Digital Marketing by Pharma Industry – Best Practices and Compliance – The Financial Express

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By Mukul Nag
As pharma businesses respond to changing client preferences and trends post-pandemic, digital healthcare marketing is the trendiest and fastest expanding area. Pharma couldn’t use popular marketing strategies owing to regulatory, ethical, and reputational issues.
We comprehend the legal framework, regulatory rules, and new layers to be added when digital marketing is leveraged to reach consumers and distinguish brands.
In addition, there is a comprehensive legal framework, regulatory norms controlling all marketing by the pharma industry, and new levels to be added as each participant uses digital marketing to distinguish itself in front of the customer.
Best Practices
As digital marketing becomes part of conventional pharma organizations, our experience reveals the best strategies for high efficacy. Here are some recommended practices to make digital marketing a distinction.
Start with a Clean Slate: Digital healthcare marketing is multichannel. It reaches the doctor without the constraints of time, place, content, or personnel limits. Too many operational teams still conceive of digital in classic physical marketing terms (i.e., merely giving scientific information and brand material) without realizing how creative technology may engage prescribers (e.g., a series of quizzes of interest to doctors showcasing their brand).
Marketing first, not ROI first: Digital can play an amazing role in making the soil fertile for growing brand preference. With the existing focus on ROI, digital campaigns are being forced into a narrow focus of generating incremental sales. Instead, pharma leaders need to think about how to effectively shape the narrative around their brand using digital. How about a digital campaign to build trust in the parent company brand- Intel Inside equivalent anyone?
Steady Approach to Building Brands, Conveying Message: Many studies reveal it takes 4–7 touchpoints for a customer to shift from awareness to action. A 3-to 6-month brand-building strategy is needed for brand recognition and prescription action. A business that exclusively runs one-month campaigns is doomed to fail. Treating digital like a Diwali goodie by focusing on something “new” every 2 months can lead to irregular participation and bad outcomes.
Measure, Optimize, Repeat: Digital’s secret is getting quantifiable, impartial feedback from the prescriber. Utilizing this input to improve digital and physical marketing is a plus. A Van Westendorp method of research among doctors provided the users with accurate price data. Pre- and post-BLS tests show message and brand influence.
Break the Silos: Companies must migrate from digital-versus-conventional MR-led marketing to digital-plus-conventional marketing. When companies use their on-site staff along with digital marketing, they get scalability, better MR engagements, and faster doctor requests.
Use for both Scale and Pinpoint Accuracy Requirements: Digital marketing gives pharma campaigns two apparently unrelated advantages. It may help scale up a marketing campaign quickly (e.g. Covid related brand awareness among 25,000 doctors within 4 weeks). On the other hand, it may determine specific doctor’s interests based on what they “do” (e.g. identifying need for GPs in North-East to learn about pediatrics and cancer due to lack of specialists in these geographies).
In-House Vs Outsourced: Companies must know what to perform in-house for digital marketing and where to hire outside help. A few really high-engagement social media organizations exist internationally, demonstrating that digital engagement relies on networking effects and continual innovation. Even the merging of telecom tower companies indicates that pooling infrastructure costs is advantageous for competitor organizations and is best done by independent third-parties.
Digital Marketing compliance
Pharma’s traditional marketing is governed primarily by the following regulations and directives:
The Uniform Code of Pharmaceuticals Marketing Practices (UCPMP)
Drugs and Magical Remedies (Objectionable Advertisements) Act, 1954 
Indian Medical Council (Professional Conduct, Etiquette and Ethics) Regulations, 2002 
Notification G.S.R. 1230(E) on December 21, 2018, issued by The Ministry of Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homeopathy (AYUSH) notifying the Drugs and Cosmetics (Eleventh Amendment) Rules, 2018
Despite not being updated for the digital age, pharma businesses are familiar with these laws. Digital marketing introduces new components to pharma marketing that must be carefully studied and interpreted by businesses.
Information Technology Act 2000: In digital marketing, the IT Act applies Public Information (PI) and Sensitive Public Information (SPI). While PI (gender, age, location) may be used with implicit permission, SPI (biometric information, medical data, and personally identifiable financial information) of physicians and patients can only be accessed with explicit agreement. IT Act compliance includes responsibility for adware, malware, and defamatory information.
Structures for Responsiveness: Data collection requires a Data Protection Officer (DPO). India’s Data Protection Act will extend the DPO responsibility (expected in 2022). The pharma industry must also have teams that respond to inputs from doctor users.
Internal Compliance Burden: All data, notably SPI, must be treated with extraordinary caution to avoid legal and criminal procedures under the IT Act. In-house management of PI and SPI data requires strong data security systems, ISO:27001 certification, and strict checks and balances.
Other Compliances: Digital marketing includes other regulations such as Advertising Standards Council of India Code for self regulation in Advertising (ASCI Code), copyright infringement, and Trademark violations of being deceptively similar, passing off as another, meta tagging, deep linking, etc.
The highly regulated pharma business has been slow to embrace digital marketing methods. With the pandemic’s enormous impact on user behavior, digital marketing would have to be a key strategy. It requires top management to incorporate digital marketing throughout the company, utilizing best practices. It also demands pharma businesses adhere to rules and respond quickly to users.
(The author is Advisor & Director, CLIRNET. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of
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