2018 From the Rearview Mirror

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Nobody likes to look back on a year and focus on the failures. Or dwell on what was lost. Instead, let’s take a look at some of notably infamous recent digital guffaws as a means of informing what we won’t do in 2019.

Social spots are tricky to do. Get it right, and you’re lauded. Get it wrong, and you become a pariah and the scourge of social media.

Last year, corporate giants were diagnosed with the serious, near-fatal marketing affliction, called “tone-deaf”. Pepsi-co® attempted to embrace the global movement of “Black Lives Matter” showcasing Kendal Jenner as a vacuous supermodel (parodying a woman who was arrested at a non-violent silent protest). The model merely needed to take a sip of the soft drink and poof, racial tensions were erased.

Facebook™ has had a couple of bad years back-to-back. A live video showcasing the destruction in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria was intended to highlight both Facebook's very cool new VR (Virtual Reality) app and their altruistic efforts helping the state rebuild. But that’s not how it turned out. The live video was overlaid with joyfully animated avatar torsos floating over flooded spaces where neighborhoods once stood proudly. All that the ad did was become the poster child for disaster exploitation.

2018 started off with a reverberating thud when Snapchat® launched a “Would you Rather” ad. The mobile app pitted Rihanna against Chris Brown, essentially mocking domestic abuse. Indeed, one of the most (and one of many) cringeworthy digital marketing efforts of the past year.

Clearly there were some lessons learned and applied in 2018. Nike® scored a touchdown by casting NFL™ outcast, Colin Kaepernick, in a controversial move. The message of the ad was simple: "Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything." The ad was risky given Kaepernick's polarizing stance on the National Anthem in the wake of the burgeoning Black Lives Matter movement. The risk paid off. Nike garnered an estimated $43M worth of free advertising, their stocks jumped 6.25% (adding over $6B in value to the brand) and sparked record engagement.

IHOP® opted to do something gimmicky in 2018 to boost lunch dining and boy oh boy burgers, did it work! Fans of the pancake house took to the internet in droves opposing the name change of the iconic brand. IHOb? As in burgers? Hell no! Online mentions of the brand were catapulted nearly 6,500% as a result of the stunt. Two weeks later, they were IHOP again but burger sales have since soared.

LinkedIn™, which is a bit of a hybrid between a social platform and a technology vendor, made a bold move. In their first, formal digital marketing effort, they launched a campaign around “What are you IN it for?”. It’s a clever campaign leveraging user-generated content and motivational messaging. The brand scores a 2-for-1 with this approach winning both loyalty and credibility points. What it does brilliantly is shift the focus from features and functions, which are often the only marketed endpoint of tech companies, to the professional successes of their customers – reported by their customers so as to underscore the message that the campaign is about LinkedIN’s customers. Not LinkedIn.

This example is relevant for digital marketing in the eClinical and biopharma space. Critics have harshly condemned how nine out of ten pharmas are spending more on advertising than on R&D. Moreover, big pharma is spending around $6B per year on direct to consumer marketing, up 62% from five years ago. As staggering a number as that sounds, estimates are that big pharma is spending 8-10x that amount on targeted marketing of healthcare professionals.

So, what’s different about biopharma’s collective marketing effort? A number of things. One, side-effects are slowly and clearly articulated in laymen’s terms, aimed at an eighth-grade level of education. Two, they seem to be more aspirational, showcasing treated patients living a “normal” lifestyle (or a return to). As the industry edges away from global blockbuster drugs and ever-closer to personalized medicine with bespoke drugs designed for an audience of n=1, personalized marketing at scale, versus the historically en masse approach, will take some adjustment. Lessons can be learned from Adidas™ who delivered more than 30,000 personalized videos of Boston Marathon runners within hours of the event’s completion.  One day later, there were over 100,000 views.

Whether it was deliberate or not, NIH’s “All of Us” campaign emulates the success of the show, “This is Us”. By embracing diversity, indeed, leveraging it as an anchor theme for the campaign, the NIH has had enormous success with its omni-channel media strategy. Awareness is high, participation exceeds capacity and the center will reach its goal of recruiting 1 million people well ahead of schedule.

A recent survey was conducted to evaluate responsiveness of patients to clinical trial recruitment ads. The results were a bit of a surprise: stock photos of doctors performed well and ads that featured suffering patients (versus happy ones) performed even better. Bottom line: responsiveness was driven by the trustworthiness of the site hosting the ad. Patient engagement was buoyed by depicting patients as they are, afficted with whatever ails them as a means of motivating patients into action (e.g. signing up for a clinical trial).

Ironically, it’s taken big pharma years to embrace Facebook. Now that they finally have, many users have moved on to Instagram™. Perhaps it’s time for big pharma to as well. And, contrary to popular belief that conference attendance in the field is declining (it’s not), eClinical vendors continue to cite the trade floor as the #1 source for the most highly qualified marketing leads.

To sum up, here are a few lessons learned based on the digital marketing wins (and losses) of the year broadly across all industries and specifically to the eClinical landscape.

  • Trust matters. Design digital campaigns with built-in credibility. Leverage KOLs and influencers which includes specifically requesting user-generated content.

  • Cheer for conferences. They still work. Craft your messaging so that it builds an emotional connection with your prospects. If partnering scheduling technology is available, use it or lose it! Issue deeply personalized meeting invitations early articulating how you can solve your prospect’s problem(s).

  • Content is still king. The more blogs, case studies, white papers and yes, even Tweets – the better. SEO scores have a cumulative effect that benefits from cross-referencing unique content. Repeatedly using the same content has the opposite effect. If you’re stumped on blog topics, click here for rapid-fire generation of at least 50 topics. If you need writers, click here.

 A new year is almost upon us. Soon, we’ll see new efforts. Some good, some bad and some ugly examples but each one is a learning opportunity. New technology is always alluring, but, this industry prefers the tried and true and is generally a slow adopter when it comes to digital marketing. Take your time. Get your messaging right. Be deeply engaged with your customer. And be credible.