4 ways to get the most from digital – and comply with the code

Gone are the days of lavish pharmaceutical product launches in 5-star hotels, cash prizes for remembering key product features and, one of the most prolific pharma marketing tools, branded pens.

Tried and tested, these were the go-to marketing strategies for the pharma industry. They worked.

However, Medicines Australia (MA) put a stop to those tactics in their drive to promote ethical marketing of prescription pharmaceuticals and the quality use of medicines.

No one would argue against regulating the marketing of prescription medications.

Unlike industries, which are in the business of selling luxury goods, fashion or snack foods, we are dealing with complex, life-changing therapies – and on a larger scale population health – so regulation around how we market and educate the community about our treatments (and especially prescribers) is reasonable.

Many pharma marketers argue that changes to the code have stymied our ability to have any real impact and stripped us of an opportunity to be creative.

But in reality, there are new – and far more creative and effective – ways to engage with healthcare professionals beyond post-it notes and lobster lunches.

It can be summed up in two words: digital marketing.

Digital information has universally changed human behaviour – the way we interact with each other, and the way we learn and engage with the world around us. Isn’t it time pharmaceutical marketing did the same?

Not surprisingly, MA recognises the industry’s need to keep pace with the ever-changing world of digital marketing. As such, the Code of Conduct now features sections dedicated to digital media setting out how pharmaceutical companies can engage with doctors online, across social media and via eNewsletters, etc.

But there is still much confusion among marketers about its regulation, how to comply and where the boundaries lie.

In reality, we tend to stick to what is safe – or if we’re honest, stick to traditional marketing methods, which are often very pedestrian and fail to leverage the opportunity to interact and engage like never before.

So, when it comes to pharmaceutical marketing in the digital space, where do you start? Let’s apply some creative thinking:

1. Think outside the square

It’s not always about beating your product’s drum. Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) restricts us talking in open forums, like social media, about our prescription products, but this doesn’t mean you can’t play in that space. Consider the power of starting a two-way conversation about a therapeutic area. What conversation would you have directly with doctors if you could? Digital can help you start that conversation.

2. Engage them where they’re already engaging

No question, we now live in a digital-first world.

Want to know how good a restaurant is? Google it.
Want to share a photo of your exquisite meal? Instagram it.
Want to tell your friends where you went afterwards? Facebook it.

You (or someone close to you) use these channels every day. As do doctors and patients. Think about how people consume knowledge in electronic formats. Then adapt your marketing initiatives accordingly. Think about where your audience is and go to them.

3. Remember, digital is not print

One of the scariest things about digital is that you don’t have as much control over sizing and placement. Different operating systems and tech platforms mean that your content will always be displayed slightly differently depending on the device the reader is using. There are whole sections of the code dedicated to digital formatting, so there is no need to keep measuring your screens for 3 mm font sizes. Make sure Gary in compliance knows this.

4. The MA code is a guide, not a ‘how-to’ manual

There are many grey areas still in the code, but most initiatives are covered and it is important to use your best judgement on which section best meets your needs. MA is also happy to discuss anything you feel is not covered under the code, to come to an agreement before you proceed.

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