I often have discussions with pharmaceutical brand managers about digital media and how it fits into their overall digital strategy and through those discussions I’ve come to some conclusions that I’d like to share.

First off, the media market to reach healthcare professionals is structurally different from almost any other market. This is for several already well discussed reasons, most important of which are the regulated environment and the ethical, technical and frankly more important nature of the content that the audience is consuming ie. a content marketeers viral piece on ‘top 10 hottest millionaires under 30’ might make ROI (and an intriguing read!) but it’s not really in the same league as ‘novel small cell lung cancer trial results in patients ….’ although I did enjoy seeing ‘top 10 drugs of 2015 (http://www.healthcareglobal.com/hospitals/1707/TOP-10:-Most-Promising-Drugs-Guaranteed-to-Save-Lives-in-2015) as a content marketeer’s attempt to go pharma!

Currently the media opportunities to reach healthcare professionals online are relatively fragmented and the targeting and delivery opportunities relatively unsophisticated compared to our peers in consumer media and ad tech. There is no google Adwords, Facebook Atlas or DSP (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demand-side_platform) specifically for this audience. While there are a lot of reasons why not, equally there are a lot of reasons why there should be, the technology and targeting opportunities do exist, they are just not being utilised.

I’ve posted previously that the rise of custom audience technologies in social networks presents a significant disruptive opportunity to healthcare brand marketeers with the heavy caveat that the regulations, that are currently largely couched in the 00’s language of contextual placement not the personalised real time language of this decades DSP’s, need to catch up.

Given all of that I think there are some very compelling reasons for the organisation of media buying and planning at a global or regional level. Given the trans-border nature of digital the global role should, IMHO, not just be about strategy and toolkit delivery but be about tactical execution where it makes sense to do so.

If you don’t mind I’d like to try and set these out. There is some bias in here as it’s an area that I believe we at Nitro Digital are particularly good at.

They all pertain in one way or the other to economies of scale.

1. Economies of approval. The model we have established over the years has established a fairly clear path and process to getting materials approved at the global level and while this can still be a little discursive it is relatively friction-less compared to a scenario where you have to approve at each of 15 different local levels.

2. Economies of audience. When you break it down most publishers do not have that big an audience in any given specialty in any one country so even if you do a placement the results you get will be somewhat ‘so what’ i.e. one country may yield 200 clicks but together they all yield 2000 which is more interesting and more likely to lead to sustained activity or time spent getting meaningful learning points gathered.

3. Economies of learning. Given the data sets will be quite small at individual local levels looking at data locally is unlikely to lead to solid organisational learning that you as a center of excellence can leverage. ie. you’ll have trouble keeping the formats or timings consistent or indeed getting a holistic view. By aggregating performance data across media types and therapy areas, we’ve built a powerful media effectiveness database, which shows a clear picture of which channels work for which therapy areas at which price.

4. Economies of buying. There are extra internal costs of buying 20 times separately but there are also implicit external negotiation costs in that by using the centralized data we have in the media effectiveness database we can quite literally say what price point is appropriate to buy which channel at. It will take years for individual countries to build up that data set due to the economies of audience.

5. Economies of expertise. Media planning and buying is a centre of excellence in that I have seen many times that local decision makers who have not been exposed to the bought media market place before will buy media on the basis of perceived audience affinity not performance and this almost always leads them to over pay on a placement or CPM basis. It’s vital to measure relative performance by channel but to do so within the media market context of our industry i.e. it would be brilliant if the whole market was programmatic like every other market but it isn’t and unfortunately there is no one channel that will give us the volume and reach we need in a given specialty. So a range of channels is appropriate to use.

Reading this you might be forgiven for thinking I am in someway ‘anti’ medical media, I’m not, far from it in fact. Journals, medical networks and HCP bloggers play an incredibly important role in stimulating debate, surfacing ideas, curing disease and making a fundamentally positive impact on the health of society and in fact I want to unleash the power of HCP’s to get their content out there and ideas discussed to improve patient outcomes.

Sadly I’m not skilled enough to be a doctor but I do know a bit about digital marketing, while it’s nowhere close to being as useful as developing a cure I can make a contribution in helping people understand the impact of medical or organisational changes or making sure information about drug improvements are discoverable in an efficient way.

There are, however, fundamental shifts in the ability to reach people with messaging as individuals not as amorphous members of a sites visitors’. That is a fundamental challenge to the traditional tactics used by pharmaceutical brand managers and also by the medical publishers and it requires a responses by all parties concerned. I hope the tips above serve as pointers for how at least the media buying aspect of this can be tackled.

Thanks for reading!