Pharma and Data Management—Can DMPs Help?

The problem with buzzwords is that while everyone loves to talk about how the latest new thing is sure to change the industry, you still have to find a way to turn this potentially great idea into something actionable. Take Big Data for instance. The idea is simple enough: Collect all of this readily available data and use it to improve your marketing campaigns, sales strategies and more. That is easier said than done. Even after pharma companies spend all of this time and money to collect this data, they are usually left wondering how they can actually take advantage of it.

“With the rapid growth of data from smartphones, sensors and other devices, and the rise of the Big Data phenomenon, more pharma and healthcare organizations are looking at how they can use data to improve the effectiveness of their marketing efforts,” explains Mark Hayward, Head of Corporate Development at Knowledgent, Inc. “While the term ‘Big Data’ appears to focus on size, the value of Big Data lies also in the variety of data sources and the tools and technologies available to analyze it.”

One such tool is data management platforms or DMPs. To put it simply, this type of platform can help create more targeted audiences by using a combination of the first-party data a company may collect itself (such as from its own website) as well as third-party data it gets from other sources (such as prescription data from IMS Health or Symphony Health Solutions). While these platforms can differ from provider to provider, they typically offer the ability to accurately target audiences across ad networks or exchanges while measuring the campaign’s effectiveness so it can be optimized for better results.

“As in other industries, DMPs for pharma will have huge implications for marketing,” says Victoria Petrock, a Principal Analyst at eMarketer. “Effective data management systems can help provide companies with ‘the bigger picture’ more efficiently and help them make quicker decisions as market conditions change. In other industries, such systems have helped to reduce costs and streamline decision-making.”

While this all sounds great, a few speed bumps are still in pharma’s way. As Petrock explains, most pharma companies avoid developing their own complex data systems because their businesses are often in silos, and while these companies are collecting a lot of data they are often in separate systems. But, in addition to siloed corporate structures, what has most likely put pharma behind the curve compared with other industries is the strict regulatory and privacy requirements that dictate their information must be super-secure.

“One of the big advantages of DMPs is they can help with segmentation and targeting, but pharma companies need to be very careful with targeting because of those regulations,” adds Petrock. “So whatever systems they use need to be fine-tuned to meet these requirements for privacy and judicious targeting.”

Examining the Regulatory Issues With DMPs

Dealing with patient privacy concerns while trying to understand the best ways to use a new platform—without any kind of regulatory guidance—is nothing new for pharma.

“Without any clear guidance from the FDA, I liken this type of situation to that of social media three or four years ago,” says Abel Rajan, Director of Marketing Analytics and Insights at Novartis. “However, in this case it’s somewhat different—it’s a little bit more nuanced.”

For example, as Rajan notes, it’s perfectly fine as long as you’re just trying to analyze this data in broad strokes. In other words, creating patient archetypes that allow marketers to target a group of patients, which can be lumped together based on factors such as demographic information. But it gets a bit murkier once your tactics become more personalized by engaging in individualized targeting. For instance, tracking a patient journey through the web by not only following where they are going, but then linking it to retention or adherence behavior for products.

“That’s where privacy becomes a huge concern,” says Rajan. “And I think it’s a fine line that we’re going to have to toe in the meanwhile, in terms of how much we use DMP-type services.”

The pharma industry is also likely to toe the line until it has firmer guidelines, as it did with social media in the beginning. And like social media, that may mean companies will be stuck waiting on the sidelines for a while.

“The privacy guidelines and regulations have not yet caught up to what is possible online,” says R.J. Lewis, President and CEO of eHealthcare Solutions. “Privacy groups like NAI have attempted to define what is acceptable in terms of interest-based targeting, but their guidance falls short of answering the difficult questions, and even if it did not, NAI is not the FDA.”

But the other concern that Lewis sees for pharma companies is the broad-shot approach that many DMPs use.

“In order for a DMP to be effective, one must locate the identified and desired audience segments across a broad array of websites,” explains Lewis. “You have to cast a wide net.  Pharmaceutical manufacturers are still uber-conservative with choosing select well-lit, high-quality publishing partners on which to place their advertising.”

Yet another issue that may give pharma companies pause when considering DMPs is data leakage. Chris Goldsmith, Vice President of Business Development at Krux, which is one of the DMP providers on the market, explains that there are few DMPs that act as standalone businesses. DMPs tend to be owned by agency holding companies, have integrated DSPs, ad networks or data exchanges—all of which represent competing business interests. This also creates opportunities for a client’s data to leak into one of these other operations without their permission. For what it’s worth, Goldsmith says Krux is one DMP provider that does operate on its own and can offer clients a private environment for their data where it is safe from leakages.

Can DMP Providers Handle Pharma’s Regulatory Needs?

Considering all of these concerns, you may be wondering if it is even worth exploring what a DMP can do for you. However, many pharma companies are starting to look into DMP providers, including Novartis. But in Rajan’s initial dealings with them he found most to be “thoroughly blinded about pharma regulations.”

