“Game changer” is how healthcare marketers described the first iPad when it launched two years ago. But today, even with Apple expected to introduce the iPad3 this month, iPad detailing is far from the success story many envisioned. Sixty four percent of physicians say they want more use of iPads or other tablets in discussions with pharma reps1, yet only 38 percent of doctors who actually see sales reps with iPads or other tablets rate the experience better than presentations with laptops or print materials2.


Haste Makes Waste

When iPad launched, many companies pushed out content quickly, dumping information created for PCs onto the iPad. This resulted in “foreign” experiences that neglected what makes iPad unique. Doctors, initially intrigued by the novelty of the iPad, backed away from what looked like repackaged content.

Many companies also viewed the iPad as a variation on something they already knew rather than as a whole new entity. They didn’t fully explore iPad’s staggering range of capabilities and how they could be applied.

Many also made the mistake of developing iPad platforms around internal considerations—such as ease of integration into a company’s IT environment— rather than by external criteria focused on providing differentiated value to the customer.

Major Shortcomings Today

There are three main ways pharma is getting it wrong with iPad detailing.

First, the device is meant to be experienced, not just observed. It should be an extension of the person holding it and prompt interaction. Too often, it functions instead as a glorified notebook, tapping just a fraction of iPad’s unique capabilities.

Second, reps want greater flexibility to handle the dynamic nature of sales calls. They get precious little time with physicians on the best of days, and need to capitalize on that time.

Third, although physicians use the iPad as a collaborative tool in their work, many pharma iPad programs have a show-and-tell format that distances doctors from the intended brand experience.

What Should We Do?

Healthcare marketers should re-think the iPad and its potential. Delve into all the ways it differs from the devices that preceded it. Develop platforms and apps that build on iPad’s specific functionality, not matched by programs for other tablets. Stop thinking of “Next” as a good navigational control.

Also re-think how reps are trained. Re-imagine them as digital storytellers. Teach them to talk with their hands, using the iPad’s 40 basic gestures (most tablets offer six) in a way that replicates how we naturally use our hands when speaking.

Example: A rep can use a variety of gestures to establish an onset-vs.-efficacy timeline, layer on “fast” vs. “controlled” drug action, track comparative data over time, and communicate the clinical evidence that drug A, although slower acting, has greater long-term efficacy than drug B. Instead of talking from a static graph, the rep can make the data come alive and focus on areas of special interest.

The unique functionality of iPad can also be used to engage physicians. Imagine touching an image of the heart and seeing how it’s affected by diabetes. Or illustrating the balance between drug safety and efficacy using the iPad’s gyroscope. Tilt a little to the left (efficacy) and things shift subtly. Tilt a lot to the right (safety) and things jam up and fall off the screen. We’ve tested just these types of exercises with physicians and the experience always triggers an “I want to try that” because the experience is so engaging.

The iPad is a phenomenal tool that can help healthcare marketers provide unparalleled brand experiences. But we have to change our approach if we’re to fully realize that promise.

1 Publicis Touchpoint Solutions—What Physicians Want! Sermo Physician Survey, 2010-2011
2 Manhattan Research—Taking the Pulse U.S. v. 11.0 Survey


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