Can You Hear Me Now? Positioning Mobile for Success in Emerging Markets

Communicating in the healthcare space centers around connection—connecting people around a dialogue about health; connecting patients, caregivers and doctors to information; and ultimately fostering connections between consumers and brands. The rise of mobile technology has paved the way to make connecting easier, with about 80% of the global population owning a mobile phone. Historically, and across a range of spaces, mobile has been lauded as a cost-effective solution that can improve business outcomes.

In the health space, mobile technology can improve process and communications for the sales force, increase patient adherence and make a healthier lifestyle more attainable—ultimately selling products. Mobile also has the added benefit of data tracking. These analytics show insights into the programs that are working, how people are connecting and receiving their healthcare information, and where brands can have the most impact, helping marketers understand where to best allocate their resources. The real-time data can help marketers course-correct if needed or revisit ideas for impact. Pharmaceutical companies have taken notice and are investing more and more dollars into mobile technology.

In the United States and parts of Europe, “mobile” is synonymous with “smartphone.” However, mobiThinking calculates global smartphone penetration at only at 16.7%, and much of this is U.S.-based: Out of the 1.08 billion smartphone users in the world, more than 91.4 million are from the U.S. As such, the U.S. is significantly ahead of the global mobile trend. Where the rest of the world continues to become acquainted with mobile technology, marketers in the U.S. have already successfully created and implemented campaigns, programs, apps, interactive trackers and health devices that can sync with smart technology.

For example, in 2010 Sanofi announced its goal to become the leading company focused on diabetes by investing in a variety of offerings beyond drugs, such as monitoring devices, insulin pumps, smartphone apps, patient-oriented services and educational programs. In reaction to the appetite to use this technology for health, regulatory bodies like the Food and Drug Administration have worked to understand and provide guidance on the role of these technologies in patient/physician communication.

For the other 83.3% of the world, mobile technology hinges on voice calling, text messaging, Internet browsing, emails and social networking. Even in areas that are traditionally considered “emerging,” mobile technology remains a top way that people receive information and make decisions. Drawing on the best practices, technology or infrastructure already accomplished, marketers in these regions are poised to make a significant impact quicker. Though not ahead of the curve in technology, markets that adopt newer mobile or smartphone technology in the coming years have a significant advantage over the United States—they will ultimately benefit from the lessons, challenges and knowledge that has already been addressed. The U.S. has created a roadmap for success, and positioned markets that follow behind it in technology adaptation, for success.

For countries with complex healthcare systems or large populations (over 30% of the world’s mobile users live in India and China), significantly outpacing the third-place U.S., this can represent a significant cost-savings and benefit to the marketing teams. Coincidentally, the countries with the highest smartphone penetration are Singapore (54%), Hong Kong, Sweden and Spain (each 35%)—all areas of significant interest and growth for major pharmaceutical companies.

One significant opportunity for these markets lies in developing mobile programs around healthy living and preventative care initiatives, especially for countries with high incidences of treatable disease or low vaccination rates. A recently published Journal of Medical Internet Research article found a disconnect between the most prevalent conditions worldwide (including iron-deficiency anemia, hearing loss, migraine, low vision, asthma, diabetes mellitus, osteoarthritis and depressive disorders) and the number of apps commercially available to manage them. This is a critical gap, and one that brands have an immediate opportunity to address.

The opportunity for mobile’s integration to insert brands into patients’ daily lives was never clearer to me than when I was coming home from a recent trip to Japan. As I engaged in conversation with a doctor sitting next to me on the flight, he told me people come into his office having self-diagnosed their health problem, often times correctly, and presenting treatment plans. He laughed as he said that before he even meets with them, they know what drug they want to take and show him screening tools and information on their mobile phone. This is the kind of power mobile has—it quite literally enables people to take their health (and clients’ brands) into their own hands.

  • Ash Kuchel

    Ash Kuchel is Global Group President at Publicis Healthcare Communications Group. Bringing over 25 years of exclusive healthcare industry experience with a focus on the continued growth of global business, Ash leads Publicis Healthcare agencies in the EU and APAC, including Digitas Health LifeBrands, Discovery Worldwide and Razorfish Healthware.


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