Marketing roadmap for pharmaceutical companies - communication, education and validation



The task of launching a strategic and effective marketing campaign touches nearly every function and department of a pharmaceutical company. The tasks can range from producing and publishing product information, education and advertising to creating physician and sales training, managing press relations and producing Phase IV outcomes studies. Creating awareness, disseminating information and confirming facts Communication, Education and Validation are becoming core functions for pharmaceutical companies. A marketing strategy that encompasses these tasks is an essential part of a business development plan and provides the tools to be competitive in a crowded and often risky industry.

Phase I: Communication

In today's environment, pharmaceutical consumers are bombarded with messages about new and improved drugs from virtually everywhere television, radio, magazines, newspapers, direct mail, sides of buses and even bathroom stalls. Many consumers respond to this barrage by trying to find ways to block out this onslaught of messages. So how do you, as a pharmaceutical marketer, reach them? One of the most effective ways is to use the mechanisms of community to inform. The World Wide Web, providing unlimited and easily transformed community space, has been an experiment in community creation on an unprecedented scale. Well-constructed Web sites can be comprehensive marketing tools that provide a range of audiences with detailed information while incorporating brand strategies for overall messaging.

  • Online Marketing
  • The economic advantages of Web marketing are fairly well acknowledged. Cyber Dialogue recently estimated that the Internet was three times as effective as TV and six times as effective as print in reaching and maintaining target audiences. In contrast to push marketing audiences who continuously get marketing messages thrust at them, Web site audiences are self-selective. They go to a site with intent and often the entire Web site becomes the advertisement. We are now truly in the era of pull marketing. Creating a resource such as a Web site that provides value and pulls people into interaction with the company is the best way to gain awareness for the organization. However, for online marketing to be successful, it has to have a targeted message answering the actual needs of the recipient. Fortunately for marketers, sophisticated tools now enable online appeals to be drafted with seemingly uncanny accuracy.

    Beyond communicating to individual purchasers, new pharmaceutical product launches require communicating to the full information-space surrounding potential customers. Marketers should not only send an email to Prospect-X, but also send complementary information to the publications Prospect-X is likely to read, Web sites he or she is likely to visit, the physicians Prospect-X is likely to consult and the pharmacies Prospect-X is likely to use. In this way, you create a demand on behalf of the prospect while also creating reinforcing opinions in everyone the prospect is likely to encounter. Through the use of online tools that manage press rooms, FAQ pages, sub-sites and online publications, pharmaceutical companies can create their own communities of re-enforcing opinions, and in the process take the first steps toward establishing brand loyalty.

  • Managing Content
  • Access to and control of information has always been a critical factor in successful marketing. Making certain that a corporate Web site's content is current, complete and contains no conflicts can be a full-time job. But to be competitive, most pharmaceutical companies today need more than just a single site. Even a mid-sized pharmaceutical company might have a dozen sites, including one for each product (e.g.,,, for conditions (,, and even for symptoms (,, Content management across a collection of sites is a formidable task, best handled by a robust Content Management System (CMS) that allows for the reliable delivery of consistent messaging.

    Merck, a leader in developing, manufacturing and marketing pharmaceutical products, is an excellent example of a company achieving control over Web site content by using a CMS. Merck uses its main Web site,, to support sub-sites for each specific product, from Crixivan to Vioxx. Each product has two sites, one for healthcare professionals and one for consumers. Besides product specific sub-sites, Merck's patient site,, features health libraries, patient resources, news, online games, polls and the capability to customize content. Another sub-site,, was created as an online resource for healthcare professionals and has information on Merck products, clinical trials, research, ordering and online seminars. And Merck's patient assistance program site,, provides resources for patients without prescription drug coverage.

    Of course, the content management requirements for pharmaceutical firms extend well beyond multiple Web sites. All communication mediums need to be consistent with each other and be in compliance with regulations. Each needs to be of equal prominence and detail benefits, whether on a billboard or in a physician's journal. An organization must to be able to share and control information both inside and outside of the company everybody's got to get and use the same message. A good CMS will control messaging with ease, using built-in auditing controls to track updates and changes and provide consistency to the distribution of internal and external information.

