Pharma needs to move at the speed of the consumer but to do this companies will need to harness a new set of skills

In today's competitive, fast-moving 'madtech' (the confluence of marketing, advertising and technology), successfully merging skills such as search engine optimisation (SEO), social listening, data science and behavioural marketing will enable pharma campaigns to offer a more personalised and better customer experience.

For Aileen Dalisay, Google's head of health, in addition to the need to move at the speed of the consumer, there are two critical success factors for all businesses in healthcare. The first is to turn data into insights; with rich data streams available, companies can build campaigns that add real value and are visible to audiences. Once live, it is essential to measure campaigns in real time to gain insights that help refine the customer experience.

Analytics solutions centres will allow companies to measure the size of the online opportunity across classic search, video, imaging and social, allowing brand managers to measure progress without relying on agencies. To help inform decision-making, performance analysts will soon become integral team members.

The second factor is the need to 'win the moments that matter'. At every stage of the health journey, the search engine is most often the first port of call. As a universal behaviour for every pharma audience, this is where pharma needs to be, and in the moments that matter.

To 'move at the speed of the consumer', companies must optimise their communications. If they are to add value, educate, support and help patients, carers and loved ones to recognise, manage and deal with their health problems, they must optimise all aspects of online communications, from organic search for branded and disease awareness platforms to paid search and social (Facebook, YouTube, etc) strategies that ensure content reaches the right person at the right time.

What's more, in order to build content that healthcare professionals and patients/carers can find, SEO and search engine marketing (SEM) must form a core part of the training for multidisciplinary teams.

Finally, moving at the speed of the consumer can be tough in big organisations. Engage all stakeholders – including medical, legal and regulatory – in the early stages so they understand its importance and their role, easing the approval process and ensuring programmes are not killed off in the last stages.

Those tasked with building and implementing complex brand plans across multiple channels, in multiple markets and with multiple stakeholders need to be proficient in a wide range of modern marketing skills. They also need to know what systems will aid implementation of these programmes.

There is a real need to demystify search engine marketing by using simple language and non-technical explanations. Key elements include:

  • Helping teams to develop the right skills and training so they can apply modern marketing techniques to get closer to their audience
  • Change the brand planning process; success in this field often comes with companies that are not committed to doing things the way they have always been done. For example, the yearly brand planning process should not exist in a world of real-time data
  • Using social listening tools to find mentions of brand or therapy area and using the resulting insights to optimise online content for target audiences
  • Considering more flexible content management systems that are great for optimisation and quick updates, and using industry-standard analytics packages and webmaster tools.

Communications and marketing in pharma have never been at such a critical crossroads – yet, at the same time, they have never been so exciting. Communications must take its place at the heart of programmes, shaping personalised engagement and encouraging consumers to invite pharma companies into its world with a personalised offer.

At every stage of the health journey, the search engine is most often the first port of callMatt Lowe is director of digital healthcare agency Search Unlimited