First Law of Pharma Branding ~ 1st of the 13 Laws of Pharma Branding

Not in Digital Marketing? Forget it! You will never have a sustainable brand!

  • Law 1 – Invest in Digital Marketing

“Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, and today is a gift… that’s why they call it present.” – Master Oogway

Human beings have always been enthralled by Tomorrow. Apart from tarot card readers, we have parrot card readers on the streets, astrologers, face readers and palm readers and the holy men trying to predict what could happen tomorrow using “super-natural” powers.

But Pharma India never used these ‘future-looking tools’ to predict the future of pharma marketing. As a result, a great majority of companies are still stuck up with the visual aids and leave-behind leaflets.

Can I be the ‘parrot card reader’ and use my ‘super-natural power’ to predict your future? If you are not in Digital Marketing, forget it! You will never have a sustainable brand!

Since ages pharmaceutical companies have relied heavily on their medical representatives to deliver marketing messages to physicians through visual aids and leave-behind leaflets. As the numbers of pharma companies are increasing the time for face-to-face interaction with doctors is decreasing. And you all knew the fate of the visual aids and the leave-behind leaflets

Pharma India is a laggard! Pharma India has not appreciated the power of digital marketing either through ignorance or the desire to be in the zone of comfort.

  • What does digital marketing really mean and how do define it?
  •  E-detailing – Is it just using iPad’s or Tablets?
  •  Is it leveraging the websites and microsites for product promotion?
  •  Is it using social media?
  •  Or Docplexus, the social medium for doctors?
  •  Is it using artificial intelligence to enhance creativity of the brand management teams?
  •  Is it robo-medico-journalism i.e. using software programs to generate articles, reports and other types of content for blogs and medical journals?
  • None of these definitions is necessarily incorrect.


I have been trying to get the right answer to what digital marketing is; but somehow none of the answers I got satisfied me.

So I did a quick run on the Almighty Google.

A great place to know about digital marketing is from Neil Patel in

Says Neil Patel: “successful online digital marketing is an understanding of your company’s exact needs and goals. You need relentless self-discipline. And laser focus.”

Having said this, let us have a look at the various platforms available for digital marketing for Pharma India.

Digital marketing 1


E-detailing arrived in the western world ten years back – in 2008. It came at a time of great change in the western pharmaceutical industry. At the time of its arrival, the effects of the 2008 economic turmoil were still being felt, with pharmaceutical firms under pressure to restrict spending across the board.

One consequence was a widespread reduction in sales force numbers. That’s terrible in our Indian context.

Today, e-detailing is a welcome solution for pharmaceutical sales honchos in India who are looking to connect with physicians effectively. It is equally useful to brand managers who have a desire to enhance the impact of their valuable and differential communication strategies.

Says Terry Davidson of Rutger Business School: “E-detailing in the pharmaceutical industry is defined as a broad and continually evolving term describing the use of electronic, interactive media to facilitate sales presentations to physicians” (1)

A few companies have initiated iPads and Tablets as a detailing aid. But this is certainly not e-detailing. At best it is an apology for edetailing.

Transferring the contents or the artwork of the printed material to iPads and Tablets is not e-detailing.

IBM defines e-detailing as the migration of detailing services to an electronic channel that physicians can access to get the information they want, at a place where they want, and at a time that is most convenient for them.(2)

Case Study

Time and patients: What doctors value, and what they don’t

It’s 8:00 a.m. in Shushrusha Hospital, Mumbai. Thanks to Dr. Nayana Pradhan, the pediatric department is very popular. Even patients from Thane and Pune come here.

Dr. Nayana Pradhan arrives at her chamber. Her receptionist informs her that, due to food poisoning at a nearby residential school for the differently-abled children, she will have to squeeze in 20 to 25 kids into her schedule before she sees other patients.

It is 11.00 am, and she is already running behind schedule by about an hour and a half.

