COVID-19 and the digital pharma marketing revolution

The global pandemic has caused pharma companies to invest in digital marketing, as healthcare systems across the world adapt to strict lockdown rules. Once the global emergency ends, this trend will continue, argues pharmaphorum’s Richard Staines.

The global outbreak of COVID-19 has forced businesses to radically change their way of working. Healthcare companies have been in the vanguard of this change, with an enormous rise in the use of telehealth and all forms of digital communications.

With medical staff working tirelessly and lockdown restrictions in place across the world, the way pharma markets medications has changed, too.

Until 2020, pharma had lagged other industries in its investment in digital marketing. According to ethoseo, spending on digital projects is starting to catch up with levels in other industries.

In the US, TV advertising for pharma products is still a big business, but this is mainly aimed at patients. According to the figures compiled in the third quarter of last year, pharma brands were projected to spend around $10 billion in 2020 on digital advertising aimed at all groups including doctors, a compound annual growth rate of more than 13% since 2014.

A report from eMarketer came to an identical conclusion, estimating that US pharma would spend $9.53 billion on digital advertising in 2020, based on figures from the first nine months of the year.

“When pharma companies are trying to interact with doctors and inform them about the latest developments with medicines, the onus is on them to produce information in a format that suits the needs of today’s digitally savvy medics”

This is an increase in 14.2% compared with 2019, and the digital spend is forecast to increase to $11.25 billion in 2021, an 18% increase.

According to Ian Hale, vice president of commercial content at Veeva, the change is driven by the sudden migration to digital services because of the pandemic.

Speaking from the company’s online European Veeva Commercial and Medical Summit late last year, he highlighted how more than three quarters of doctors now use iPads to find information. This switch to digital technology is meaning the pharma industry is having to change the way it communicates with physicians.

When pharma companies are trying to interact with doctors and inform them about the latest developments with medicines, the onus is on them to produce information in a format that suits the needs of today’s digitally savvy medics.

Gone are the days of long lunches with reps – what’s needed is accurate information that is fully compliant with marketing regulations, presented in most cases in a digital format, according to Hale. He added that information can be broken down into modules for use across global organisations and tailored to meet the needs of individual countries and their rules on marketing.

The way that reps engage with doctors will be very, Hale said, with an emphasis on efficiency. However, overall reps will engage more with healthcare professionals thanks to this change in approach.

“They are going to share content ahead of meetings. I don’t think there is going to be back-to-back zoom meetings,” said Hale.

Dan Atkins, vice president of digital innovation and insight at Shionogi Europe, told the conference in a keynote address that the company needed to get better insights into its customers as the company built its business in the region.

Using digital technology has allowed the company to keep track of its interactions with customers, with senior management and area managers also able to get feedback from the system.

David Herron, head of global digital platforms and operations at Teva, added that the company’s sales force was primarily working from home as a result of the pandemic. Digital tools have therefore become essential for the company to continue to interact with doctors.

The company had to use digital technology to link its sales workforce, who were already facing uncertainty because of rapidly evolving pandemic last year, with medics who were also experiencing similar anxieties. Herron added that the company is using strategies such as approved emails to interact with customers.

“Our ultimate goal is to be easy to do business with,” said Herron, focusing on areas such as digitising order management with pharmacies to streamline the sales process.

Going forward, Veeva’s Ian Hale said the processes are now available to reach out to medics using various different digital channels. With a robust compliance approval system in place the information can be sent out to many different geographies efficiently.

This can ensure the company is singing from the same hymn sheet across all areas and with all different media, while at the same time complying with varying marketing regulations.

Hale added: “Delivery across omnichannels is going to be key. You can approve compliantly and use that module to go in many areas.”

His message is that the shift towards digital marketing will remain in place after COVID. He concluded: “This is the way the industry is going. Many are asking how long to return back to the norm. For industry this means huge amounts of face-to-faces with customers.”

This was always a hugely expensive way of working and once pharma companies realise the cost savings and efficiencies through digital technology, they will be unlikely to let go of them once the pandemic recedes.

“Will we go back to that? I don’t think we will,” Hale said.

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Digitally engaging doctors around the world

Pharmaceutical marketing budgets are going through a period of readjustment as companies explore and exploit a myriad of different digital channels to deliver content to, and engage with, their doctors and other audiences.

