Category Archives: Marketing


Pharma Social Media Conference June 2017

The Pharma Social Media Conference returns to London next week, 28th June, and our commercial director, Andy Stafford, will be presenting at this one-day event.

Attendees will learn how to create engaging and compliant social media strategies for the Life Sciences and Pharma sectors.

Andy will speak on the topic Digital Outcomes Through Social.

When: 28th June 2017, 12:30-12:45
Where: One America Square, London, EC3N 2LS

We’ll be exhibiting at the conference, stop by and say hi if you’re attending. We’d love to speak with you!

2017-Nitro Digital-vision-graphic

2017: The Life Sciences Marketplace and the Imperative for Change

Let me start the year not with a retrospective, but with a call out to what we want to build at Nitro.

First off, it’s worth stating what we believe, or rather hypothesise:

  • That a fundamental shift must occur in the way the life sciences industry approaches marketing.
  • That this is necessary in order to make healthcare sustainable. Life sciences companies are major contributors to R&D, and their participation in society is not only necessary, but vital.
  • That the companies that are best placed to contribute will not be just those with the right drug at the right price, but those which, having got that mix right, are then able to combine it with collaborative HCPs and a layer of digital and communication services that support either real work outcomes, professional collaboration or patient care.
  • That the way to achieve this goal is not simply using sales reps as glorified delivery men and women. I’d go further, and say that few doctors want to see reps anymore for product information alone.
  • That creating a new promotional and educational distribution model for the pharma industry is not easy, nor is there a single silver bullet. Healthcare is, so far, reluctant to see the rise of an Alibaba or Uber in its sector; perhaps it will come, but perhaps the system is too fragmented, complex and non-commoditised for that. (although, if you continue the Alibaba analogy, that would make it ideal for a bit of disruption. . .which brings me to my next point nearly).
  • That everyone wins if a more efficient, digitally enabled, two-sided market emerges in healthcare.
  • That technology is essentially borderless and has the power to effect global change in our industry as much as it has in others.

We started Nitro 15 years ago based on these beliefs. We believe them now. Achieving a solution to the issues created by the challenges above has proved elusive, but I genuinely believe we have developed the scale and expertise in what is an ever moving tech and process stack that means we can take major steps forward in 2017 towards helping our clients find more efficient, tech-enabled ways of engaging with HCPS, patients and other stakeholders for better healthcare overall.

Of course, the journey will not be competed this year, or the next, or perhaps ever. But maybe that’s part of the fun of it.

So, all that being said, we think we have—through some deep and testing experience—a clearer idea of what the makings of a two-sided marketplace for life sciences looks like and what this means for the sales and marketing model for the sector. We refer to this as life sciences social closed loop marketing (CLM), and at the heart of it is a powerful combination of a BuzzFeed-esque content marketing model, a tech stack configured to cope with the regulatory and global nuances of our industry, and a data-driven understanding of customer experience and the means and modes of acquisition and retention. Ultimately, to us it’s about helping life sciences companies build up their own proprietary distribution channels.

Here’s what it could look like:


In our opinion, life sciences companies need to work iteratively (emphasis on iterative collaborative working) to build the following business processes and tech stack to compete effectively in the world that awaits us.

  • A Content Engine that contains the people, processes and tools to deliver high quality, targeted, relevant (to the audience’s needs) and consistent content in a variety of media types. It should produce creative and ethical content backed by science, and conforming to modern internet content marketing techniques: think Buzz Feed meets the BMJ! Notably, the resulting items should be incredibly timely and published more frequently. There should be a mix of interactive, service-based and information communication, most of which will be curated and created by KOLs. This content engine is not just about production, but also technologies that facilitate the creation, curation and publishing of content, like Nitro’s own proprietary ULTRA Buzz system, the Veeva Vault or web services like Grammarly.
  • A Multichannel Publishing System, whether it’s an owned media one using a CMS-like Drupal or Adobe’s Creative Cloud, or using earned platforms, like Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn or Twitter.
  • An Acquisition Strategy, since we know from having built thousands of sites that ‘build it and they will come’ just doesn’t work in the life sciences sector. Marketers, therefore, must (in our humble opinion) have an effective user acquisition strategy in place using a mix of media tailored specifically to their target audience’s needs, to be able to reach them where and when they want to be reached. Nitro’s media effectiveness database assembled using over a decade of data-driven experience allows for easy budget optimisation across a range of disparate media channels and across a full range of therapy areas.

