May 23, 2022

5 ways life sciences marketing is missing the mark


Chase Feiger, MD

CEO and co-founder

I've had many conversations with marketing leaders across pharmaceutical, medical device, and diagnostic companies around what the future of life science marketing looks like in the digital age.

It is obvious that while we are still in the early stages of digitizing pharma commercialization, the omnichannel approach has been adopted by many brands regardless of clinical indication, product lifecycle, and other factors. But what’s interesting to me is that, while an omnichannel approach has been adopted, few brands have taken the next step to personalize that approach in order to engage directly with their consumers. Personalized engagement – that is, interacting 1:1 with your consumers as individuals – is possible with digital marketing, but is something that not enough brands are actually doing.

When I sat down to think about digital marketing in life sciences – especially in the context of other industries – I couldn’t escape the inevitable conclusion: It's time to step up our digital marketing game.

Here are 5 ways our industry is missing the mark.

1. Personalization: It’s more than ads following you around the Internet

Everyone is talking about personalization. But what I think we, as an industry, really need to understand is that personalization isn’t about ads following you around the Internet. When I say “personalization,” I’m not talking about the cooking utensil you have in your Amazon cart showing up in an ad on a YouTube video. I’m talking about real personalization. Engaged personalization. As in: When a brand treats you like you’re a person.

I get it – marketing is traditionally about one-to-many activities, so it kind of sounds like “marketing” and “personalization” don’t really mix. But that’s old school thinking. Technology gives us an incredible toolset of ways that we can offer personalized engagement at scale – authentically, and in a way that is more than just an advertisement. With the right technology partner, a consumer journey that gives the opportunity for 1:1 interaction through your consumers’ channels of choice – whether that is a phone call, a web chat, or an SMS – is now possible.

2. Empathy: Trust and loyalty are inspired by one-to-one relationships

Going hand-in-hand with personalization is empathy. If you’re a life science brand, you’re trying to solve a problem for a consumer – a very real problem that is impacting their life and their health. It’s important for any brand to be empathetic, but it is especially crucial for life sciences.

We know consumers want this: Edelman Brand Barometer found that 83% of consumers want a compassionate connection with a brand that communicates empathy and support. So how are you bringing empathy into your marketing?

This is not just about storytelling, or highlighting real patients, or making advertisements that reflect and respect the emotional state of their target audience. All of these are valid – but true empathy is about allowing for one-to-one interactions between actual humans. A chatbot might be cost effective, but it’s not empathetic. A pop-up ad can be targeted, but it cannot deliver empathy. But a person – especially the right person, in the right moment – can.

3. Selective automation: There’s a time and a place for it

Okay, I just got finished telling you that empathy is key, and that empathy can only be offered by real people. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a time and a place for automation. That’s why I’m referring to it as selective automation – because you have to know when to employ it.

Should you offer an automated chatbot in every circumstance? Certainly not. If consumers are overwhelmed with information and in need of a human touch, a chatbot isn’t going to do it – if anything, it might actually provide a worse experience than no communication at all. But if consumers know exactly what they want and just need a simple way to find it, a chatbot could accomplish the goal more quickly and efficiently than anything else.

And, of course, there are some very obvious opportunities for automation that you absolutely must be using – such as automated A/B testing. If you’re not continuously testing two CTAs against each other, then you’re not continuously improving.

4. Data-driven insights: You can actually connect marketing efforts to clinical outcomes

Listen, I know “data-driven insights” is an overused phrase, but there’s a reason for that. Advertising has changed dramatically since the days of Mad Men – and not just because it involves fewer martinis. What was barely possible then is extremely achievable now: measuring campaign-specific ROI. Thanks to click rates, conversion rates, bounce rates, and all kinds of other rates, you can better understand when and how your specific marketing efforts succeed (or don’t).

For life sciences brands, though, it’s really hard to access that direct ROI data. You can see your click rates, and you can see how many consumers are downloading your doctor discussion guides. But can you understand how those specific actions are translating to clinical outcomes? Well, there’s technology that can – and if you’re not already looking at it, you’re behind the curve.

5. TV advertising: Is it time to change the channel?

All right, this is an intentionally controversial statement. TV advertising is obviously an enormously popular channel for advertising life science brands. And sometimes it works. But if this is one of your primary strategies, it’s time to start doing more to maximize those efforts: by making sure your consumer journey also includes a frictionless call to action for your targeted audience.

Did you know that, per GlobalData Healthcare, an increase in TV ad spending during COVID did not actually increase traffic to branded websites? They gave Humira as an example: Although AbbVie doubled its budget for ads in April 2020, the number of monthly visits to the branded Humira site actually decreased slightly from March to April. That says a lot.

I’m not suggesting TV advertising is dead – I’m really not. It’s a great way to raise awareness. But if you’re not supporting that awareness with engagement strategies (like personalization, like empathy, like selective automation) and then tying all those efforts back to real-world ROI, then you’re just not maximizing the bang for your TV advertising bucks.

The call to action is key. Regardless of how you do it – I liked the QR code approach Coinbase took in its award-winning Super Bowl ad – the most important point is that your call to action sends the user through a personalized flow on their device of choice and makes it seamless and simple to reach the education and any other resources they want from the brand. From the consumer’s perspective, think about how much simpler this is than (1) asking the consumer to remember a complicated brand name, (2) expecting them to go to the page, which will most likely overwhelm them with information they may or may not need, or (3) hoping that they proactively find some other channel through which to engage further.

The bottom line

Digital marketing is increasingly complex. If you’re not using technology to hit all the points I address above, then you’re going to be left behind.

Ahmed Elsayyad and I founded Ostro because we knew the life science industry needed solutions for offering personalized engagement at scale - and because we knew we could give brands the innovative technological tools to make that possible.

If you also think personalized engagement is the next great differentiator and want to chat more about how we can make it happen together, drop me a line – or leave a comment below. Thanks for reading!

Want to learn more about how to up your digital marketing game? Reach out.