Thinking Outside The Box

In digital, it’s all about personalization. Isn’t it time pharma caught up with other industries?



Soon, the pharma industry will face a stern ultimatum – diversify or die. The internet – that majestic marketplace of ideas – has been busy empowering consumers through unfettered access to information and services. Now that customers know what they want (and when they want it), holding their hold their attention means tracking and reacting to the minutiae of their online movements. 

This sophisticated idea is at the center of Volkswagen’s marketing model, says Adel Baraja, Sales and Marketing Consultant at Volkswagen, who believes a high level of personalization will provide exponential growth in the pharma industry.

 “Marketing channels like outdoors, out-of-home, pay-view or TV deliver one message that aims to suit everybody,” he says. “In digital, we are trying to give our customers or prospects a totally different message.”

 It’s mass media but it’s also custom, he says. “We highlight people's interests, from either their browsing behavior or online habits, and we identify the people in the marketplace who want to buy a car. In a way, it’s not invasive at all; Netflix or Amazon make suggestions based on books read or programs watched in a similar way.” 

 In tracking a customer’s online activity, connectedness is the starting point, says Baraja. “We are looking for the connected customer, people that use their phone or multiple devices to get online. Those are the ones that are always searching, always looking up items – recipes, advice, do-it-yourself guides.”

 Where does Volkswagen mine this data? “We work with multiple agencies and service providers, who gather and analyze all this big data. We do not have to do it manually, we can’t even see them – the data or the people – as it's anonymous. We just know that they have set the criteria that we are looking for,” he says.

 Pooling data from third-parties can provide a general overview of behavioral patterns, then Volkswagen uses sophisticated metrics to tailor its message to each individual visitor on its website. “We know how these customer are coming in, for example, if they clicked on a banner, but we also know now – through advanced algorithms – that somebody browsing a website has an attention span of eight seconds – that’s less than a goldfish. They get distracted by another website or by a TV set and they leave your website,” says Baraja.

 Many marketers would give up at this point – after all, they’ve served the ad, had a click and a visit, and formed a bond. “We keep connecting to that same client; we might be able to serve him a different ad. If he has seen the exterior of the car, we serve him another ad inviting him to see the interior,” he says, adding that if a customer leaves the website midway through customizing a car, a third ad can then be deployed on a third-party website asking them to come back and complete the customization. “The whole idea is to re-target the same customer again and again because they are the highest potential, rather than focusing on a new one with the least potential.” 

 Baraja rejects the idea that this approach would not work in pharma. “A lot of people say: If people are healthier, pharmaceutical companies are going to lose money. But look at cooking shows; chefs show you their recipe and they show you how to make the food, but you will still go to the restaurant to eat it. It doesn't mean that if you are being helpful, showing them how to be healthy, people will stop coming back to you. They know you, you will become the one they take advice from, they will listen to you. If you throw anything at them they will buy it because they trust you.”

 The right attitude and internal awareness are essential to successfully implement a personalized digital strategy. The increasing ubiquity of the digital world must be mirrored by the marketing strategy, he says. “Digital is no longer a separate strategy to the sales strategy, conventional marketing strategy or branding strategy. It is one strategy that takes a different direction, developing and evolving.”

 The impact across the organization requires a top to bottom understanding, he says. “Marketing has become involved in IT – there is a lot of software and processes involved and it will continue to become more sophisticated. We will always have a CEO that understands where both digital and marketing is going. A CEO that also supports the vision and understands this is the requirement,” says Baraja.

 Adel Baraja from Volkswagen will be speaking at the Marketing and Customer Innovation 2017 conference in November.  


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