A user-centric approach

Online viewers are an unforgiving bunch.

A great deal of research has shown that people scan more than they read, jumping between headings and text looking for words and phrases of interest.

They’ve also learned to be impatient. If they don’t find an answer to a question, they might click once to another part of the site. Then, if they still can’t find it, they’re gone.

It’s easier to go back to Google and search again than trawl around a site themselves. When this happens they are very difficult to attract back because they’ve formed a negative opinion.

Basically we’ve all learned to be lazy, fussy and intolerant when it comes to websites. We want information to be obvious and within quick and easy reach.

If the content doesn’t catch our attention quickly, we’re out; if it lacks credibility, we’re out.

If it’s difficult to navigate around a site, difficult to decipher the most important parts, difficult to read the text or navigate the video, we abandon it. And we might never come back.

With an abundance of choice and little time to spare, we don’t need to hang around.

I’m relating this to healthcare professionals of course, not just you and I. We’ve all been bred on the same media diet, the same online environment.

The recent iDevices have shown us how important user interface design has become. It’s what differentiates one product from another.

This used to be something only the tech guys worried about, but today it’s something we all need to get involved in.

Steve Jobs, CEO of the company, was obsessed with design and user experience. Online, user experience drives dwell time, repeat visits and visitor pathways through sites.

It teaches us that all the money spent on market research, targeting and message development can be lost online if we don’t have a user-centric approach to design.


Embracing digital

There seems to be no shortage of conferences on digital comms these days. I attended the DigiPharm event in London, we have the m-health event, a UK social media event and at least two European events devoted to pharma e-marketing.

To look at these, you’d think the industry had fully embraced the subject and was leading the digital revolution.

But we know better.

Having attending these events for around 6 years now, the reality is that they’re attended by a core of like-minded industry specialists that changes very little from one to the next.

There has been an evolution in the type of projects and technology being discussed, with social media and mobile now well established, so this group is on top of the latest trends. But the average brand manager is conspicuously absent.

The reality is that the delegate profile is relatively narrow and the people who would benefit most don’t attend.

This is symptomatic of the scenario back in the office, where so many are unconvinced or unaware of the opportunities for digital communication.

They are still uncertain about building physician and patient relationships through online channels.

It is something of a catch-22, in that people don’t attend the meetings because they aren’t convinced of the need, and perceptions won’t change until people see what the best of the industry is doing at these events.

In the meantime a select few have an uphill challenge to drive change and keep up with fast-moving customer expectations.

Google’s industry lead Jens Monsees says that Pharma is the last industry to fully buy into the internet.

Until these events can reach beyond the enthusiasts and attract mainstream marketing managers, the industry will remain a late adopter and these events will be preaching to the converted.

Integrated marketing

Within the discussions about the rise of digital channels for marketing and communication is an argument for achieving the right balance.

For me, selling and delivering digital solutions for a living doesn’t mean that I believe digital is the only way to do things.

I still read newspapers, though less often. Doctors still see reps, though fewer. Patients still go to their local surgery, though they’ve searched online for symptoms and treatments beforehand.

Digital is not going to replace everything that is being done offline.

Just as there will still be newspapers on sale at the corner shop in ten years’ time there will still be sales reps visiting doctors.

They’ll just need a more compelling proposition.

There will still be live meetings where doctors and company execs benefit from open interaction in way that can’t be achieved virtually.

They may just be less frequent and smaller.

Not necessarily worse: perhaps an online and mobile initiative will drive better levels of engagement before and after the event, resulting in more influence with a smaller number of delegates who are more receptive and gain more from it.

Similarly, to be a digital agency is not to be against all other media.

We are happy to say that digital initiatives will be suitable to varying degrees in different situations, and some will have merit when others don’t.

Digital campaigns must integrate with other activities and serve a greater plan.

In launching our new Virtual Ad Board service (www.virtualadboard.net) we don’t advise clients to forgo all live meetings; it can be used to extend their capability or when the need is urgent and well-defined.

Digital and offline work best when they are not seen in isolation but as a dynamic blend, as this reflects the real world behaviour of customers.

Hoist the mainsail!

Organisations move slowly. Customers move quickly.

Customers can change their behaviour with the wind, while organisations have procedures in place to ensure that change is deliberate and controlled.

The cost of change is great for an organisation and if you make a wrong turn it’s expensive to correct.

For the individual, diverting one way or the other is quick and simple.

They follow instinct, trend and interest.

That’s why we have a lot of catching up to do and always will.

Individuals are yachts while organisations are super-tankers.

In this case, size matters and the spoils go to the most agile.

I say this because there is a greater recognition of the importance of digital media and change is happening slowly.

We are now past the early-adopter stage in digital marketing.

Digital activities are now essential to certain branding and communication scenarios.

We are seeing how they can deliver real returns and glimpse the full potential of engaging with HCPs online.

We are also seeing how digital can be highly targeted and provide multiple touch-points in a campaign.

The change is something we should get used to.

This is not a problem to be solved and then left.

We’re not going to see someone say “Here it is, I’ve found the answer.”

Heterogeneity and fragmentation are only going to increase.

That’s the way media evolves.

New devices will come along, new types of devices even, new online channels.

Achieving reach and share of voice will not get easier, while the transferability of successful activities decreases in a landscape which is ever changing.

The biggest opportunity is comes in changing our approach.

It’s in realising that we can provide a different type of value to customers, can have a deeper and richer level of communication with them and that the change can be a good thing.

Playing your cards right

A wise man once said “The secret to surviving is knowing what to throw away and knowing what to keep.”

OK, you may disagree with my choice of metaphor but bear with me.

As we proceed relentlessly through one change after another, how do you know which activities to invest in and which to leave behind?

It cannot be possible to “do” digital in all its hues and shades and still do everything that has traditionally been done.

Put another way, increasing media choice and fragmentation goes hand in hand with a decline in traditional media domination, rendering many activities poor value.

The difficulty is we are in new territory, with new and unfamiliar rules. It is virtually impossible to find relevant precedents with ROI.

I mean, if Rupert Murdoch can be intimidated enough to try charging for something that everyone else is providing for free, what chance have we?

Finding the right questions to ask is one way.

At a tactical level, can digital enhance what you are doing?

Can online activities get through to those hard-to-reach customers?

Can two-way dialogue add another level of engagement, or can new media convey your more complex message with greater impact?

Ultimately, certain objectives may be better achieved by moving to digital completely.

Thinking just about efficiency and effectiveness, though, isn’t enough.

It’s not just a case of doing things better, or even doing different things to achieve our goals. It’s about re-examining our goals.

The best manager I ever worked for used to say, “Challenge your assumptions”.

Aside from helping him win arguments (with me), it caused people to think differently.

Digital requires us to challenge our assumptions.

It was previously unfeasible to have a customer-initiated one-to-one dialogue at anytime from anywhere.

It was unfeasible to hold an effective ad board of 15 members without any of them leaving their city. Digital changes that.

It’s not necessarily better or worse, just different.

More than ever though, playing your cards right requires intuition, innovation and boldness.