtho5 Solutions, myhCue and Docquity are helping doctors communicate with their peers. Online pharmacies such as Netmeds, 1 mg, Pharmeasy are offering stiff competition to the traditional high street pharmacies. Then there are portals such as VEEVA and AGORA while knowledge dissemination portals such as ‘Knowledge Genie’ (Abbott) are the latest examples of tech affinity.

Narayan shares, “Digital transformation is revolutionising pharma and healthcare industry and is expected to transfigure medical communication strategies of pharma and healthcare companies. Some of the most preferred technologies adopted by companies are smart apps, patient chatbots, virtual assistants, virtual reality and augmented reality. These technologies seem to be the most preferred part of the go-to-market (GTM) strategy of pharma and healthcare companies in India and in the global markets. The way these technologies communicate with patients and physicians 24/7 is something that is widely appreciated.”

Another important change that has occurred in healthcare and pharma marketing in the country and across the globe, in the past few years, is that the lines between the language used for B2B and B2C marketing are blurring for good.

Subramanian quips, “Bryan Kramer puts it best when he said, that "It’s Human to Human H2H". The idea is that B2B is no longer about communicating from company to company, but person to person. We have to understand that need, and look to appeal to the emotional needs of our customers and how it relates to their business.”

He further adds that the only difference in communicating with these two sets of consumers lies in the scale and frequency of marketing depending on the audience.

“In our healthcare business, for OTC, we still need to drive awareness and availability of the store, as digital has still not become de-facto for purchase, so the application of your strategy will still need to appeal to a larger audience set. In a B2B scenario, however, the audience scale will always be smaller in comparison, and the messaging for individual audiences will be different basis their current stage in the buying cycle.”

Narayan insists that there has been a significant difference in approaches that marketers and companies adopt for B2B and B2C activities. He mentions that platforms like 1mg, Medlife, Practo, and Healthkart, etc, have used digital technology and communication methods to build B2C domains from scratch, which is very different from healthcare and pharma companies. The strategies adopted by pharma companies, in general, is driven by physician engagement level with other dynamics such as market growth rate, competition level, awareness matrix and so on.

“B2B marketing in this space is categorised under “One-Time Digital” solution and “Systematic Scalable Modular” solution. Many marketers prefer the latter, as they can replicate the model and fine-tune the marketing development plan at the execution stage year-on-year.  At the same time, some pharma and healthcare clients prefer developing a custom Health CRM platform for their internal and external communication activities. This is an early sign of adoption of Systematic Scalable Modular solution, as you can integrate Medical Case player and email marketing along with Health CRM platform,” he elaborates.

Chatterjee also notes, “Communication in the health and pharma industry is complex. For one, it is heavily regulated, as it should be. Therefore, marketing to the consumer is largely on disease awareness, patient care, post-procedure maintenance care etc. For example, you can talk of diabetes and how to manage it, but you cannot advertise the drug because most of the complex drugs are ‘prescription only’.”

She further says, “To the HCP (health care professional) on the other hand, it is all about how they can help their patient. At the core of it, the communication is based on science - what the drug does, how the molecule can help, what research went into creating it, what studies were conducted on the drug and what were the outcomes and of course, advantages over a competitor drug. These are communicated through various channels, some borrowed from other industries like advertisements, information leaflets, etc. but more importantly, seminars, ISPs (international speaker programmes), camps. There has been a lot more adoption of digital channels in recent years.”

Marketers can fine-tune their strategies further using the heaps and bounds of data available online to strengthen their core strategies and curate personalised solutions for their respective audiences.

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