All of the above creates visibility for your online assets, but as the cost of media in our industry is relatively high, it’s critical to provide an engaging interaction and to extend the ROI beyond the first visit. To encourage this ‘stickiness’  you’ll need:

  • A Measurement/Analytics plan, as well as a Customer Experience and Data Management strategy, whether it’s gathering feedback through net promoter score usage or other surveys; data from interactive services,; creating cookie-dropped user tag lists; email capture or sign up; or analytic services such as Google or Adobe using their respective tag managers. This activity is primarily to ensure you deliver and can measure the value you are providing but also about allowing you to segment and augment data so that you can:
  • Pull data back into and sync with your CRM (Veeva, Agnito, Salesforce) (data extension strategy) and enable your KAMs and other colleagues to leverage it, and;
  • Critically—and so far largely absent in our industry—a retargeting strategy utilising not just valuable and relevant high frequency content (see 1 above!) and email, but also cookie and data-driven and programmatic retargeting marketplaces. Talk to me any day about the relative ROI of buying media in this way compared to the cost of initial acquisition. This is the realisation of a core internet economy principle, the development by brands of their own proprietary distribution channel.
  • Finally, the output of all these efforts can’t be directly about shifting ‘drug product’ through share of voice (through that last point plays an import role in acquisition). It’s about (again, in our opinion) building genuine advocacy through listening, responding and partnering. This builds trust and will at scale be reflected in content creation which if you follow the logic through will create a virtuous circle fuelling the company’s content engine (see the diagram above!). Beautiful!

So that’s it in a nutshell. It’s not a simple vision, way more complex than just content and communications but, if successful, way more valuable for all concerned. It would be amazing to build a company that delivered on this.

That’s our plan. 2017 and beyond.

Digital Assets Audit

Digital Asset Audits

Let’s face it: Most larger companies don’t have their digital assets in order. Teams across the globe commission their own assets, but a central overview and performance management system is often missing.

What are the typical problems?

Let’s start with a lack of a centralised list of assets. Your company might have thousands of websites, apps, social media accounts and other digital channels floating around the depths of the internet; in many different countries and languages. But a missing central overview of these assets runs counter to any effort of implementing a consistent digital marketing strategy across the company.

Performance and the monitoring of assets is another critical area. How does a company define success for its different digital assets? Which ones are performing, which ones aren’t? And: Is anybody even monitoring the performance? You’d be surprised how many corporate website owners have never looked at their on-site analytics or – worse yet – not even implemented it on their site(s).

Naturally, the bottom line is affected by an aimless array of digital assets without proper oversight as well. For one, the lack of oversight restricts coherent strategic planning as to which areas and assets to invest in and which are sufficiently covered. Furthermore, the lack of performance measurement effectively rules out the possibility to make data-driven decisions based on performance as well as to draw on internal best practices. And a truly unnecessary cost factor are thousands of either underperforming, forgotten or unused websites and domains that serve no clear purpose but still incur hosting fees.

I should also mention a special case for the pharmaceutical industry: compliance. Unmonitored websites with free text forms or unsupervised social media channels are any compliance manager’s worst nightmare.

Asset audits can help

The challenges a lack of oversight creates are clear. But what about solutions to the problem? One research exercise that can help is to conduct a digital assets audit.

From our experience at Nitro Digital, an audit typically starts with a number of different sources that list digital assets from around the company. These lists can be merged together into one master document which can then start as the basis for investigation. Depending on the requirements, it can be necessary to conduct a manual search for assets as well utilising search engines and other methods of investigation.

Once the template with the list of assets is set up, the information we collect can roughly be divided into two buckets: general asset & qualitative information gathered via investigation (e.g. type of website, target audience, language etc.) and the collection of performance, technical and other metrics (such as Alexa Traffic Rank and Moz authority metrics for websites, community size for social assets etc.). Learn more about comparative performance metrics for websites in one of my other posts.

For an individual website, it is in most cases appropriate to determine its status before anything else. Is it live and can be audited for the data we want to collect? Is it behind a log-in? Is it redirecting? Or is it non-resolving and can be classified as a domain without a live website on it?

Another useful piece of information to corporate digital marketers wanting to get a global overview of assets is the asset owner. In many cases this is not known and has to be established via manual investigation within the organisation. It’s a key piece of information, however, as it allows for later follow-up with the asset owner.

Outcomes of an assets audit

Following an audit, you end up with a host of invaluable information. You now have a centralised list of your digital assets (may not be 100% complete, but a great start nonetheless), complete with general information about the assets as well as performance data. This makes categorising and comparing assets quick and easy. Ideally, the audit has also generated full ownership information.

A lot of follow-on projects can come out of the original audit. You could for example create a methodology for scoring the identified assets and then decommission the ones that seem superfluous and invest in the ones worthy of development. Or you could pick certain assets and do a more specific follow-up audit on them, such as a pharmacovigilance compliance audit on all your websites.

Wherever you want to go with your digital strategy, a centralised and comprehensive overview of your assets is essential.