At least that is one side of the story. All of the DMP providers interviewed for this article say they are only starting to really engage with pharma companies, but several mention that pharma’s interest in their systems has picked up in recent months. They also believe they can handle pharma’s regulation situation.

For instance, Goldsmith explains that Krux has dealt with regulations in other industries such as the privacy regimes that affect entertainment companies. These regulations include COPPA, which concerns the targeting of children and the collection of data about children, and VPPA, which concerns the way your data and preference about video consumption can be used in a DMP-like environment.

Meanwhile, Alex Vlasto, Senior Vice President of Marketing from Lotame, another DMP provider, says that his company works with clients to set up custom audience hierarchies. Since these hierarchies are customized, the client has complete control over what data is leveraged. He also says that pharma can feel safe knowing that regardless of the vertical a company operates in, Lotame’s DMP does not capture any personally identifiable information (PII) or sensitive health data, such as specific information about past, present or future medical conditions or treatments.

And David Skinner, SVP of Business and Corporate Development for DMP & demand-side platform (DSP) provider [x+1], which was acquired earlier this month by Rocket Fuel, says the company has experience in managing very sensitive marketer/customer datasets, since they work with 8 of the top 10 banks and have end-customer data for most of those banks. Their system can also offer full transparency in case a client needs to know specifically what data elements went into targeting a particular ad.

Even if a DMP provider’s own faith in its ability to serve pharma doesn’t assuage your concerns, there are several benefits that DMPs can offer that might perk the interest of a pharma marketer.

Six Benefits of DMPs

Even though Rajan found DMP providers to be lacking knowledge about the pharma industry, he still thinks highly about what they can eventually offer pharma marketers.

“At the end of the day, DMPs give us a very strong insight into our patient populations and into the consumer marketplace,” explains Rajan. “And it’s going help us in a big way in terms of targeting, especially as a lot more consumer media is being placed in digital environments, not just traditional offline mass media like TV, print, etc. A DMP can tell us who the most relevant eyeballs to a pharma marketer are.”

Some of the benefits that DMPs could provide pharma include:

1. Media Spend Optimization: Pharma executives want to know what they are getting for the $2 million they invested into a new digital campaign. And as many pharma marketers can attest, it is not always easy to provide the ROI executives are looking for, especially for social media campaigns. However, Rajan believes that DMPs can help change that. “That’s where this whole conversation on DMPs—on targeting—is headed. To be able to tell pharma execs what they got for that $2 million.”

2. Tailored Messaging: Even though pharma cannot target individual patients, there is still value in using data to create patient archetypes or profiles and creating messaging that would appeal to patients that fall into those groups. Vlasto says a DMP can be used to create audience profile reports that show the demographics, interests and actions of the audience.

“Marketers can use the insights gleaned from these audience profiles to tailor messaging based on their audiences’ specific interests,” Vlasto adds. “In addition, information can be used mid-campaign to adjust the audience segment details in real-time, resulting in increased engagement with the target audience. By sending relevant advertising messages to the people who actually want to see them, marketers can drive increased engagement with consumers, waste fewer advertising dollars and increase conversion rates.”

3. More Efficient DTC Marketing: Pharma marketers face a complexity of challenges, according to Chuck Schilling, Senior Director of Strategic Consulting at Epsilon, a marketing services firm. These include a myriad of customer data inputs—and the necessity to keep those data protected and anonymous. DMPs can help make a marketer’s job a little simpler.  

“As a centralized data hub, a DMP allows a marketer to ingest and align multiple online and offline data sources around a common identifier (e.g., cookie) in a PII-compliant manner in order to facilitate a more integrated, efficient and secure approach to multi-channel marketing, audience activation and customer experience,” explains Schilling. “A DMP solution is not necessary at this point for every pharma brand, but the leading brands in the biggest DTC categories (e.g., mental health, heart/blood pressure/cholesterol, arthritis, allergy/asthma, and so on) should certainly be moving quickly down the path of a DMP needs-assessment, if not DMP implementation and execution.”

4. Track Treatment Trends: As Dave Lawson, Director of Mobile and Digital Unification at IgnitionOne, a global leader in cloud-based digital marketing technology notes, pharma and med device companies are not always dealing with the user of the device or drug. Rather they often end up dealing with their caregivers and those who influence care. DMPs can help provide insights into the relationship between caregivers, influencers and actual patients and then show pharma companies where that relationship becomes meaningful in the evaluation process and who it is that is making the decisions.

Companies can also track the outcome of the treatment. For instance: Is the course of prescribed treatment proceeding as planned? Are there things happening from a dosage perspective? What can be used as an intervention to correct the course of the product’s use to get the desired results?

“Once the data is consolidated into a DMP environment, then you can work with the data, model it, and derive insights as to how to use it,” adds Lawson. “For many products, you can’t test them on everyone. You need an appropriate level of testing to go to market, of course, but if you have this connection to folks going through treatment, you can attach third-party data to each customer data profile such as demographic, ethnographic and seasonal data. The layering in of that additional detail can inform you of trends within segments that otherwise would go unnoticed. This may allow you to fine-tune treatments plans and head off negative findings down the road.”

