Article: Year End Trends - DHC Members Discuss - Dec 2019

As we close out 2019 and look forward to 2020, we are using this time to pause and take stock of how the DHC’s mission of engagement, education, and inspiration was realized in digital pharma marketing this year. We’ve asked DHC advisors and members to consider the industry’s successes in 2019 and what’s on the horizon for 2020.

2019 – The Introduction

This year, we have had the opportunity to facilitate the exchange of ideas, insights, and research on several key themes that we believe will see continued growth. The maturity of the agile marketing movement provided marketers an operating structure that encouraged rapid deployment of digital innovations, and a process by which to measure success and course correct when necessary.

At the same time, the privacy-safe and compliant collection of data reached a phase in 2019 where data analytics trumped creative as the primary focus in strategic marketing plans. Balancing the data science inputs, this was also a year where authentic and empathetic communication had muscle as a more than a buzzword. Innovations in social media communities, chatbots, and contextual content meant that pharma brands offered both patients and physicians more meaningful and impactful messaging and resources.

Looking forward, DHC co-founder, Mark Bard, predicts:
The growth of digital health on a broader scale will continue to fuel the impact of these tools on the pharmaceutical and device industry. While innovations in digital marketing will drive faster, better, cheaper strategies in the realm of advertising and engagement, the impact of more data, shared data, and connected data will fuel the movement towards outcome driven treatment options.

Although we’re already twenty years into the connectivity wave of digital health, the combination of the exponential growth in the amount of data combined with the willingness of more partners to standardize and share clinical data between patients, providers, and payers – in a secure manner of course – will usher in the next generation of truly connected health. This level of integration will present opportunities to brands and organizations willing to explore new relationships and risk-based agreements with the end of goal of optimal patient outcomes.

2019 – The Highlights

We’ve asked our members and advisors to consider what they saw as the biggest change in 2019 with regard to pharma digital marketing and how we interact, engage, and target patients/physicians/payers?

Finding the Physician

Chris Tuleya, EVP, Managing Director, Underscore Marketing considered “2019 was the year where marketers acknowledged that physicians are people too. They aren’t just an NPI # but have their own approach to learning and growing.”

We saw this in several ways throughout 2019 – thanks to DHC partner, SERMO, a series of physician surveys offered DHC marketers deeper insights into the needs and attitudes of physicians, allowing for more tailored communications.


At the DHC Northeast Summit, hosted by AMAG, Azita McDermott, Director of Marketing at EMD Serono noted “one of the trends that continues in the HCP landscape is physicians’ time is crowded. They don’t have time to spend with their own patients, much less spend with our sales reps. This is an area where digital channels really helps us.”

Chris Tuyela

The Role of AI

When we look at how the pharma strategy relative to strategic physician communication evolved in 2019, we see where the use of AI is really starting to take shape. Faruk Capan, CEO of Intouch Group, explained:
Rather than flashy applications like virtual assistants, chatbots or robots, AI-based solutions are being used behind the scenes more and more – for example, in EHR systems or for the purpose of identifying potential patients or correlations, or to automate tasks that use up valuable human time. This will continue to become more mainstream.

Right now, Prime Therapeutics is employing AI to analyze prescription ordering data to identify fraud. Sanofi is using AI to understand people’s biological responses to vaccines, and Bayer is using the technology to distinguish patients who have chronic thromboembolic pulmonary hypertension (CTEPH) from those who have similar symptoms but do not have CTEPH. From R&D to marketing messaging, AI-based solutions seem infinite.

The use of AI to impact patient engagement and authentic patient experience emerged in several ways this year, including the use of chatbots and telemedicine. In a marketers discussion at the AstraZeneca-hosted DHC Summit, Ryan Billings of GSK reflected on the advancements they had made in creating a chatbot that offered a build-your-own experience based on the patient’s current place in the journey.  The innovation in design and execution reflected significant strides in connecting social media with AI driven technology, ultimately driving the patient to the option to connect with a physician via telemedicine. Ryan summarized “at the end of the day, regardless of technology and landscape changes, it’s all about figuring out the unknown and meeting customers where they are.”

Preparing The Toolbox

Reflecting on these advancements and looking towards the new year, Tighe Blazier, General Manager of DMD considered whether there is a tool set that will most impact the next 12 months, saying:
Tighe Blazier
In 2020, we don’t believe a single tool will wildly impact how pharma interacts with their key healthcare audiences. A gamut of new tools exists today and, with many pharma companies adopting all-encompassing platforms such as Adobe and Salesforce, it can be easy to get caught up in the technology.

The lynchpin to effectively use these tools, however, remains the same when it comes to communicating with healthcare providers and patients: identity data that is first-party sourced, opted-in and audited by a third party. “Good data in” ensures pharma marketers are able to unlock the power of existing and emerging tools, across channels, to create meaningful, engaging experiences for healthcare audiences.

Karan Arora, AstraZeneca’s Global VP of Innovation, when addressing the DHC Fall East Coast Summit attendees, summarized the ideal toolset for marketers as:

ONE – become well-versed around content strategy. Know what you are building and why are you building it. Are you making sure you are building the right thing? Be able to communicate the “why” behind the content is a big piece from a transformation standpoint.

TWO – focus on the patient journey, spending time really understanding the patients and HCPs.

THREE – analytics. Get much sharper around what the benchmark is.

