Virtual Reality in Pharmaceutical Marketing—The Target’s Point of View

I am your optimal target customer. As an academically trained internist and cardiologist, NIH trained clinical researcher, principal investigator on over 160 clinical trials, national speaker for pharma, blogger, and a healthcare columnist—I am an all-cap, bold face KOL. Pharma marketers want me on their side. The trick is, how do they do that? They hire attractive and knowledgeable reps, employ the best A/B tested marketing material, use full-color animated iPad presentations—but those do not move the needle as much as they would like.

I was invited by Mike Marett, Founder and CEO of Confideo Labs, to participate on a panel titled, “Virtual Reality – A Revolution in Immersive Digital Healthcare Media,” at the ePharma Summit in Manhattan in March. My expert co-panelists were a director of pharma customer engagement, a major media healthcare account director, and the technical lead for DoctorVirtualis, the virtual reality (VR) division for Confideo Labs. My role was to provide the physician’s point of view of VR in pharma marketing.

I began with a simple question to this roomful of pharma marketers, “How many of you started your careers carrying a bag?” That question sought to determine how many of these marketers began as field sales reps. After two hands went up, I realized I should explain barriers to their success. The topic was virtual reality, which, given its evolution and advocates, is usually thought of as a vehicle for entertainment, games, or social media connection. In healthcare, VR is a tool for intensive learning.

Learning By Seeing

My wife and one of my daughters are attorneys who live and learn by the spoken and written word. They remember everything I’ve ever said to them. In contrast, physicians generally are visual learners. We learn by seeing.

Field reps know the bane of their day-to-day existence is trying to get face-time with the healthcare provider. That is usually measured in seconds to a minute or two unless the providers have been bribed with food. And the Sunshine laws have complicated even that gambit. Marketing goals include enhanced customer engagement. Virtual reality technologies done well, remove environmental distractions and play to our visual learning, which combined with novelty, facilitate customer engagement—often to the material’s end. Instead of presenting bland didactic data to someone trying to be polite but actually thinking about what’s next on their schedule, VR facilitates “aha!” epiphanies when facts comes together. Good VR means that the client experience is truly immersive without awareness of the technology itself.

Another bonus not seen with any other marketing tool is that there is no other “leave behind” marketing tool that the provider will actively show his or her colleague after the rep leaves. With branded Google Cardboard devices and downloadable media into smartphones, this strategy becomes extremely affordable. More sophisticated devices allow data analytics by tracking eye movements and object focus, generating the VR equivalent of a website “click” that disambiguates objects of interest from noise.

While VR is a technology still in its infancy, it needs to be in the toolkit for pharma marketing as an invaluable future strategy for customer engagement.

  • Dr. Irving Loh

    Irving Kent Loh, MD, FACC, FAHA, FCCP, FACP, is Director at Ventura Heart Institute, Southern California. Dr. Loh practices cardiovascular disease management; has been a principal investigator on over 160 clinical trials; Co-founder and Chief Medical Officer of Infermedica, an artificial intelligence in healthcare company; Director of Cardiovascular Services for MORE Health, a telemedicine company; Chief Medical Advisor for Confideo Labs/DoctorVirtualis; Silicon Valley consultant; and has done a TEDx talk on clinical trials.


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