Knowing how to market a product or service isn’t something that comes naturally to most of us. In fact, there’s a good reason there’s an entire industry dedicated to doing it in the correct way. But for pharma and biotech companies the challenge is even greater, with stringent regulations making marketing a minefield for those who don’t understand how to do it effectively and in accordance with the rules. If you’re at all uncertain that you’re marketing your products or services properly, here’s some information on what you should be doing.
The traditional method of marketing your products in the life sciences industry is to interact with health professionals. Historically, a great deal of ‘schmoozing’ has taken place, including paying for dinners, meals and travel expenses of a certain value (or within a certain context) – all of which is now strictly prohibited.
Nowadays, guidance exists to ensure you can use traditional marketing (i.e. interacting face to face with healthcare professionals) without breaking the rules. For example, providing entertainment and recreation (such as giving out theatre or sports tickers to any healthcare professional who isn’t an employee of your company) is banned in order to avoid the appearance of impropriety. Information about these regulations, including details on what you are allowed to do insofar as traditional marketing is concerned is available here.
In an increasingly digital age, patients are far less dependent on doctors for initial medical advice (at least beginning their journey to diagnosis and treatment) and often begin by conducting a Google search of their symptoms. So, it stands to reason that you’ll only be marketing your products in the right way if you’re engaging with customers, professionals and other interested parties online, as well as using traditional methods correctly. Two common ways to utilise online marketing is to use social media marketing and paid advertising on search engines – both of which are discussed below.
Of course, no other industry in the world is as strictly regulated across the world as the life sciences industry. The regulations in place are there to safeguard the health and wellbeing, and often the lives of individuals, so it’s not a bad thing that the regulations are so onerous. Admittedly this makes using social media a little perilous, but rest assured that social media can be a safe and useful of way of selling your products and services.
An example of how a pharma company might go about using social media in the wrong way can be seen with a controversy involving global superstar Kim Kardashian. The FDA forced Kim Kardashian to remove posts on her Instagram and Facebook profiles after she promoted a morning sickness drug without stating any of its risks or side effects (simply linking to the company’s safety information website instead), demonstrating that regulators will be quick to ‘close down’ marketing efforts that don’t comply with rules.
So, make sure you understand the regulations before you start using social media or engaging with individuals to promote your products to your target audience. As well as a strong understanding of the regulations (and note that this article supplies information only, not legal advice), you’ll also need a strong dose of common sense, and an inclination to remember to keep ethical considerations front and centre of your mind. For example, with any tweet, Facebook post or LinkedIn article you post, is it reasonably foreseeable that a customer could be misled by the claims your making? Are you ensuring that every post provides safety information about the drug you’re mentioning? Keeping an ethical mindset when using social media (rather than getting too carried away with a marketing mindset) is paramount if you want to use social media safely. This article on Forbes explores how pharma can use social media if you’re interested in leveraging the opportunity.
No matter where you are in the world, paid advertising online is likely to come with rules that requires you to give a fair and balanced account of a product’s risks and benefits. This can be tricky – which is why specialists such as Alacrita Consulting can help you to get to grips with the rules before you start deciding what kind of paid advertising you’d like to use.
Key opinion leaders (KOLs)
In addition to using traditional and online methods of marketing, you should be making the most of Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs). These people are highly respected experts within their specific domain of the life sciences industry, and their professional status enables them to influence medical professionals, buyers and other parties you’re interested in influencing. Pharma and biotech companies regularly hire KOLs to speak on their behalf to help educate the wider life sciences community in a manner that promotes the proper use of your products while outlining any adverse effects.
Of course you’ll need to understand the regulation surrounding KOL and pharma relationships (in this country and anywhere else your business operates), which means you might need to sign yourself up for training on policy, accountability, record keeping and fair compensation – but it will undoubtedly be worth the investment.
So, combine traditional methods of marketing (taking care to follow up-to-date guidance on what is and isn’t permissible under new regulations), online marketing methods (such as social media and paid advertising), as well as working closely with Key Opinion Leaders to familiarise your name, products and services with the wider life sciences community. Combined, these methods will ensure that you are marketing your products properly and are therefore making the most of the opportunities the industry presents right now.