5. Close the Loop: One type of data that pharma can feel safe using is the information it gathers from its own properties, such as a brand website. As an example, Skinner suggests someone researching a particular prescription drug for heartburn: If they go to that pharma company’s site and sign up to get some more information, when they visit again, the company can now show them a better offer because they’ve said they want to learn more.

“That kind of flow—an anonymous consumer, visiting a site, looking around, raising their hand by opting in, and then becoming part of a better marketing journey—is all totally within the bounds of what you can do within your own web properties,” explains Skinner. “There’s still plenty of targeting you can do in paid media using a DMP that doesn’t hit that pharma regulatory wall.”

Furthermore, after those consumers have opted in, you can start running multi-channel campaigns in which you can both email them and then reach them with specific campaigns when they visit your own website.

“Once someone has opted in and provided some registered-user data, that enables a site to then connect the dots to offline prescription data and track campaign effectiveness, again, in a way that always adheres to the privacy norms,” adds Skinner. “There are plenty of third-party data sources out in the industry that provide script-level data that could be used for measurement purposes, so if you want to track campaign effectiveness for an authenticated user, you now have a way to close that loop.”

6. Long-term Engagement: Somewhere between the data that can be found in a patient’s healthcare record (which pharma can’t touch) and the more general demographic information (such as gender and age) there is a middle ground that DMPs can help marketers reach. According to Goldsmith, this middle ground is called the life stage of a customer. And it is here that companies can examine where a person is in the customer journey, what messaging would be appropriate for them, what brands would be best for them, etc., all to help engage with a customer for as long as possible.

“What we want to do is help companies develop a 10-year plan, a 20-year plan and a 30-year plan for engaging with customers,” explains Goldsmith. “Companies should think about the lifetime engagement of consumers with the brand and how this changes as they move through various life stages and adjust their set of messaging to fit that stage.”

Choosing a DMP Provider

If the potential benefits outweigh the regulatory concerns and you are interested in seeking out a DMP provider, then here are some criteria to keep in mind.

1. True data management: “The core DNA of a DMP is data management, and is a true end-to-end solution for data throughout the enterprise,” explains Vlasto. “A true DMP should offer users complete control over their own data: It will be collected from any source, organized and used to build as many audiences as desired, and then exported to any media source.”

2. Profile Building: “The technology should allow taking in first-party information using a universal profile-based system to build out a comprehensive view of the consumer,” offers Lawson. “Having that ability allows a clear understanding of who people are, where they’re at and how to give them the next good experience. It also gives marketers the capability to ask for more from the people they’re interacting with, which is justified because they’re able to deliver greater value and more precise messaging in the process.”

3. Data Security: According to Skinner, one of the first things pharma companies bring up when discussing his DMP solution is data security and data integrity. They also want to know about a company’s experience working with very sensitive kinds of first-party marketer data. “If they’re going to be turning over any of their data for closed-loop measurement or even allowing a DMP to target with their data, that’s usually first and foremost in their mind.”

4. ROI: And the second thing they bring up, according to Skinner, is ROI. DMPs make sense for a company with a high-cost prescription because even if the company can increase their conversion rate by 4%, 5% or 10% percent, it’s going to cover their investment in these technologies. The same cannot be said for a prescription with a smaller scale of potential customers.

“If you have a very specialized drug, it will be harder to justify the investment of a DMP compared to say an airline,” explains Skinner. “They can get tens of thousands of customers per week, if not per day. Meanwhile, the specialized drug gets far fewer hits on its brand website. Those are the ROI points that a pharma marketer would need to consider when looking into these kind of technologies.”

5. An Ecosystem of Solutions: Ultimately, there is not a single solution that will be able to serve all of pharma’s data needs. “I think there is a continuum of platforms,” explains Raj Jayashankar, Principal in the Medical Products and Services Practice at global sales and marketing consulting firm ZS Associates. “We are seeing more companies taking advantage of cloud and Big Data platforms to essentially have the ability to store and analyze large volumes of data and also lower the cost of data management.”

Jayashankar adds that most pharma clients say they are looking for data management solutions that are faster, better, cheaper. They also want to make sure they have the ability to scale as the need arises.

“Companies are thinking about it as an ecosystem of solutions as opposed to a single solution, so they are looking at large inexpensive storage for their data lakes,” he explains. “They are looking at web-based master data management that can also do a little bit of outsourcing; distributed ways of computing to lower the cost of computations; and advanced visualization solutions to make sense of large volumes of data so that they can get better insights.”

But no matter the solution, provider or technology they choose, pharma must find a way to better manage its data.

“Different industries have been more innovative in using the kind of digital targeting now possible,” explains Skinner. “However, it’s easy to forget that ad exchanges themselves are only five years old, so this audience-based targeted world is just starting to reach a broader adoption—we’re just past the early innovators. But now is the time for pharma companies to start choosing to be smarter about this technology, because their competitors clearly are.”


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