The waiting room is filled with both scheduled appointments and more kids who are victims of food poisoning are getting admitted.

There are also a few medical representatives waiting too. One of them, Shirish Kale of Orion Pharma. Shirish had scheduled an appointment at 1.00 pm during lunch time to introduce a new antibiotic in resistant cases of E. coli, the organism which is mainly responsible for diarrhea in kids.

But as lunch time nears, Dr. Nayana Pradhan realizes she will have to settle with vada pav and tea at the canteen.

She meets Shirish Kale briefly on the corridor on her way to the canteen and gets samples for a new drug Krypytomycin for children’s diarrhea, which has been effective as per a few reports she had seen in journals and internet.

She has several questions about the drug’s effectiveness and dosage in neonates, side-effects, drug-drug interactions and many more.

But she has no time to speak to Shirish Kale on this.

The patients keep on increasing and she reluctantly sends back the other six medical representatives who have been waiting to call on her.

As the evening wears on, Dr. Nayana Pradhan has just enough time to see all of her appointments,. But many of the parents are annoyed

She is finally free at 11.45 pm and wants to go home and hit the bed.

She calls her driver while she relaxes on the back seat thinking of the new antibiotic Krypytomycin which could have been so useful to those children who were victims of food poisoning.

Suddenly she remembers about the new software of Orion Pharma. She calls up Shirish Kale to get the password for getting into the ‘microsite for the physicians’ and chatting on Chatbot.

Shirish Kale is too pleased to oblige her even at this hour. She gets all information on Krypytomycin on her long drive of over an hour to her home. Shirish Kale’s two-minute corridor call was truly effective

Says Terry Davidson of Rutger Business School: “Pharmaceutical marketers are increasingly tapping into the Internet to develop effective communication and selling strategies. Thanks to Internet and related technologies, many companies are refocusing their communication efforts and re-evaluating their budgeting of promotional dollars. While traditional marketing programs such as face-to-face physician detailing may continue to be the primary means for marketing to physicians, companies are experimenting with a number of new Internet initiatives, like e-detailing. E-detailing is a broad and continually evolving term describing the use of electronic, interactive media to facilitate sales presentations to physicians. Pharmaceutical companies are using this method to communicate key marketing messages to physicians and to drive traffic to their product Web sites.”(1)

There is a lot of fear and uncertainty in our profession right now and rightly so. But e-detailing is not to substitute a medical representative with gadgets but essentially to back up and support the medical representative’s field efforts. In my estimate, medical representatives as an institute will remain for at least another 100 years.

Leveraging microsites

A few years back, when I first saw the microsite of a pharma multinational, I thought it was a classy mini website with cool animations and visually stunning presentations!

For those who are not familiar with microsite’s, these are smaller websites usually with a few web page’s. Microsite’s are hyper-focused for a specific task like promoting a particular brand.

Primary websites often represent a hurdle where frequent updates, marketing experiments and timely updates present a challenge. Microsite’s can help you to represent your brand as it really should be, without the feeling that it would not match with your corporate website.

Microsite’s in India have now evolved into powerful tools for great marketing opportunities. The new generation of microsite’s features not only artistic and creative presentations of your brands but also allow physicians to get useful information and interesting contents that are easier to absorb.

The biggest challenge marketers will face is to produce engaging contents on the websites and microsite’s.

Use of social media

When I wrote my first book “WHAT THE PHATMA CEO WANTS FROM THE BRAND MANAGER: OVERCOME THE TOUGH CHALLENGES OF PHARMA BRANDING” I thought that it would such a hit! I only conveyed the message through Facebook and LinkedIn.

One message for brand managers I had inserted in LinkedIn was viewed by 38653 viewers. Over 20000 is normal!



Such is the power of social media. And if you are not using social media to promote your brands, you are losing out on a great opportunity. It is one of the best mediums on which to build your brand.

