As we start a new year, I am feeling optimistic about the state of digital marketing and the continued adoption of digital by pharmaceutical marketers. And as I review prior years’ predictions, I also find a few predictions seem to carry over year-to-year. Some of these trends take years to unfold. For example, I started predicting pharma would demand list-match targeting in digital and physician-level data (PLD) as early as 2011. Today, these are table stakes for HCP digital campaigns. Judge for yourself how accurate (or not) my predictions have been.

See my previous year’s predictions here. I welcome your feedback:

1. Pharma may be less of a focus this election cycle as the country is deeply divided over politics, and healthcare will be a platform of debate as it always is. With the proposed wealth tax, free college for all, impeachment proceedings, foreign influence over our elections, and social media’s responsibilities, a lot of competing priorities could push the pharma pricing debate to the back burner.

2. Larger payer, PBMs, and pharmacy chains will lead further consolidation of the whole ecosystem from pharma to hospitals and suppliers. This will go on until the “easy money” of deal financing at low interest rates and historical stock market valuations subsides. The most interesting groups to watch are the cash and stock rich tech companies that are increasingly betting on health, such as Amazon and Google. What they do, who they buy, and the markets they focus on will have industry-wide ripple effects.

3. The great agency pivot from creative shops into data-driven digital companies continues as agency disruption accelerates. The more the tech titans and consultant shops infringe on agency turf, the more the pressure mounts for digital transformation. Key brand accounts change will continue as agencies redefine “who they are” and continue to implement practices of transparency while rebuilding client trust.

4. Pharma marketers seeking market efficiencies to do “more for less” results in the diversification of the publisher business models which will become less reliant on pharma advertising. Companies like LaterPay are pushing the envelope with “friendlier” trust-based paywall models, making it easier to extract value from end-users. As publishers better understand their audiences and how to deliver ROI, they are recognizing a larger market that includes payers, digital therapeutics, and direct response advertisers.

5. Performance-based media reduces risk for advertisers. Paying for media on a cost-per-click (CPC) basis vs. on a cost per thousand (CPM) basis drives efficiency. In addition to performance-based platforms of Google, paid search, and Facebook, native advertising or content-based advertising, also enables marketers to reduce risk and more easily measure ROI. Native will continue to grow through adoption by the healthcare industry.

6. Programmatic continues to grow, but faces challenges this year. Doing more for less requires driving efficiencies, and the programmatic channel separates data costs from media costs, or audience from web pages. Purchasing each separately allows for a media mix and match that wasn’t always possible. Most programmatic relies on third-party audiences. Privacy laws (see next prediction) are drying up the audience data that acts like the “oil” that powers programmatic. Contextual advertising may rebound.

7. Newly enacted privacy laws in California, Vermont, and Nevada are impacting digital advertising. My first prediction last year was that by the end of 2019 we’d have a real national debate underway on a national privacy law. While there is some debate today, it may take much longer to build consensus toward a national policy. The bigger questions for 2020 are: To what extent will the various states enforce their policies? How will the court interpret these new laws? I predict they will be tested, but I still question to what extent consumers really care.

8. Physician Level Data (PLD) has been available to marketers for some time. Most companies do little with it today. PLD may become actionable in 2020, finding its way into CRMs and Customer Data Platforms (CDPs) that enable true omni-channel HCP touch plans.

9. The power and appeal of conducting device+app+drug FDA labeling as a competitive advantage is something I wrote about in 2015 in my book RESULTS: The Future of Pharmaceutical & Healthcare Marketing ( Today, Digital Therapeutics (DTx) are coming of age. New approvals will be gained as DTx device, wearable, health/medical app or software, etc. become approved in conjunction with a drug’s label. The synergistic effects of a drug’s benefits coupled with the support of an app/device/DTx creates a unique sustainable competitive advantage. DTx + Rx is the new “combination therapy.” However, it requires pharma to completely rethink R&D. Hardware, apps, and software development requires continuous improvement…but also erects stiff barriers to entry.

10. “Voice” including Alexa, Google Home, and Siri is a channel that will grow for many years, perhaps generations. My three- and six-year-old have regular conversations with Alexa. Voice’s impact on our youngest generation is yet to be understood, but just maybe it will get us all talking and asking questions again. If it does, you can bet Alexa will always have a witty response.


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