    Panacea Pharmaceuticals, an emerging biopharmaceutical company developing therapeutics and diagnostics for diseases, uses its site,, as its primary communications platform. Using a CMS adds additional channels of content that can be controlled in a time-challenged internal environment, a situation that many pharmaceutical companies encounter. The site offers comprehensive and varied content including media kits, press releases, general corporate information, a description of the business model, financial news, investor presentations, FAQs and an investor kit. All of this content maintains the core brand messaging and the consistency is easily controlled internally with a comprehensive administration functionality that allows for updates as needed and offers templates for creating new documents.

  • Online Communities
  • The prerequisites for establishing a community are a shared space and a sense of common interests. Perhaps the premier example of this is WebMD, which boasts 18 million visitors a month. Though health is a fairly broad topic, covering everything from allergies to z-plasty, what these 18 million visitors have in common is an interest in their own well-being and that of their families. They are a self-generating, self-selecting community, and in their use of message boards and other means of information and experience sharing, they are the ideal for any healthcare company.

    To create their own communities of interest, leading eventually to loyal consumers, pharmaceutical companies need to establish information portals. They need to provide information not only on their own products, but also on the conditions these products are designed to treat. Once you have provided an information-based reason for visitors to seek out your site and they opt-in, you have established the foundation of a community and a collection of those most likely to become customers.

  • Online Collaboration
  • The objective of collaboration efforts is to increase collective knowledge and messaging that the contributors or others can later draw upon. Such efforts encourage the involvement and active participation of both internal and external constituents and have as many uses as there are business processes. Examples of these uses for a pharmaceutical firm include online user groups, clinical specialty groups, patient/physician care groups, online product launch collaboration, sales force communities and partner information distribution.

    The Fielding Pharmaceutical Company, a distributor of pharmaceutical products based on women's medical needs, uses its Web site,, as a collaboration center for pregnant women. The site features an interactive due-date calendar and pre-natal care news groups with thread discussions on corresponding articles. The site allows users to search for and upload articles and start new threads about a variety of topics. More generally, pharmaceutical companies are using collaboration tools to maintain a central repository for group knowledge and as such are ideal for customer support activities ranging from FAQ databases to troubleshooting guides for technicians.

    For a pharmaceutical product launch, a dynamic extranet can be developed to provide accuracy and speed for communication and file transfers in order to achieve real-time campaign status, editing and approvals. This is an ideal way to build collaboration between offices nationwide and third-party vendors such as advertising agencies, public relations firms and printers. Administered via any Web browser, extranets can include automated and pre-built functionality for tasks such as uploading documents, group emails, contact lists, client checklists, discussion boards, breaking news, resource guides and file sharing. These functions allow all parties to keep up to date on project news and milestones, confirm deliverables and communicate ideas and feedback. Extranets are able to maintain content divisions when necessary with firewalls and internal controls to separate content and administer temporary permissions.

    Phase II: Education

    Once awareness has increased through communication, educating your constituents about your product and messaging is a key step in gaining acceptance. Where communication was valuable for product pre-launch and early-launch generation of awareness, the education phase is most effective for launched products or products with new uses or indications. In this phase, the goal of education is to inform interested parties about the advantages and benefits of products and provide meaningful content beyond just product promotion and audience capture.

    Underlying all of the advantages and uses of education is this fact: people tend to be brand-loyal to whomever taught them about that brand category. For this reason alone, a strong education component is an absolute necessity for the marketing and promotion strategy for any pharmaceutical firm.

    Consumers are becoming savvier and are looking for information that goes beyond the claims of advertising. They want substance and value. They want to become more educated because they believe that will make them smarter consumers, able to select the most appropriate products for their needs at the best price. And they are looking for something else as well, some degree of comfort. If your company can give them the best education about their medical condition, they will assume that having that depth of knowledge and willingness to impart it means that you are also in the best position to create the most effective products to treat their condition.

    The consumers of information are not limited to the end-users of your products. Consumers include healthcare professionals doctors, nurses and clinicians to whom you can provide both continuing medical education (CME) and more in-depth information on your products to ensure that they are used most effectively. Internal audiences as well, such as pharmacists, sales forces and partners who need to learn the best way to present your products and the most effective way to highlight their key advantages are consumers too.