Using Metrics to Assess Website Performance

Using Metrics to Assess Website Performance

Any good website owner will naturally check his or her on-site analytics software regularly. But what if you’re interested in things that on-site analytics doesn’t directly measure, want to get data for sites for which you don’t have on-site analytics access or get an idea of where your site stands relative to its competitors? Luckily, there a number of tools that can help to uncover just that.

In this post I choose to focus on three very relevant key performance indicators for your site that you can get an estimate for using third-party software programs: traffic, authority & links.

Let’s start with what it comes down to at the end of the day for many website owners: traffic.

Estimate your traffic: Alexa, SimilarWeb & co.

Traffic measurement tools are useful particularly when you want to compare your site against competitors or when you are collecting data on a number of different sites.

The best known player in the market is probably Alexa, a subsidiary of Amazon. Users can see, among other things, the global Alexa Traffic Rank, which is what most people are primarily interested in (making assumptions here). With the Alexa Traffic Rank, it’s important to note that the rank is better the closer it is to 1 (a position held by – who else could it be – Google). It’s all relative of course, but if you own a pharma website and your rank is below 100,000 (as in your site is estimated to be among the 100,000 most visited websites in the world), you’re doing something right.

SimilarWeb offers a very similar service to Alexa. Through a toolbar or its website it displays a Global Rank in the same fashion as Alexa: the closer you are to 1, the better.

SEMrush, focused on SEM & SEO, is interesting to mention in this context as well. This service gives you an estimate of your site’s monthly organic search traffic and the SEMrush rank, which is based on traffic to your site from Google top 20 search results. Again, the closer you are to 1, the better.

So how accurate are these metrics? Well, out of the three categories we look at, traffic is for sure the most approximated one. Alexa bases its estimates on the browsing behaviour of people using “one of over 25,000 different browser extensions” and on websites that have installed the Alexa script. SimilarWeb states that it gets its data, among other sources, from a panel of over 100 million monitored devices, local internet service providers and websites directly connected to it. SEMrush bases all its data on Google and Bing top 20 results for keywords that it has in its database. All of these service providers undoubtedly put a lot of effort into providing the most accurate traffic estimates. And the traffic ranks offer an extremely useful piece of information. But they should definitely be viewed as trends and indications. A good rule of thumb to remember is that the higher the traffic rank (aka the further it is away from 1), the less accurate it becomes.

For a metric that’s directly related to the amount of traffic and gets a lot of attention in the world of SEO, look to your site’s authority.

Gauging your authority: Moz is king

Why is authority deemed to be so important? Because the logic goes that the higher the authority, the better the ranking in search engines, the more traffic your site gets. Hence the direct connection to site traffic.

The most used metrics for authority are those by Moz. Moz offers a host of authority metrics both on the page and the root domain level, one of the central ones being Domain Authority. This metric takes into account a multitude of different signals to calculate a score between 0-100, with 100 being the best. Domain Authority gives online marketers a useful indication for judging the quality of a website. Another important score is Domain MozRank, a link popularity metric that’s scored from 1 to 10, similar to the now discontinued Google PageRank.

Other services that provide authority metrics include Ahrefs (Domain Rating) and Searchmetrics (SEO Rank).

Authority metrics certainly have an accuracy advantage over traffic metrics. Your domain authority is of course also just an estimation of how well you will rank on search engines, but the important thing is that authority metrics are much more than traffic metrics based on measurable technical factors, most notably the amount and quality of links to a given site or page.

Inbound links: What authority is (mostly) based on

Authority metrics do consider other factors, sure. But the truth is that metrics like Moz Domain Authority are mostly based on a site’s link profile. The more quality inbound links you have, the higher your authority. Naturally search engines consider many factors besides links as well, but a site’s link profile has over time proven to be a very important and constant factor in search engine rankings.

That’s why in addition to looking at software-calculated authority metrics, it makes sense to also look at the number of inbound links, if they’re follow or no-follow and how many root domains link to your site. The sheer number of links won’t tell you anything about the quality of those links of course. But looking at the Domain Authority of the sites linking to you or at your Moz DomainTrust score can quickly give you an impression.

Out of the three categories this post looks at, inbound links is the most accurate as this is crawlable information and represents a raw number without any mathematical algorithm behind it. There are often differences in the number of inbound links depending on which program you use and some domains can’t be crawled for inbound links at all, but generally this is easily obtainable information for SEO programs.

Marketing Grader: The metric that doesn’t fit into any category

This post wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Hubspot’s Marketing Grader. Hubspot has made quite a name for itself in the field of digital marketing software, which is why many digital marketers like to use Marketing Grader.

