Whatever Happened to the Marketing Mix?

Okay, somebody has to say it so here goes: Digital is a channel—not the channel.

Surprised I wasn’t struck dead by a bolt of lightning or that the Earth did not open up and swallow me whole for spouting such heresy? Not me. Let me explain.

A product marketer today is inundated by noise on “digital marketing” at every turn—conferences, articles in the trade press, consultants and new media companies all turning up the volume on how digital approaches are revolutionizing pharma marketing and if you don’t jump on board, you’ll be squashed by your competition. In fact, all these digital options and noise can be downright overwhelming.

Now put yourself in your customers’ (the prescribers’) shoes on the receiving end of all these options.

The simple fact is that the development of new technology, in this case marketing through digital channels, moves far faster than the target audience’s willingness to adopt it. Don’t get me wrong, digital currently has a place in a marketer’s tool kit. I even agree that it will become more important and may one day be the dominant channel, but that is somewhere in the future—not today.

In 2012, the AMA reported that over 47% of physicians were over the age of 50. They learned how to practice medicine before the age of smartphones, tablets and even the Internet. While many physicians are adopting new technologies, their adoption will never be as fast as those selling the technology project. It’s just not human nature. As humans, we learn to accept, adopt, pay attention to and even trust different information sources over time—not overnight.

If you need substantiation, just look at past predictions by pundits—the paperless office? (Don’t we all wish!) The death of journal advertising and professional print media? (Nope, didn’t happen.) One recent survey even found that respondents preferred promotional direct mail over email—how crazy is that?

So What’s A Marketer To Do?

Simply put, having all your marketing eggs in the digital basket (or any one basket, for that matter) is the recipe for disappointing results.

Prescribers have never been a homogeneous bunch and in fact are getting more, rather than less, diverse. It used to be that marketers were taught about using a marketing mix with a variety of approaches to connect with and deliver their brand’s message to its desired audience.

Smart marketers rightfully think of the digital channel as just another option available to them as part of the marketing mix. To most effectively reach their diverse prescriber audiences, they should be mixing it with more traditional ones like print advertising, direct (postal) mail, etc.

Successfully doing so requires deeply understanding your target, where they spend their time and what sources they rely on for information when practicing medicine. While digital gets a lot of press, my experience is that for most prescribers today, the majority of that time is still not through a smartphone.

  • Mark Perlotto

    Mark Perlotto is President of Excitant Healthcare Advertising, a full-service healthcare agency that helps clients find the right mix of new and traditional marketing approaches to get brand messages through to target audiences.


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