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Every vendor/provider should seek to be outstanding in at least three ways:

  1. An outstanding track record of success and great service;
  2. An outstanding and focused set of clearly-understood offerings;
  3. An outstanding message that makes clear what you’re about.

Many companies are good at 1., but not so good at 2. and 3. For example, here is the generic and unfocused language used by one training company I recently found on the web:

generictrainingUmmm…what’s the differentiating message here? None. Nada. Generic, vague biz-speak (they even claim in the text above that they “don’t subscribe to the routine or generic” – ha!). It’s a bad case of JATS (Just Another Training Supplier) marketing.

If your description could fit just about any other company you’re competing with, then you don’t stand out. You need to discover your fit in the marketplace and express it with clear differentiation.

I’ve worked with many of my training partners to help them define their offerings, refine their message, and focus their marketing (see Clarity Therapy). If you need something better than generic branding, let’s talk. Commodity messaging won’t make you stand out, even if you are outstanding.

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Why aren’t companies bolder to differentiate themselves?

Once again, this morning, I came across a website for a digital (pharma/healthcare) agency. And, once again, there was the familiar list of bullet points, similar to this:

  • Digital Strategy
  • Web Analytics
  • Creative Services
  • Digital Sales Aids
  • Audio/Video Aids
  • eLearning
  • E-Mail Marketing
  • Microsites, Campaign and Brand Websites
  • HCP Social Media
  • Medical Animation
  • Mobile/iPad Development
  • Application Development
  • Web Development
  • Social Media
  • SEO/SEM

PenguinsWeDoThatIt could have been any of a number of such firms, because most of them claim to do – well, everything. Just like all the others.

Yes, I understand that agencies want to give the impression of being a one-stop shop so more marketing dollars can flow into their coffers. You’re afraid to miss out on some piece of work because the net is not wide enough. So you do bullet-point marketing. But at what price?

You’re now just like everyone else. “Will Work for Revenue.” There’s a biz-ugly word for that: Commodity.

In my Vendor Selection workshop, I show a web page with a very similar “we do it all” bullet point approach to training solutions. It’s disingenuous, really. Nobody does 10-12 disparate things well. And customers instinctively know it.

I’ll tell my pharma clients the dirty little secret: vendors may be ABLE to do 5-10 things, but typically, they’re going to do 1-2 things really well. That’s the differentiator. And, when doing clarity consulting with small companies and individuals, I say the same thing. Narrow your message down to your uniqueness; don’t broaden it to everyone else’s generalities.

It’s actually quite a liberating experience to move away from the broad message, where you’re competing with everyone; and instead, defining and promoting your unique offering.

It’s best not to lead with the 5-10 things. Clients cannot remember you for that – you will be dumped right into the commodity bin of their memory banks, soon to be deleted. Instead, lead with your tangible, demonstrable differentiator and build your message around that. Become a trusted supplier of something you excel at, and maybe the door will open later to some of the other things that you do.

“We’ll Do Whatever!” is not a message that sets you apart in the minds of your clients. Focus. Differentiate. De-commoditize.

Unlike everybody else!

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If you’ve followed my writing and speaking over the years, you know I’ve been a big proponent of social media as a vehicle for communications, network-building, and new business approaches. And I absolutely believe – more than ever – in the power and utility of digital networked communications

I was among the first in the pharma universe to begin blogging and tweeting pharma/healthcare topics. The first time I used Twitter at an industry conference, I wondered if I might be discovered and tossed out!

In fact, I even put together the first published list of pharma folks and companies active in social media – which, at the time, was a pretty small group! That number has since grown considerably, which is a very good thing.

As the industry has evolved, however, I can’t help but ask the question – is it time to give up on the idea of commercial prescription pharma interactively participating in the open, public social media space using current platforms? (please note the careful choice of words before having a knee-jerk reaction).

I’m not giving an answer – I’m asking a question. Here are the streams of thought feeding into this inquiry:

1. The FDA has shown zero readiness to give guidance about the use of on-line media in pharma communications. They are ready, however, to send warning letters about perceived violations in an ad-hoc fashion. This seriously inhibits pharma companies from getting involved. Regulatory fear does not go along well with open, public discussion.

