Until recently prescription pharmaceuticals have lagged in deploying digital marketing. Confidentiality requirements, regulatory barriers to drug promotion and a conservative mind-set have combined to limit most pharma digital marketing to informational web and mobile sites, spending on search, a limited use of social media and occasional digital experiments with mobile apps and portals.

Sufferers and caregivers now expect more based on their experiences in other categories. Companies from outside pharmaceuticals are rapidly introducing digital solutions to important health challenges.  A recent report by MarketResearch.com estimated $117B in healthcare Internet of Things investment by 2020, an astounding 40% of total estimated IOT investment.

Pharmaceutical leaders are at a turning point. They can watch their brands become less relevant in a more digital healthcare environment or they can use digital to address the two principle objectives of pharmaceutical marketing – accelerating treatment adoption and adherence.  Adoption and adherence are crucial in pharma because they have such an immediate impact on the lives of sufferers.  They also have an enormous impact on pharma companies because limited patent life and high drug development costs place so much pressure on companies to make the most of their compounds as rapidly as possible.

The adoption challenge has grown as more drugs with similar efficacy and safety profiles force caregivers and sufferers to determine whether it is worth changing their current treatment and which drug to choose if they decide to change.  Up until now marketers have usually seen this as a communication problem – make decision makers aware of your drug’s differentiating benefits to gain advantage.  But, in conditions where the basis for product differentiation is not so apparent the ability of digital experiences to tip decision making is greater.  Digital experiences that provide information tailored to individuals, or that integrate a drug into a larger treatment regime, or that share reports of success and tips for effective use from fellow caregivers can play a role in increasing the pace of adoption.

Low adherence remains one of the main obstacles to health around the globe.  The World Health Organization has estimated that only 50% of patients suffering chronic conditions in the developed world follow treatment recommendations.  Experts believe the adherence rate in developing countries is even lower.  Here the potential for digital to help suffers overcome the barriers to adherence by helping them anticipate and avoid side effects or gain feedback on the hidden aspects of the progress they are making or simply to remember to take their medicines at the appropriate time are enormous and still largely untapped.

Over the course of the next few months I will share thoughts and examples of how pharmaceutical marketers can make their brands more relevant in a more digital world to boost the rate of adoption and adherence.  It is a remarkable opportunity to improve patient outcomes globally and yield tangible benefits to pharmaceutical companies.