The average allocation to digital channels with marketing budgets has doubled since 2016, up to 34% for 2020 according to Indegene research, and over a third of companies expect digital budget allocations to increase by more than 50% over the next three years.

But making effective use of these resources to reach doctors around the world increasingly remains a challenge for pharma companies.

M3’s new Engaging Doctors Around the Globe whitepaper explores the most pressing challenges that pharma will encounter when planning and delivering a global digital marketing campaign.

It features insights from industry experts, and M3’s head of commercial excellence Katy McPherson and executive vice president Tim Russell.

They explore the need for local knowledge, how to establish and then utilise trusted relationships with HCPs, and why the time is right for a global-to-local approach.

The publication also provides advice on:

  • Producing credible, engaging and relevant content
  • Meeting regulatory requirements
  • Delivering impactful campaigns
  • Defining and proving return on investment
  • Tailoring content to different markets
  • Addressing the needs of global customers

At a time when embedding a digital strategy as a prominent component of a pharmaceutical marketing campaign is becoming ever more important, when many digital capabilities are overstretched and fail to make a cohesiveness of resources.

To guard against that a clear strategy and senior level support is needed so that pharma companies can acquire the appropriate talent and form effective partnerships that are needed to effectively engage with doctors around the world.

You can view the Engaging Doctors Around the Globe whitepaper here or by clicking on the button above or below.


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Vein Practice Marketing Strategies to Implement Now

Marketing Strategies to Implement Now For Your Vein Practice

A Webinar Sponsored by the American Vein and Lymphatic Society

COVID-19 has caused massive economic disruption to virtually every kind of business, including vein practices.

Which marketing strategies should you begin now, and which should you implement in the coming months as the crisis slowly subsides? To find out, join Stewart Gandolf for this practical, information-packed webinar. When you attend, you’ll discover:

  • Which marketing strategies should you invest in now, even if your practice is currently closed?
  • How to communicate with your current patients as things change.
  • How to capitalize on the marketing opportunities that telemedicine brings to your practice.
  • How to balance social media, digital marketing, and traditional advertising?
  • How to communicate with referring doctors?
  • What are some “silver lining” opportunities?
  • Where should you invest for the best possible ROI?

These challenging times require courage, optimism, and foresight.

About Your Webinar Leader

Stewart Gandolf, MBA, is CEO of Healthcare Success, LLC, one of the nation’s leading healthcare marketing agencies. Stewart and his team of 30 marketing specialists have marketed over a thousand practices and hospitals over the past twenty years, including dozens of vein practices. A frequent speaker, Stewart has shared his expertise at over 200 venues nationwide. Over 21,000 doctors and executives read Stewart’s healthcare marketing blog. Finally, Stewart and co-author Dr. Mark Tager recently wrote, “Cash-Pay Healthcare: Start, Grow and Perfect Your Cash-Pay Business.”

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Coronavirus: 5 Ways You Can Use Social Media and Digital Marketing to Help the Public During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Today I am going to share some important ways that doctors, hospitals and healthcare marketers can use social media to inform the public during the COVID-19 crisis.

  1. Priority One: Use social media to convince people to comply with social distancing, and consequently help us all, “flatten the curve!”

The US Surgeon General, Dr. Jerome Adams, understands the power of social media to help get information out about the COVID-19 crisis. He was recently asked during a Good Morning America interview how to get younger Americans to take the coronavirus crisis seriously. Dr. Adams responded: “Well, I have a fifteen and a fourteen-year-old, and the more I tell them not to do something, the more they really want to do it.”

“We need to get Kylie Jenner, we need to get our social media influencers out there, in helping folks understand that look, this is serious, this is absolutely serious…People are dying.”

Hours later, Jenner responded by exposing myths and sharing the importance of social distancing with her 166 million Instagram followers. “The coronavirus is a real thing…Please stay inside you guys: practice social distancing, self-quarantine. If you live with your parents, you don’t want to home and get your parents sick. You might have it, and not even know and be infecting other people… It’s serious, and, the only way we’re going to slow this down is if we do this since there’s not a cure right now. Nobody is immune to this. Millennials are not immune to this. New evidence actually shows that a large percentage of people in the hospital right now are young adults.”

Doctor sitting at desk with cell phone in hand

Healthcare social media and healthcare digital marketing during the COVID-19 crisis.

