With COVID-19 accelerating online migration this year, the pharma industry has had to embrace online – and fast. Traditionally reliant on face-to-face communication and selling, pharma has had to adopt a digital presence in order to maintain awareness of its products and services, as well as clear communication with healthcare professionals (HCPs) and customers. Whilst digital adoption has not been an easy or a natural shift, it is likely to remain a permanent transition.
Why compliance shouldn’t be a challenge
Perhaps one of the biggest concerns that pharma marketers have is ensuring that online advertising does not breach regulations because if it does, the penalties are high. Online advertising within the pharma space has often been wrongly perceived as being tricky but the truth is, there is nothing to be nervous about. Now, more than ever, businesses need to be optimising their digital activity.
Each country is governed by different advertising regulations in relation to prescription drugs and over-the-counter medicines. In the UK, promotion of over-the-counter medicines by pharmaceutical manufacturers is permitted, whereas promotion of prescription drugs is only allowed in Canada, New Zealand and the United States. Whilst some healthcare-related content cannot be advertised at all, others can be providing they have the appropriate Google certification when targeting only approved countries.
For online pharmacies, the content of ads, and the products or services on offer, must meet strict criteria. Whilst the promotion of online pharmacies is allowed in the UK, these businesses must be registered with the relevant pharmaceutical authority that their ad campaign targets.
Prescription drug terms in ad text, landing pages or keywords by online pharmacies and pharmaceutical manufacturers is not allowed in the UK. In fact it is only permitted in Canada, New Zealand and the United States. Google does not allow the promotion of prohibited pharmaceuticals and supplements including those related to weight loss or steroids, or prescription opioid painkillers unless for medication-assisted treatment (MAT).
In the UK, online pharmacies must:
- be registered with the General Pharmaceutical Council & approved by Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA)
- not promote prescription or specific drugs within adverts or landing pages
- be able to provide written proof from a pharma brand to confirm collaboration where a marketing company might own and manage a domain on their behalf.
What digital platforms should you be using?
Paid advertising campaigns on digital platforms such as LinkedIn, Google, YouTube and Microsoft Ads, is an effective way of targeting HCPs and consumers. Through remarketing – using display ads across all of these platforms – ensures that your brand, products or services remain at the forefront of your audience’s mind. This helps to build trust as well as raising awareness and encouraging sales. It also offers tracking of ROI so you can ensure that this method of advertising is working effectively.
There are a number of ways to target HCPs directly through LinkedIn, although you do need to be explicitly clear that this is not intended for the public. Ads relating to prescription and over-the-counter drugs are prohibited. The key to success is keeping your ads and landing pages informational and ensuring that only relevant parties are targeted.
Creating a group on LinkedIn is a great way to encourage HCPs to join and share information – including clinical trial data which can be shared within these groups. It is also a useful way to promote webinars through selective targeting of HCPs and LinkedIn group members. It is at this point they should also be added to a remarketing list for ongoing marketing.
Twitter campaigns are a great way to raise brand awareness, and to encourage HCPs to sign-up to relevant webinars and content. Twitter’s ad policy does cover the promotion of clinical trial data, so care must be taken to avoid the use of keywords which make any health claims surrounding diagnosis, prevention and cures. As with LinkedIn, you need to make it really clear who you are targeting in all of your content.
On Twitter, targeting HCPs can be done through targeting specific Twitter handles or by using keywords used by HCPs, such as medical terminology and publications.
There are many pros and cons of selling through a direct-to-consumer (DTC) marketplace like Amazon. It’s important to ensure any copy used is not just informative but also compelling – this is a sales tool after all – otherwise it can end up reading like a patient information leaflet.
Amazon has a reliable distribution network which is vital when it comes to driving digital sales. Its typically high conversion rates offer the opportunity to test copy that sells, meaning you can also benefit from instant traffic through sponsored product ads.
In the long run, selling through Amazon may not be the most profitable platform, and there is concern that there will be pressure to drive prices down. But it should certainly be considered as part of an overall marketing strategy.
Getting your message across online
It is important to remember that it is still early days for the pharma industry when it comes to digital adoption. Even the larger industry players who perhaps have been fortunate enough to have experimented in this area already are still not nearly at the stage of adoption as other industries.
For the pharma industry, utilising platforms such as LinkedIn and Twitter is new territory with pressure to keep conversations ethical, professional and productive, whilst adhering to regulations. It is important to remember that HCPs are less likely to interact with online advertising than other consumers, so ads and landing pages need to offer compelling and engaging content, and most importantly, add value. With less face-to-face interactions, you need to get your customer-focused message across well online.