Kantar Health Blog

Educating global and local pharma teams on how to engage key stakeholders in China

by Simon Li | Sep 26, 2012
Simon Li

The pharmaceutical industry is investing heavily in online marketing, with predicted spends of $1.58 billion for the US alone in 2012, rising to $2.48 billion by 2016 (MM&M 2012).

However, the fundamental principles of successful marketing – using appropriate channels to deliver well-targeted messages that are culturally specific – have perhaps been forgotten in the rush to embrace online marketing. The key question when planning campaigns is whether the channels – whether traditional or online – are engaging key stakeholders. If the targeted stakeholders are merely going online because they have to but prefer offline means of communication, then there is little point in running online campaigns, however cutting-edge they may be. Traditional segmentation will help with messaging but won’t necessarily help you understand the best delivery channel.

I just presented a case study at EphMRA Asia with Bayer that showed how they used our digital segmentation tools to educate their local and global brand teams on stakeholder online/offline communication preferences in China. Global teams have been taught that one size does not fit all in terms of marketing campaigns. As might be expected from a country with over 550 million consumers online, over a billion mobile users and over 75% of the population engaging with social media, almost all Chinese doctors access the Internet at home and at work. Western doctors also tend to be relatively heavy online users. Compared with their Western counterparts, however, the Chinese doctors were also more likely to be “Communicators” or “Knowledge-Seekers” than “Functionals,” meaning that they should be much more easily engaged via online communication and should have higher involvement levels. We recently saw an example in the UK (link to Pfizer case study) where the client was planning an expensive state-of-the-art online campaign for an off-patent drug, but doctors responded more positively to offline communication. That same campaign may well have worked in China (with culturally specific messaging, of course).

Bayer also talked about the importance of knowing what patients around the world are saying about your brand and your competitors’ brands. Social media listening (SML) is a cost-effective means of gaining insight into the day-to-day challenges faced by patients, their journey through their disease, knowledge of side effects and possible comorbidities, the brands they are engaging with and why, and their unmet needs. But as Bayer pointed out, it is important to understand how SML works in different cultures. For example, China’s “Shai” (sharing or “showing off” personal details online) and “collectivist” (with group and family opinion at the heart of all decisions) cultures mean that many more Chinese patients keep public online diaries and are involved in regularly contributing to online healthcare/therapeutic area communities. One SML study following thousands of  Chinese diabetes patients’ discussions found that patients were much more open in an online setting, with almost half questioning others on diagnosis and therapies and sharing their feelings about coping with the disease.  

Contrast this with patients discussing multiple sclerosis (MS) in a group in America, where some members of our social listening group were more vocal than others and needed to be moderated to get back on course, making the conversation flow less easily. Moderation can help in individualistic cultures (such as most of Western Europe).

In terms of the choice of medium, China has a well-established digital environment with tools that are often more sophisticated than their Western equivalents. Its largest micro-blogging platform, Sina Weibo, which is the Chinese equivalent of Twitter, has 300 million registered users, the majority of whom use Smartphones to post rich multimedia content. However, while marketers in the West may face the challenge of pharmaceutical regulation, in China the providers of social media platforms are heavily regulated. In December 2011, for example, authorities in Beijing issued rules making the registering of users’ real names on social media platforms compulsory. Facebook, YouTube, Google+, Twitter and Wikipedia are all banned, so there is no point in planning campaigns around these platforms.

You may ask why local Chinese teams at Bayer need to be educated on how to target stakeholders when they already understand the cultural differences and challenges. Bayer has worked hard to develop a strong and engaging presence on Sina Weibo. Its  video footage of Bayer staff playing instruments and singing in a studio, alongside scenes of them at work, has helped them develop  over 8,000 “fans” and has encouraged comments and dialogue. The media may be different from that used in Western campaigns, but the principles remain the same. Bayer have taken care to choose its messages and medium to appeal to their target groups online preferences.

For pharmaceutical companies like Bayer, digital channels provide compelling opportunities to engage healthcare professionals and patients. But those who try to apply Western digital practices will fail. In Bayer’s case, the local teams can help their global colleagues understand local platforms and user behavior and gain the competitive advantage.






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