2. The nature of current social media approaches and tools demands real-time interactive response and dialogue, out in the wilds of digital space. Pharma does not and cannot communicate that way.

  • Facebook demands interactivity and informal 2-way communication. Pharma companies are forced to come up with all kinds of work-arounds to make Facebook something other than it is, in order to participate. It’s like trying to enter a canoe into a speedboat race.
  • Twitter demands short bursts of communication. Pharma communications (prescription brands) demand fair balance, context, long explanation, disclaimers, and all kinds of monitoring/reporting. Would a congressman reading a speech from a teleprompter fit nicely at a cocktail party?
  • LinkedIn is all about the individual professional. Nice platform for recruiting, even in pharma. But my experience with pharma folks (I have years of it) on LinkedIn is that interactivity is almost nil. Pharma professionals live and work in an atmosphere of non-openness. You can sow seed on a gravel driveway, but don’t expect much of a harvest.
  • YouTube is one place where pharma companies can participate on a social platform, as long as you strip it down to, essentially, one-way broadcast and storytelling. It’s not social, but it is media.

3. Pharma companies tend to rotate commercial professionals (sales, training, marketing, etc.) through their job roles every 1-3 years. This means a constant default to short-term thinking. However, successful involvement in public social platforms demands long-term commitment and readiness to innovate. As soon as a little bit of expertise begins to accumulate, it’s time to move on to the next rung up the ladder (personally, I think that this, and the bondage of short-term quarterly profit reporting, are the two biggest hidden killers of pharma companies making true inroads in social networking).

4. Social media is moving rapidly to point-to-point on-demand mobile communications (including real-time UGC of all sorts, location data, commerce, and fragmented data streams). Pharma is all about centralized, one-way, controlled communications. Black, meet white.

We could go on, but the point is this: Public, interactive, real-time social media platforms and commercial pharma communications simply don’t mesh well. At all. And I don’t see that changing any time soon. Stuff you can easily say about other industries really isn’t going to translate well to pharma (as much as I like Chris Brogan, he’s out of his league on this post).

Is that a death knell for social media usage across all areas of pharma? Not at all. Non-branded communications can occur on existing public platforms, albeit often with a good dose of restrictions and care. Non-public networks (private communities) are a fruitful area of valuable involvement. Private, internal social networks (Yammer and the like) are potentially hugely useful apps for digital networked communications. One-way storytelling, while not fully social, can still add value, even in the public sphere (if done very carefully). Mobile apps that provide information or services are great – though again, they are using social-ish platforms in a less-than-fully-social fashion.

Also, the maturation of a platform like Google Plus could lead to more controlled communications to distinct, defined groups – and that is where the future could well be brighter.

Commercial, prescription pharma communications happen within thickly-walled gardens. The open, public social web is anything but that – and it’s not going to change for the pharma industry. Current platforms make it very difficult to marry the two. The future may well lie in walled social gardens, but existing approaches are still maturing through the wild west stage. Maybe we should expend less concern about “getting on Facebook” or Twitter, and architecting a social strategy that fits the industry – rather than trying to fit this square industry peg into a round, shape-shifting hole.

What do you think? Agree or disagree? Add your comment!

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Here at Impactiviti, we identify the top providers of marketing and training services – companies and people that are high-quality, proven, and recommended by our clients – so that you don’t have to start from scratch. How great is that?

One of our partners does an exceptional job with Marketing Training for your brand managers and directors. Programs are either public, or in-house.

Download this one-pager: Marketing Training Overview, and let us know how we can be of assistance!

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The Yardstick

I was having a conversation last week with one of my contacts in a life sciences company, who was lamenting the fact that not only do unrealistic questions get asked about ROI regarding digital/social media strategies, but that there seems to be a dearth of any holistic way of tracking effectiveness for ALL marketing efforts.

Do we REALLY have a clue about the financial value and return our various marketing initiatives, across all channels? Is there an effective way to benchmark marketing ROI across all channels?

From what I’m seeing, very few companies are taking a holistic view of marketing strategy/effectiveness across multiple channels; most still seem to be stuck in the inertia of looking only at silos, and only at short-term results.

