For 25 years, Liz Cermak worked for Johnson & Johnson, one the biggest names in the pharmaceutical business. Now, she works for one of the smallest. And she says in terms of marketing, it’s giving the Goliaths a run for their money.
Cermak is the executive vice president of POZEN, Inc., a Chapel Hill-based pharma developer/manufacturer with no more than 30 employees. Since coming onboard in 2009, she has overseen the company attain FDA approval on two authentic combination drugs: Treximet and VIMOVO—for migraines and osteoarthritis, respectively. No small feat, even by J&J standards.
But what Cermak is most excited about is POZEN’s fresh and unique approach to pharmaceutical marketing.
Instead of sending sales representatives to hospitals and doctors’ offices to promote their products, Cermak and her team pitch most their medicines online.
“The reality is that the current sales rep model of traditional pharma is obsolete,” Cermak said to a packed house at the Marketing Mondays series held at The Research Triangle Park HQ earlier this week. “Eighty-six percent of US doctors go online for product info now, and 82 percent are on smart phones.”
In-person sales pitching can be inefficient, she said, because all health care workers are overbooked and overbusy, and representatives must endure a costly wait just to get two minutes in with the doctor.
Two minutes. That’s the average rep-doc face time. But online, the average time spent by a physician on a single ePromotion activity is eighteen minutes.
Cermak has three rules for digital pharma marketing:
1. Develop products that deliver real value to customers.
Be relevant and learn from your customers. Understand their needs and study their e-behavior. Most pharmaceutical companies need to broaden their apertures here, she said.
2. Make them affordable and accessible.
POZEN recognizes the strains today’s pharmaceutical pricing puts on doctors and patients today alike. As should go without saying, costs must be kept low to compete and to demonstrate a respect for your consumers.
3. Engage with customers in a meaningful but highly efficient way.
This means using social media and online public networks like Facebook and LinkedIn, but also more exclusive, MD-only communities like Sermo or CogNet. Use push and pull marketing tactics; see what works and what doesn’t.
Cermak calls this “Pharma 3.0”.
“The change isn’t coming,” she said. “It’s here.”
We’ve seen this before with other industries, as well. Amazon now sells more books for the Kindle than it does in print, and Netflix’s superior, customer-based business model has Blockbusters closing up shop around the country. The global economy is now decidedly digitalized and will only continue to shift that way.
Now, as POZEN enters the final testing and approval phase for its latest development, an ulcer-reducing aspirin compound dubbed PA32540, a viral campaign is already underway to spread the word.
Cermak stressed there is still utility in face-to-face interaction, though. Sending sales reps is important to explaining drug principles to doctors, learning about clinic demographics, and building a personal rapport with primary care physicians. However, there are not enough reps to go around as it is now, and focusing sales online will drastically cut down their jampacked schedules.
The biggest advice Cermak has for pharma companies looking to try this new approach is to not be afraid to experiment. To take risks. And to lose.
“Be ready to try and fail,” she said. “Absolute ROI of a given digital initiative cannot be accomplished with a high degree of certainty.”
No one expected it to work out for POZEN. But no one expected 30 people from Chapel Hill to get two drugs FDA-approved in two years, either.