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Facts Not Fiction: Digital Delivers Results for Biotech Companies

June 8, 2016
A panel of experts in the digital advertising space assembled Wednesday at the 2016 BIO International Convention to discuss how biotech companies can utilize digital advertising in their overall marketing strategies. The session was moderated by Julie Papanek, (Principal, Canaan Partners), and the panelists were: Craig Hashi, Ph.D. (Health, Facebook), Matthew Howes (Executive Vice President, Strategy & Growth, PALIO, an inVentiv Health company), Will Springgate (Director, Life Sciences Allscripts), and Wister Walcott (Co-Founder; Lead Consultant, Marin Software; Proxita).

The discussion opened with a question from Papanek about the value of digital advertising for life science companies. It can be difficult to analyze the effectiveness of digital advertisements for many drug companies, because unlike products that can be sold directly to the consumer, there is a disconnect between seeing an online ad for pharmaceuticals and being prescribed a drug at the doctor's office. Therefore, it can be helpful to measure "indirect conversion events" like newsletter signups, and assign values to those activities.

Springgate stressed that it is important to think about your goals when designing a digital advertising strategy, because not all platforms may be appropriate for your needs. ROI can be a tricky thing to measure, he added, because there are sometimes laws that restrict how companies can advertise pharmaceuticals.

Hashi said that with some platforms like Facebook, you can reach large numbers of people while micro-targeting individuals in multiple ways while also being able to determine ROI.

Walcott mentioned that it is important to know where in the funnel your prospects are in order to target them.

Springgate said it is possible to target physicians by ICD-10 codes in order to find doctors who are seeing patients with specific indications.

Howes added that there are legal barriers to advertising online: for example, it is sometimes not possible to target brand names as keywords in paid advertising, unless you are the brand. He said that one way advertisers get around this is to target symptoms instead.

The panelists agreed that innovation takes risk. If you are an early adopter of a new digital platform or technology, you have to be patient. You have to commit to it, even if it doesn't pay off immediately.

TV advertising still makes up a large part of the media spend for drug companies. But as Hashi points out, there are at least as many people on Facebook as there are TV viewers, so advertisers should reconsider how they divide their budgets.

Papanek asked about what qualities to look for when hiring marketing and advertising staff in-house. The panel advised that a quantitative skill set is valuable when determining ROI and examining analytics, but a qualitative skill set is valuable for social media and community managers. They advised to look for someone who is comfortable in their own voice, who can write well.

"Innovation is a mindset, not a tool set. Innovation is how you think about things, "said Springgate. "You don't have to change everything to be innovative; sometimes a small but meaningful tweak is all that's necessary."