Living in the information age, prescribing patients and healthcare practitioners alike have access to a wealth of pharmaceutical information at their fingertips. One in 20 Google searches are for health-related information and 72 per cent of internet users say they have turned to the web to search for healthcare or medical information. With the rise of the digitally empowered consumer, the traditional salesmanship of big pharma has been superseded by a demand for expertise and transparency. This can be fulfilled by a strong content marketing strategy.  

One of the key challenges in pharmaceutical marketing is developing material that your customer, whether healthcare professional or patient, can relate to and regulatory bodies will actually allow. Medical and pharmaceutical industries are tightly regulated with a myriad of compliance restrictions, particularly across product safety, efficacy and labelling. These concerns have slowed the industry’s uptake of some aspects of digital and data-driven marketing opportunities.  

Pharmaceutical marketers must create content with dual purpose. For maximum impact, content should be B2B (that is directed to the healthcare practitioner) while also appealing to the patient who may seek their own product information online. But the innovative tactics employed in pharmaceutical content marketing sidestep these issues – and are a great example of best practice in the content marketing space.

Know your customer, and your customer’s customer

As with any industry, your audience and what they need underpin strong pharmaceutical content marketing. While sale of pharma and medical services is typically B2B oriented, many patients will also seek information around their disorder and the recommended products and services prescribed for their treatment.

When developing content around health care, it’s therefore important to know your customer, and your customer’s customer. A central idea in the content strategy should be tailored to different levels of understanding and need, or deployed on corresponding channels. For instance, a prescribing practitioner’s need to understand the chemical composition of a painkiller will not answer an individual patient’s enquiry about the fundamentals of the product and how it aligns with their own healthcare goals.

Novartis tackled this issue by introducing a content hub tailored to physicians that focused on breaking down their product lines through patient-centric materials, which was publicly available online. Moving beyond product marketing or scientific language that can alienate or confuse, Novartis curated content that addressed their healthcare practitioner audience while employing patient-friendly language. In doing so, the brand created trust with their end-consumers by creating content that balanced transparency and expertise.

Not only is the Novartis platform keenly aware of their audience groups, they have also mapped their content across the customer journey. Often pharmaceutical products address chronic or long-term issues. Marketing and communications around the product are often centred purely on the prescribing stage of the customer journey, rather than the long-term treatment. The risk here is not only neglecting long-term customer care in terms of aiding the patient’s health care journey, but also failing to drive customer retention on a marketing level.

The branded platform focuses on explaining how particular products can be used to help healthcare practitioners address patients’ needs during treatment. Within this, the content focuses on three key threads: how products can be integrated within a prescribing treatment; an interactive platform that clarifies how products interact with other drugs; and mapping the long-term sympotmatic changes that arise from correct usage of the product

Drive understanding, not just sales

A brand using content marketing to diagnose or treat a problem can create over-generalisation that undermines the brand’s authority – or worse over-promises and erodes trust. This is painfully relevant in healthcare marketing – a pharmaceutical company shouldn’t, and legally couldn’t, spruik their product on the basis of ubiquitous success. Every patient experience is unique, so success stories or customer testimonials can lead to regulatory headaches if they appear to sell results or not fully outline the risks and product usage considerations.

In 2017, Kim Kardashian posted a sponsored Instagram post for pharma brand Duchesnay’s morning sickness pill Diclegis, while pregnant. While the engagement was as strong as to be expected from an influencer of that calibre – accruing nearly half a million likes and boosting social media conversation by 500 per cent – the content did not elucidate the role of the product, insteading focusing on its benefits. Accordingly, the FDA demanded Kardashian tell her followers that her post didn’t meet FDA requirements and rectify the post.

Think human

Doctors are not statistically driven automatons. Emotion and human understanding are as integral to practitioner-targeted communications as in any other field. Some healthcare marketing can make the mistake of adopting the mannerisms of a doctor talking to another doctor, eschewing the emotional drivers that can inform a strong, creative and innovative marketing strategy in favor of safe – and often impersonal – outputs.

As an industry, big pharma has all the tenants of a strong content strategy based around storytelling, thought leadership, education and support. Not only is there considerable demand for healthcare-related content in the digital space, content marketing is also a powerful means of servicing brand reputation through humanising and transparent communication. This is particularly relevant in the pharmaceutical space, where public trust is an ongoing issue.

In this vein, Johnson & Johnson created a dedicated content hub that houses content from over 100 pharmaceutical and healthcare brands to express an overarching brand identity through storytelling. Alongside health advice and research and development, true stories like that of Fabiola Lopez Valenzuela’s medical journey with spina bifida are told to humanise the patient and the brand. Audiences become familiar not only with their individual products and services, but also Johnson & Johnson’s brand identity.