Jenner’s video was, of course, a step in the right direction, which leads me to ask you…

If the US Surgeon General trusted Kylie Jenner to help get the word out about how we can fight the Coronavirus, don’t you think healthcare clinicians and medical professionals should use their social media accounts to help too?

Let’s face it. There’s a lot of misinformation out there, and millions of Americans nationwide still wildly underestimate the seriousness of coronavirus. You have the opportunity – I would argue responsibility – to use your social media accounts to influence others positively.

If you are a doctor or nurse, I recognize that you probably do not have a vast social media following. That doesn’t matter. Clinicians often forget how much influence they have upon the people they do know. When my kids were little, whenever they got hurt or sick, the first person we usually turned to was our neighbor Denise, who was also a critical care nurse. “Miss Pumpkin” (as our daughters called her), wasn’t just a friend; she was a healthcare thought leader for our family and our neighborhood.

Medical clinicians and other concerned healthcare professionals can share information with friends and family on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media channels. Also, don’t forget you can simply email friends and family as well. I know a biologist who copies me (and all his friends) on relevant COVID-19 updates via his personal email.

If you are a professional healthcare marketer, you have enormous potential to educate your community through scale. Your first step will be to convince your hospital or practice leadership that your organization not only can, but should, take a leadership role during this crisis, and “join the fight.”

As I mentioned in last week’s blog about how you should adjust your marketing efforts during COVID-19, now is a fantastic time to build your organization’s thought leadership and brand by doing the right thing.

Certainly, you can start by updating all your organization’s website and various organic social media properties [e.g., Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube (see a Healthcare Success Healthcare Marketing and COVID webinar on YouTube), LinkedIn, Pinterest, etc.] with important updates and tips.

You can also work with your leadership (e.g., Healthcare CEO, Pharmaceutical CMO, Medical Director) to encourage your doctors and medical practice staff likewise to share info on their personal social media accounts.

Beyond that, if you want to reach your community, you can significantly expand your reach via paid social media advertising. Remember, Facebook and Instagram favor personal accounts over business Pages, and as little as 4% of your hospital’s followers will have the opportunity to see your “organic” (“free”) posts there.

By contrast, you can reach tens of thousands (or millions) of people cost-effectively through paid social media advertising. You have nearly limitless options to influence people through paid social media, whether you use boosted posts, video ads, or other formats. You can create and buy social media campaigns yourself or enlist the help of an agency like ours.

We’ll expand on the benefits of social media advertising in future posts – stay tuned for that.

  1. Use social media to help guide people in your community who fear they may have the virus.

Due to a lot of missteps and mixed messages, people are confused about what they should do if they think they have COVID-19. What’s more, beyond the general advice that is available everywhere (e.g., wash your hands, do not go out if you are sick, avoid people who look ill), the appropriate course of action can vary by community. Here are some of the questions people want answers to:

  • “What are COVID-19 symptoms, and should I get tested?”
  • “Where in our community can I get tested?”
  • “Should I see my primary care doctor, an Urgent Care, or the local hospital?”
  • “Is telemedicine an appropriate first step?”
  • “Should I stay home if my symptoms are minor?”
  • “How will I know when it is time to seek help at a hospital?”
  • “How do I avoid infecting others?”
  • “Which hospitals in my area are able and ready to take new COVID-19 patients?”
  • “What are the risks of the transmission of coronavirus infectious disease at home?”
  • “Is there anything else should I know about coronavirus disease diagnosis and transmission?”

If you represent a hospital or other larger healthcare organization, you may already have answers to some of these questions on your website. If so, great—utilize social media to drive people in your community to your appropriate website pages or posts.

If you do not have coronavirus content on your website, you can add whatever information makes sense. Anything you post must be medically accurate, and you’ll need to ensure appropriate legal and ethical safeguards in place.

Alternatively, you can of course simply share information from trusted sources (such as HHS/CDC Coronavirus/COVID-19 website, the, or on your social media. (See some additional links and resources below.)

  1. Use email and social media to inform your patient base with additional, important updates and advice.

Beyond educating the wider community, you should guide and inform your patients (or their caregivers) throughout the COVID-19 crisis. Beyond the fact that it is the right thing to do, your valuable information will grow your authority and your relationship with your patients at a time when they need it most.