So why does Marketing Grader not fit into any category? Because it looks at a great variety of factors and sub-factors, namely blogging, social media, SEO, lead generation & mobile. Marketing Grader is thus good for getting a top-level impression of your website’s marketing activities and suggestions for improvement across a number of areas, but not as accurate on a granular level as other metrics that focus on one particular thing.

Key takeaways

If you remember one thing from this blog post, it should be this: There are a number of tools available that can help you assess your own and other websites beyond the point of making a subjective qualitative evaluation. These tools are in no position to replace on-site analytics, but should be used complimentary to it. It’s important to consider accuracy limitations (especially for traffic metrics) and view these metrics as indicative rather than taking them at face value. Keeping that in mind, they can be a great help.

Media Buying Pharmaceutical Industry

Media Buying

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 ( 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 ( 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!

Net Promoter Score on Websites

Net Promoter Score for Your Pharma Website

Turning happy customers into passionate brand advocates – dreamt of by many, achieved by few. The Net Promoter Score (NPS) is one way to give you an idea of how close you are to achieving this cloud nine state.

An established benchmark for gauging customer loyalty

NPS was introduced in 2003 and is based on a single, simple question: “How likely is it that you would recommend [your company] to a friend or colleague?” According to Satmetrix, one of the founding companies behind the concept, statistical research has shown this question to be the best indicator for customer loyalty and, ultimately, financial success.

Central to NPS is the concept of ‘promoters’, ‘passives’ and ‘detractors’. Which of the three categories a customer falls into is based on his or her answer to the NPS question, which is given on a scale from 0 to 10. Detractors are those who answer between 0-6. Needless to say, detractors are not happy customers who can pose a reputational threat through negative word-of-mouth. Scores 7-8 make up the passives. These customers are satisfied, but not enthusiastic to the point where they would become brand advocates. Cream of the crop customers are those who answer 9 or 10 – the promoters. These are loyal customers with the potential to actively promote your brand among their network.

To calculate your Net Promoter Score, you simply take the percentage of customers who are promoters and subtract the percentage who are detractors, resulting in a -100 (worst) to +100 (best) scale.

NPS for pharma websites

Typically, NPS is applied to an entire business or to individual departments of a business. However, due to the universal nature of the NPS question, it can be used to understand the popularity of nearly any business offering. That holds true also for websites of pharmaceutical companies.

Applying NPS to a pharma website inevitably happens on a smaller scale than deploying it across an entire business. It’s hardly feasible to create a business-wide infrastructure and process around NPS implementation for one website. Which doesn’t mean, of course, that the data NPS generates needn’t be systematically examined and analysed. Without regular review of the data, goal setting and an action plan in place to act on the results NPS provides, you would, in the words of Satmetrix, run into the following scenario: “If all you do is pose the question, then all you get is unprocessed data.”

Things to consider when applying NPS to a website

There are several practical questions that need to be addressed when implementing NPS on a website. At what stage in the visitor journey should the NPS question be posed? Should it be triggered when users open a certain page? When they’ve been on the site for a certain amount of time? When they leave the site? After a pre-defined action, such as a registration or a download? As part of this thought process, consideration needs to be given to how long the NPS question should be live on a website (permanently or for a limited amount of time) and how to avoid survey fatigue and statistical inaccuracies by asking the same visitors again and again.

Internally, somebody needs to be designated to look after the data NPS brings in. This could, for example, be the website owner or somebody from his or her team or an external agency.

A question of strategic importance to answer at the beginning of the NPS deployment process is whether respondents should be given the option to personally identify themselves and give feedback through a free text form. The advantages are that identified visitors could be contacted directly on the basis of their NPS responses and that a free text form gives an extra layer of qualitative insight. A con could be the added demand on resources to analyse the extra information. For pharma companies, issues of compliance and pharmacovigilance also need to be considered.

Benefits of applying NPS to your website

Asking the NPS question on your website allows you to bring the benefits of an already proven question for gauging customer loyalty to your website. There’s no need to devise your own survey.

If you choose to give visitors the option to identify themselves, reaching out to both promoters (e.g. to ask them if you can use them as testimonials) and detractors (e.g. to find out what they didn’t like about their experience on your site) becomes possible. If you allow a free text field, you can get valuable qualitative insights in addition to your quantitative NPS score.

NPS allows you to set a concrete and measurable goal for your website. I.e., you can aim to achieve a certain NPS score in a certain period of time. NPS also allows you to test whether a certain action, such as a website re-design, had an impact on visitor loyalty. Just compare the NPS from a time period before the action to one after.

You can also let your promoters share their love for your website with their network by including social media integration.

Useful links

If you want to find out more about NPS, here are some useful links to help you be on your way: – NPS resources center from Satmetrix, one of its founding companies – White paper from Satmetrix about the research behind NPS – eBook from Satmetrix about how to use NPS to drive business growth – SaaS solution to implement NPS