So – if you know of a company that is really making progress in this area (life sciences or not) – can you share in the comments how this is getting done? I’m not looking for answers like, “we backed up a dump truck with all the gold in Fort Knox to the front door of a big global consulting firm and they re-engineered us!” I’m looking for tangible solutions, and/or groundbreaking examples.

What are you seeing? Please stuff the comments with ideas, suggestions, helpful links…thanks!

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We’ve had a good number of new on-line initiatives launching in pharma-world lately, which is a welcome development. A new kid on the block is PharmaFaceoff, a joint venture of Pharmaceutical Executive magazine and Concentric Pharma Advertising.

I took a look at the initial video – here are some first impressions:

The format is a high-quality video, featuring a moderator and several panelists, purportedly having a face-off about some relevant topic. The interface is clean, straightforward, and social-friendly. User comments are enabled. Immediate visual/user experience: positive.

Video production: nice. High-quality, hosted on Vimeo, multiple camera angles used. Panelist setup is clean and uncluttered. Perhaps not ready for a CNN newscast, but certainly many steps above an amateur YouTube production.

Bottom line: I like the idea very much. As for the initial session (which is really more of a discussion than a true faceoff), between Bruce Grant (Digitas), Jennifer Colapietro (PWC), and Michael Sanzen (Concentric) – well, it was fairly basic, and overloaded a bit with agency-speak. I’d call this first one PharmaFacetime for agency folks. Plus, the moderator, Barbara Ryan (Deutsche Bank) seemed tentative in her role. But, this is a new venture and you have to expect a shakedown period.

The approach has great potential, and kudos to PharmaExec for taking it on. A wider variety of speakers with truly differing viewpoints will be needed to make this a “sticky” destination, but let’s face it – video is where it’s at for on-line communications, and this is a great way to hash out some issues and gain needed exposure. I think there needs to be some clarity as to target audience (general public? pharma marketers?), and a clear commitment needs to be made either to nicely-controlled civilized discussions or genuine opinionated debate with a few flying sparks lighting things up. So we’ll see how it evolves. But overall, thumbs up for a creative inaugural flight!

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TODAY’S NEWS:

Amgen finally gets approval for Prolia – After months of delay, Amgen finally won FDA approval for Prolia, an injectable treatment for postmenopausal women with osteoporosis who are at high risk for fractures. The endorsement is a big boost for the biotech, which has been counting on Prolia to reverse a series of setbacks over the past few years, notably a decline in sales of some of its largest-selling products, Aranesp and Enbrelmore

Encouraging early-early-early result? Sure. Overly optimistic headline? Of course. New vaccine “could eliminate breast cancer.” Sally Church gives us some good cautionary words about over-hyping such results.

Biogen sues multiple rivals over MS drug – seeks royalties. I’m sure the lawyers, at least, are happy about this development.

RECOMMENDED

Territory Management Training. We’ve got the vendor/partners you need for this – contact us (stevew at impactiviti dot com, or phone at 973-947-7429) for recommendations.

JOB OPENINGS

Sales and Account Manager, Training Agency serving Life Sciences (Massachusetts), experience required. From the Impactiviti Job Board.

PLUS

Looking Forward to the SPBT Conference – here’s what I’ll be doing, and the workshops that look appealing. Will I see you there? Download my digital business card (see linked post) and let’s get together in Orlando! (SPBT = Society of Pharmaceutical and Biotech Trainers)

JUST FOR FUN

16 Thin Buildings. Actually, I’d prefer to see one thinner consultant, in the mirror. Sigh.

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TODAY’S NEWS:

Very big news for Vertex75% of hepatitis C patients never treated before achieved a viral cure after receiving a 12-week course of the company’s experimental drug telaprevir plus the current standard of care, according to results from a phase III studymore

Genzyme’s Pompe remedy approved by FDA; meanwhile, more detail on their consent decree.

More on alleged Wyeth tactics to promote Rapamune off-label. If true, yuck! Gold-in Rule at work.

Connecticut passes new pharma ethics code.

Part 2 of my interview over at MessagingLab blog (by Karl Schmieder): Pharma, Social Media, and the FDA.

RECOMMENDED

Coaching skills. Your field managers and other leaders are constantly in need of improvement here.  And we have great partners to recommend for coaching programs. Contact us (stevew at impactiviti dot com, or phone at 973-947-7429) for recommendations.

