Underfund online, underfund RM

By July 12, 2008Uncategorized

On Thursday, right before the three-day holiday weekend, the World of DTC Marketing blog published a post indicating that pharma advertisers, relative to non-pharma advertisers, are significantly underspending online. Specifically, the average or typical pharma marketing budget has only a 3.1% allocation for online. That is very small, and is about half the amount non-pharma marketers devote to online.

There are, as always, a number of possible reasons for this. One is that online can require a considerable upfront investment. Another is that online social media, such as blogs (such as this one) are very foreign to pharma marketers, and also implicate their concerns about running into trouble with the FTC. A third is that good emarketing people are scarcer than hen’s teeth, and there simply aren’t enough to go around.

While this data is bad enough, it’s particularly bad for those of us in relationship marketing. Online is the single greatest RM platform ever, and by underfunding it, pharma companies often underfund the channel that could really make a difference for them..

When we prepare a plan, or respond to an RFP, there is almost always a very healthy and robust online component to the project, unless the client has some compelling (EXTREMELY compelling) reason not to. 

Online is unique, relative to other media, because it’s the only one in which the communication goes two ways. Properly developed and operated, it creates an open channel for patients to communicate directly with the pharma company client. The information gleaned through this dialogue typically is extraordinarily valuable

In fact, as we have noted before in this blog, the value of this two-way dialogue is to great that it is beginning to morph into three-way conversations. On websites such as Patientslikeme.com, online communities have sprung up which are created and operated directly by the patients, and in which patients share experiences, symptoms and nuances of treatment with one another. Sites like this have a major impact on the marketplace’s perceptions of conditions and treatments, and underfunding online is effectively deciding to ignore this.

Online is clearly, and unquestionably, both the medium of the future and the ideal platform for relationship marketing. It’s particularly valuable for patients who feel isolated, either because of a chronic condition, because their condition carries some sort of social stigma or is disabling, or because, perhaps, they are living somewhere remote. The enormous differentiator between online and other channels is simply that when communicating online, it is not particularly difficult to make the conversation two-way.

This can be as simple as a “Contact Us” link at the bottom of a Web site, or infinitely complex. Whatever approach you choose, the closest thing to a true human relationship between a brand and its customers is online. Mail, print and broadcast are, at best, approximations. When it comes to relationship marketing, the Web is the realest deal, and is continuing to improve and grow. Underfunding online is underfunding your single most powerful marketing device. Not smart.

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