Karan Arora

2020 – What’s Coming Next

The pharma marketers we queried echoed Tighe’s and Karan’s sentiments.  When asked about the greatest marketing opportunities for both patients and physicians, pharma marketer from leading pharma cos. responded that “data aggregation and modeling” as well as “better data and applications to pull insights out of the EHR” were themes around physician-focused opportunities.  When considering patients, the need for “more engagement by pharma/biotech in social media” matched with an interest in innovation around “connected devices” and “gaming, experience design and point-of-care innovation” indicates that marketers are looking at a range of data and experience-driven innovations.

Meanwhile, the hurdles identified that might prevent ideal innovation pace and success were a mix of external and internal issues.  Some marketers are more concerned with “pricing pressures” / “focus on drug pricing” while others noted the risk of “groupthink” and “technical integrations challenges”.

Patients As People - Defining the Message

Industry leads at publications, technology platforms, and thinktanks rounded out the predictions for 2020. Carrie Moore, Head of Health at Conde Nast believes we will see a continued growth of focus around authentic patient communication, saying:

I think in 2020, as we see continual shifts in content consumption – with users firmly in charge of how and when they engage – marketers will lean even more heavily into developing more meaningful connections by reaching their target audiences through brand-safe, quality content they are already immersing themselves in, content that appeals to them as people, not patients.

Marketers will learn how to effectively and authentically integrate themselves into these experiences, with a keen eye towards the regulatory environment that can sometimes make that more challenging.

2020 is the year of effective “edutainment”.”

Miriam Paramore, President & Chief Strategy Officer, OptimizeRx concurs with Carrie, and offers context on the idea of innovation using connected devices:
In 2020, pharma has the opportunity to promote greater collaboration through the patient care continuum. I see digital communication pathways and interoperability as the way to get there. The rapid proliferation of digital endpoints—from hand-held devices to kiosks and computers—is fueling the need for solutions that can unlock the industry’s rich repository of untapped data sources, since more data is at its most actionable when applied through increased collaboration channels.

As we head into 2020, solving the challenges of connecting these pathways will remain a front-and-center pursuit for all stakeholders. We must come together as an industry to address existing hurdles related to privacy. We must strike the right balance between protecting patient interests and promoting patient-centered care, and we must connect the dots between data and care. The stakes around improving research, care management and population health are simply too high for this priority to take a back seat.

Consider healthcare’s $300 billion medication adherence problem—an area where OptimizeRx has established its foothold. When digital communication pathways bring together providers, pharma, payers and patients, the potential to dynamically improve the outlook is significant. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

The Data Horizon

Sloan Gaon, CEO, PulsePoint also sees 2020 as a season of expansion on 2019’s data trend, predicting an increase in the way that technology and data work together to realize goals. Sloan explained:
The way marketers have approached reaching their audiences has changed dramatically over the last decade. Programmatic technology enables marketers to identify and connect with millions of consumers at scale who suffer from hypertension or just one person who has just torn their anterior cruciate in their knee yesterday.

In fact in 2021, eMarketer predicts that nearly 90% of US digital display advertising will be purchased programmatically. The healthcare industry has lagged far behind due to a myriad of concerns around data privacy, FDA regulations, and the “conservatism” of life science companies. According to PulsePoint, less than 20% of all digital healthcare spend is done programmatically. In 2020, we believe this changes.

As we can see in the rest of the healthcare sector, technology and data are revolutionizing all aspects of the sector. And like in marketing, data and technology will pave the way for healthcare marketers to achieve their goals not just at the scale needed to be successful on the digital landscape but in a way that enables them to achieve better health outcomes for patients.
Sloan Gaon
Michal Byrnes, EVP of Sales for RxEdge, agreed with the opinion of DHC’s Mark Bard, as well as several of our pharma members, around the role of data on the horizon. Byrnes elaborated:
There is a big opportunity for marketers in 2020 who can successfully segment their audiences and send customized communications to their desired segments. It’s easier said than done and can only be achieved by chaining together diverse patient data warehouses into a single, tokenized data source.

For example, in our targeting approach, we apply methods to identify very specific patient segments tied to addresses and digital IDs across devices (while remaining privacy-safe and HIPAA compliant). The evolution from propensity modeling to a more precise identification of the actual patients that our pharma clients need to reach is already in practice. It will continue to expand and improve as additional data sources and technologies are developed.

By tailoring content that is relevant on a more personal level, pharma brands will develop higher-quality connections with patients which will in turn generate better outcomes. Advancements in deterministic, individually based marketing will also mean improved ROI and a significant reduction in wasteful spending.
Mike Byrnes

The Path Forward

Joe Shields, President & Co-Founder of Health Accelerators summarized both the opportunities and potential landmines for marketers in 2020, offering the benefit of his perspective as an industry marketing veteran.

A gift that pharma marketers can give themselves in 2020 is to cultivate a mindset toward ever-greater tactical integration. This means designing and executing a marketing system across channels–and even audiences–and being clear about which investments contribute to the success of the system and which do not.

The simple trick with marketing is to do more of what works and less of what doesn’t. While disconnected tactics can generate early results—and even win creative awards—they tend to be inefficient and ultimately short lived unless they perform a critical role in the ‘machine’ that processes prospects and turns them into loyal customers.

Joe Shields

The DHC looks forward to partnering with industry thought leaders and partners in 2020 offer education, engagement, and inspiration as everyone seeks to do more of what works, and less of what doesn’t. We will see you in 2020!



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