In addition to some of the topics we’ve already covered above, you can use social media and HIPAA compliant email to help guide patients with additional tips, such as how to:

  • Boost your immune system
  • Care for and speak to small children at home
  • Deal with fear and stay positive
  • Cope with stress or sleeplessness
  • Pass the time
  • Protect their family
  • General information and updates as they become available

Make sure all your communications are informative, relevant, accurate, empathetic, and “in touch” with the current environment. Right now, your tone should generally be serious, but over time as people begin to go stir crazy, you may see an opportunity to mix it up with some lighter content.

My wife’s doctor does a great job of providing this kind of information to patients through email and via Instagram.

Also, for inspiration, here is a helpful email I received from Aetna that describes some COVID-19 benefits they have put into place for members.

Email to Aetna insurance members about COVID-19

Sample Email From Aetna to Patients

  1. Reassure your patients that your hospital or practice has proper safety precautions in place.

A close friend whose husband has colon cancer emailed me last Friday:

So be sure to communicate your safety measures everywhere you can, on your website, social media properties, via email, on the phone, and in-person at the office. You can even post a video on your website, like this example from one of our clients.

  1. To attract new patients now or immediately following the COVID-19 crisis, think digital healthcare marketing first.

Just like virtually every type of business, many hospitals, medical practices, skilled nursing facilities, and other healthcare organizations are suffering economically from the COVID-19 crisis.

Some providers can (or must) wait for the crisis to end before they begin marketing efforts to attract new patients, while others need to generate revenue and new patients now. While we believe strongly in the power of traditional advertising, our favorite “go-to” in times like these is digital.

Take, for example, the leaders of a multi-city, specialty practice who contacted me this past Friday. Due to COVID-19, their physician liaisons cannot get in to see referring doctors. Even worse, recent Medicare reimbursement cuts have severely reduced their revenues.

Their specialty is medically essential, so they must remain open for business even though prospective patients and their families are distracted by COVID-19.

Our recommendations will likely include:

  1. Email and social media campaigns that will reach referring doctors directly, without relying on physician liaisons.
  2. Paid search campaigns on both Google and Bing networks. We did an analysis, and despite COVID-19, there are still thousands of searches each month for the services.
  3. As you might guess, based upon the rest of this post, paid social media to reach patients and their families.
  4. If budget permits, we might test connected TV (CTV) and digital radio.

Remember, due to coronavirus, millions of Americans are staying at home right now, and people are spending more time online than ever. We’ll expand more on that in a forthcoming blog post.

Conclusion: COVID Digital Healthcare Marketing & Social Media

While these are incredibly challenging times for everyone, smart social media and digital marketing strategies can still influence patients in a positive, profound way.

Here are 2 sample emails and some jpegs for your convenience. I am also sharing some credible, “shareable” links below. For more updates on COVID-19 and other important topics, follow me on Twitter, @StewartGandolf.

COVID-19 Prevention Chart

COVID-19 Prevention Chart

COVID-19 Symptoms Chart

COVID-19 Symptoms Chart

Social distancing guidelines from CDC

Maintain 6’/six-foot distance

The following are Healthcare Success COVID-19 campaign images to support social distancing. Out of home and social media are displayed below.
If you would like more information on these, or to use them in a campaign, please give us a call at 800-656-0907.
Out of home alternate COVID accouncement

Healthcare Success Out of Home – Six feet

Instagram spread the word COVID announcement

HS Instagram COVID, “Spread the Word.”

Entire COVID prevention campaign

Healthcare Success COVID prevention campaign

#LetsFlattenTheCurve: Creative to encourage social distancing during COVID-19

The Coronavirus Can Be Stopped, But Only With Harsh Steps

The Doctor Who Helped Defeat Smallpox Explains What’s Coming

Coronavirus: The Hammer and the Dance: What the Next 18 Months Can Look Like, if Leaders Buy Us Time

Coronavirus: Why You Must Act Now. Politicians, Community Leaders and Business Leaders: What You Should Do When

This is How We Can Beat the Coronavirus

Younger Adults Make Up Big Portion of Coronavirus Hospitalizations in U.S.

How to Clean and Disinfect Yourself, Your Home and Your Stuff

Why It’s Crucial to Avoid the ER if You Can

How to Fight the Coronavirus SARS-COV-2 and Its Disease, COVID-19

Coronavirus Could Overwhelm U.S. Without Urgent Action, Estimates Say

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