There’s a misperception that pharma companies cannot use the social media platform because of regulatory limitations. However, many are doing it even in the advanced western world. So go ahead!

Despite the current controversy of ‘privacy leakage’, Facebook is a superb platform for promoting your brand. Creating a Facebook Page for your brand will certainly help your brand to speak for itself. You can leverage its heterogeneous user base, especially if your brand has a OTRx character. Create useful contents which readers would like to share. Ensure that every single piece of content you post should support your brand image.

LinkedIn is a professional platform. LinkedIn data is differentiated. In LinkedIn, members have professional incentives to keep their profiles accurate and up-to-date. You will be able to have customized targeting with matching audiences. Nevertheless, today, it is much more than a platform for job seekers and recruiters – it is a place to engage with your doctors.

Twitter taught me one very important thing – how to keep your messages crisp and delectable.

Visuals play an important part in social media branding. Instagram is a great option for brand recall through its visual contents.

Choose the right social medium. Every social network might not be the right fit for your company. Your job is to find the networks that align with your brand’s image and goals. Otherwise, you’ll struggle to make progress.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) to enhance brand promotion

AI is already in our lives more than we realize. AI was conceived many, many years back. Do you recall IBM’s Deep Blue victory over world chess champion Garry Kasparov in 1997? Probably, the first incidence to show the power and the emergence of AI!

AI can help brand managers in creating effective campaigns, monitoring the success of these campaigns and even modifying it instantaneously if AI has messed up somewhere.

McCann, a top advertising agency announced in March 2016 that an “AI creative director” named AI-CD ß is joining them. And AI-CD ß created its first ad for Clorets Mint Tabs brand. AI-CD ß deconstructed ads from winners of awards shows to teach it what award-winning work looks like. AI’s potential to learn and create ideas for specific categories points to a future where creativity will be based off algorithms that are created by humans.(3)

Pharma brand managers can certainly enslave AI to build strong brands.


Software’s programs are available to generate articles, reports and other types of content for blogs and medical journals. Sadly, ‘The Guardian’, a leading British newspaper mentions about more and more academic papers that are essentially gobbledygook are being written by computer programs – and accepted at conferences.(4)

Nevertheless, the point I want to drive home is that software programs can be used to generate genuine articles for blogs, scientific papers and so on.

Case Study

Segmentation in the Digital Age

The process of organizing physicians in a market into different groups or segments, within which physicians share similar traits or have a comparable set of needs satisfied by a distinct marketing proposition, is called segmentation.

With the advent of the Digital Era, needs-based segmentation is a novel approach that helps you to get to the hearts and the minds of the physicians. The key is to differentiate and customize your offer to potential prescribers.

In our industry, the archaic method of segmentation i.e. based on demographics, gender, age, and so on is still being followed.

Needs-based segmentation is the answer to customize your messages to the individual physician.

Obviously, the current but aging communication tools like the visual-aid or ‘cinema-shows’ are thoroughly useless.

Digital Marketing is inevitable in the next couple of years.

Social media like Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn or Facebook page will become increasingly important to keep communication highly relevant and engage the physicians.

And let’s not forget Docplexus, often dubbed as the Facebook for physicians. Docplexus is very Indian and created by an Indian. It is another very important platform for needs-based segmentation.

The next question is how to analyze such massive data like posts or comments on social media?

Just think of it, when Google with close to two billion users can send you a specific message on your birthday then it is truly not impossible to have needs-based segmentation and customize your messages to the physicians.

You only have to invest in software like CampaignChain for text analytics.

Finally, let us hear Jack Ma. “Because everything we teach our kids – in the past 200 years, are the things we taught them – the machines will do better. So we have to think about what are the contents to teach our kids in the future. We have to teach the kids to win the machines – the machines will never be able to win man. This is my belief. Because machines only have the chips, humans have the heart.”

Vivek Hattangadi

Vivek Hattangadi

Chief Mentor at ‘The Enablers’





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