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Search marketing for pharmaceuticals

It’s nice to be back after a long vacation. My vacation actually ended yesterday, when I spent the day in Philadelphia at the ExL Pharma conference for search marketing. I gave the opening keynote speech, helping savvy pharmaceutical industry marketers get a better handle on the changes happening in search marketing, but I always would rather write about the great question I got from the audience and today is no exception.

ExL Pharma logo


Several audience members asked questions all revolving around the same problem—”How can you implement all this great search marketing advice in such a heavily-regulated industry?”
It is a problem. I heard horror stories of weeks spent getting approval to change the title of a page. Others recounted that their lawyers don’t allow common misspellings, even in the keyword metatag. Clearly, it’s not simple to operate in regulated environments.
I think there are two answers to the regulatory stranglehold. First, you need to be willing to do more work up front in order to be flexible later. So, the typical advice I give to “do it wrong quickly” doesn’t work if you are allowed to use only the one marketing message that got approved. If that message does not work, you’re sunk—you’ve managed to do it wrong slowly. Instead, you must put in the effort to get multiple marketing messages approved, even though you aren’t sure which ones will resonate. You should get different marketing modules approved so that you can swap in the ones that work and drop the ones you don’t. (Moreover, when you want to personalize your site, you might find that some of them work for one target segment and others for another.)
The second answer is one that the audience was not expecting. You need to stop thinking about marketing as something only you and your company can do. You need to let your customers say things that you can’t. Perhaps you must get regulatory approval for everything you say about your product, but your customers don’t. If you can share with your customers the factual information about your products, some of them will pass the message along for you. This always happened with word-of-mouth, but social media marketing makes it easier and faster to pass on messages than before. Think about how you can empower your customers to be your ambassadors.
I know that both of these answers go against the buttoned-down culture of most regulated industries, but that is why they could be so powerful. If your company is the first one in your industry to unlock the secret of Internet marketing, other companies will find it very hard to copy, because they would be just at the start of the cultural changes you’ve completed.
Sometimes, doing the hard thing is exactly the way to differentiate. Is your company making the hard decisions that mark it as a leader in your industry, or is it just going along with the rest of the crowd? You can’t stand out by doing what everyone else does, so ask yourself if there is something difficult you’ve been avoiding that would make your company the one to emulate.

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Mike Moran

Mike Moran is an expert in digital marketing, search technology, social media, text analytics, web personalization, and web metrics, who, as a Certified Speaking Professional, regularly makes speaking appearances. Mike’s previous appearances include keynote speaking appearances worldwide. Mike serves as a senior strategist for Converseon, an AI powered consumer intelligence technology and consulting firm. He is also a senior strategist for SoloSegment, a marketing automation software solutions and services firm. Mike also serves as a member of the Board of Directors of SEMPO. Mike spent 30 years at IBM, rising to Distinguished Engineer, an executive-level technical position. Mike held various roles in his IBM career, including eight years at IBM’s customer-facing website, ibm.com, most recently as the Manager of ibm.com Web Experience, where he led 65 information architects, web designers, webmasters, programmers, and technical architects around the world. Mike's newest book is Outside-In Marketing with world-renowned author James Mathewson. He is co-author of the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (with fellow search marketing expert Bill Hunt), now in its Third Edition. Mike is also the author of the acclaimed internet marketing book, Do It Wrong Quickly: How the Web Changes the Old Marketing Rules, named one of best business books of 2007 by the Miami Herald. Mike founded and writes for Biznology® and writes regularly for other blogs. In addition to Mike’s broad technical background, he holds an Advanced Certificate in Market Management Practice from the Royal UK Charter Institute of Marketing and is a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. He also teaches at Rutgers Business School. He is a Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research. Mike worked at ibm.com from 1998 through 2006, pioneering IBM’s successful search marketing program. IBM’s website of over two million pages was a classic “big company” website that has traditionally been difficult to optimize for search marketing. Mike, working with Bill Hunt, developed a strategy for search engine marketing that works for any business, large or small. Moran and Hunt spearheaded IBM’s content improvement that has resulted in dramatic gains in traffic from Google and other internet portals.

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