PLUS

Social Media in Pharma stuff today: An “Ultimate Guide to Facebook“, from our friends over at Pixels and Pills. And, reporting adverse events on social media. More? Sure – comparing how pharma companies are using social media currently (from @healthcarengage). Even more? OK, you asked for it – Social Media and Celebrities in pharma (from John Mack’s blog)

JUST FOR FUN

Examples of Lightning Photography. Stunningly beautiful.

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TODAY: A Rant

Instead of the usual digest of news items, today, a long-overdue rant, triggered by this blog post by Rich Meyer. The phrase I’m going to key in on:
    You can’t rotate people into an eMarketing role and expect them to develop cutting edge digital strategies because by the time they learn it’s already changing.

For years, I’ve seen how pharma companies “rotate” people through both marketing and training, and the deleterious effects this has on both disciplines.

Sure, I understand the rationale from the talent development side. But Training and Marketing are disciplines. They require long-term thinking, long-term commitment, and acquisition of skills both broad and deep.

Having worked extensively on both the eLearning and eMarketing side of the equation over many years,  one of the most difficult barriers I’ve faced to adoption of new technologies is this “18-months-and-I’m-on-to-my-next-job” mentality. How can anyone put in place a long-term plan that will do the company and its audiences the most good, when the premium is placed on short-term performance?

As I have labored, with others, to try to inject a long-term perspective into the thinking of pharma about social media, this is one of the biggest roadblocks. Effective use of social networking should be viewed with a 3-5 year horizon. You can build a sand castle in a day. But what we need is long-term architects.

And don’t get me started on the pervasive ill-effects of reporting quarterly (short-term) numbers to Wall Street.

Short-term thinking is one of the banes of business these days. It gives us companies like Enron. What we need is some courageous leadership that wants to do what’s right, not just what’s expedient or expected.

Rant over.

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Speaker Training – The Impactiviti Partner Network is your resource if you’re looking for a speaker/presentation training. We “matchmake” best-in-class partners to meet your training needs – at no cost to you!  Contact us (stevew at impactiviti dot com, or phone at 973-947-7429) for recommendations.

PLUS

Lasik for the Soul – gaining a clear vision. And, a new meta-job-search site: LinkUp.

JUST FOR FUN

How to Demolish a Boeing plane. Fun time-lapse video of plane getting…well, demolished!

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TODAY’S NEWS

Big approval news for Gilead Sciences Gilead Sciences Inc., the world’s largest maker of HIV treatments, won U.S. approval of an inhaled antibiotic for lung infections in cystic fibrosis patients. The Food and Drug Administration cleared sales of the medicine, given the brand name Cayston, the company said today in a statement. Outside advisers to the FDA backed the product’s safety and effectiveness in a 15-2 vote on Dec. 10more

What is the future of “personalized medicine”? Probably, it’ll look a lot like this (encouraging story from NY Times). Plus, in a cooperative effort, Eli Lilly, Merck and Pfizer have formed an independent, not-for-profit company Asian Cancer Research Group (ACRG) to accelerate research and ultimately improve treatment for patients affected with the most commonly-diagnosed cancers in Asiamore

Of course, in this industry, there is often a mix of good news and bad – and “bad” usually means bad behavior by people who love dollars above sense: lack of openness at AZ?; secret tapes and GSK (plus, a “fixer” who spiked research?); research fraud by rogue doc; kickbacks and J&J; risk of depression assessment and Eli Lilly (are you alive? then you’re at risk!!!). Reminds me of some prior posts on the Gold-in Rule

Novartis looking to expand even more at East Hanover campus. Including themed food venues!

RECOMMENDED

Marketing Training – Looking for resources for training brand marketing professionals? We know the providers you need. Contact us (stevew at impactiviti dot com, or phone at 973-947-7429) for vendor recommendations.

PLUS

I’m feeling much safer now. FDA finally comes out against “ear candling“! Next up, perhaps – a prohibition of USB-to-nasal-passage uploads??

JUST FOR FUN

Delightful (and BIG) pictures from Vancouver Olympics. Love the colors in the very first one. From Boston.com’s very nice The Big Picture section.

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