    For all of these consumers, the best education is one that is interactive. Effective education requires an iterative, interactive component, not a one-sided indoctrination. Web-based tools can deliver interactive training that is not only self-paced but also adaptive. These tools can provide an on-going background assessment program that measures a user's answers and then delivers information at the most appropriate level of understanding and can redirect the user's attention to areas that he or she has clearly not yet grasped. This tutorial style of training and education is highly effective because it is focused on the knowledge and needs of the individual rather than that of a general public. And, not surprisingly, this individualized attention engages the user for a longer period of time than more generic instruction.

    Roche, manufacturer of TASMAR, recently introduced its Web site for people with Parkinson's Disease, their caregivers and healthcare professionals. The site was designed with straightforward graphics and larger type to make it easier to use for people with Parkinson's. The consumer portion of the site,, provides information on TASMAR and its monitoring program that can be viewed from the computer screen, printed out or downloaded to the patient's own computer. Other portions of the consumer site are devoted to general information on Parkinson's Disease such as explaining what the disease is and how it is diagnosed, insightful essays by people with Parkinson's discussing how they cope with their condition, links to related Web sites, a glossary of related terms and results from a global Parkinson's Disease survey conducted by the European Parkinson's Disease Association (EPDA), the National Parkinson's Disease Foundation and the World Health Organization (WHO).

    To access the healthcare professional portion of the TASMAR site, visitors must log in using their DEA # or other medical license number. The healthcare professional area contains patient counseling materials, complete prescribing information and information on the monitoring program that can be printed or downloaded easily while the patient is still in the office. Another section contains advanced information on TASMAR, including clinical slide kits and CME teleconference schedules.

    Besides internal or product specific education, Web sites can educate even larger audiences. For example, Medical Network Inc. has developed a Web site,, which provides free online education to any medical professional that registers. The site provides a continuing medical education center with courses on medicine, family practice, managed care and pharmacy instruction. The Web site also features educational resources such as journal libraries, message boards, top health news and ask us sections. This Web site supplies a resource for participating medical professionals to be up to date with the most recent medical and pharmaceutical teachings.

    Phase III: Validation

    Once the product has been launched and awareness has been achieved, it is imperative to maximize user and practitioner acceptance. Demonstrated and documented widespread efficacy is the most powerful marketing tool there is for pharmaceutical companies. Validation, the process of systematically collecting, analyzing, and presenting data on a product's performance is becoming more and more essential for pharmaceutical marketing. In the face of an increasingly skeptical public, pharmaceutical companies must devote themselves to ongoing validation studies. The results of such studies will give sales and marketing departments powerful arguments in favor of their products. More subtly, however, involving those who prescribe, administer or merely recommend your product is a way to bind them more tightly to you.

    In order to replenish product pipelines, maintain competitive advantages and meet heavy regulations, more pharmaceutical companies are focusing on earlier and faster evaluation of drug candidates. Most drug candidates that fail in the development process due to poor efficacy or toxicity occur during early phase trials, at which point a considerable amount of time and money has already been invested. There is an urgent need to speed the identification of toxic side effects, lower costs of drug discovery and decrease time to market. With the speed of the Internet and the flexibility of relational databases, it is possible to create studies that will improve the process of drug approval. Using an online validation database for drug approval will soon be mandated under the proposed draft Annex 15 to the EU and GMP guidelines, which describes in detail essential elements, including consideration of periodic revalidation of drugs.

    Pharmaceutical companies can continue validation post-launch by performing trial studies that deliver information to physicians on a product's performance related to their own patients, institution or any number of geographic or demographic variables. Validation tools can be used to conduct market research studies or distribute surveys and polls data to various constituents. Data from all of these sources can be used to validate the efficacy of a product or service or to conduct real-time market research.


    Online marketing is a complex and demanding undertaking for any pharmaceutical company. Viewing the entire process in functional terms communication, education, and validation leads to more balanced, company-centric efforts rather than splintered and unfocused task management. No good researcher would attempt to produce a drug by skipping steps in the development process or not being informed of the latest test data. No pharmaceutical marketer should try to sell a product without following the proven steps of communication, education and validation.

    For more information, contact John Estafanous at

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