At the Business Development Institute (BDI) mobile conference in New York City in January, we saw and heard many thoughtful approaches to creating mobile apps for patients and healthcare providers. For pharma marketers, it’s no longer about whether or not to create apps; it’s about when. Monique Levy, senior director of research with Manhattan Research, noted her firm had found that by the end of 2011, 82 percent of physicians will own a smart phone. And Apple’s recent announcement that iPhone will be offered through Verizon will only pique consumer interest in smart phones (and tablets) further.
In front of this backdrop, marketers and health educators displayed case studies that seemed to suggest that mobile efforts have shifted. We’re past the “wow” stage; now we’re trying to figure out how to create and disseminate apps successfully, given the channel’s specific constraints. Pharma is learning that those constraints are not trivial. Consider:
- App names need to be short or risk getting truncated in the iTunes App Store, rendering them incomprehensible on the small screen. Manufacturers, then, can’t include both the sponsoring brand and a descriptive name on their custom-built apps. A descriptive name is clearly the better choice if you want people to know what your app does. So, if you can’t put your product name on your app, where will all those brand impressions come from?
- Because apps are found in the open marketplaces (iTunes App Store, Droid Market), anyone can download them. Apps can potentially boost a brand’s competitors just as much as they can help the brand that builds them
- Manhattan Research’s Levy noted that 71% of research respondents aged 35 years or older said they were not interested in mobile apps and programs from pharmaceutical manufacturers. (More on this credibility gap from Siren’s Eileen O’Brien)
Of all the apps described at the conference, Glucose Buddy (presented by Todd Siesky) was the most encouraging. It appears that Roche, Glucose Buddy's partner, has cracked the code on app development for pharma, avoiding the pitfalls by following a cohesive blueprint for doing mobile in the pharma space:
- Find a partner. Rather than build from scratch, Roche piggybacked on an already successful app. Glucose Buddy, according to our own informal research at HealthEd, has garnered some of the best reviews on blogs by diabetes patients and pharma app reviewers. Key here is not only cost savings and distribution economies of scale but also credibility
- Seek to be as useful as possible. Roche’s main addition to Glucose Buddy is educational content related to Accu-Chek. That content includes the Accu-Chek Testing Pairs log tool, which already has a lot of offline credibility among doctors and patients. Providing useful tools lies at the heart of a strong educational framework
- Create a brand-neutral opt-in strategy. Roche invited all diabetes patients, whether or not they use a Roche product, to sign up for Glucose Buddy. The idea is not to pigeonhole mobile as an “acquisition” medium or an “adherence” medium but to employ it as a multiuse channel that can serve patients across their disease journey
- Build first; then message to your list. With a growing list of subscribers, Roche was able to create the foundation for an eRM program that includied push e-mails to patients who have downloaded the app and opted in to the stream
- Learn from the data. Thanks to some heads-up thinking, Roche figured out how to deidentify the patient data streaming in from the app. This rich, usable data source alone is enough to justify the program
As apps go mainstream, it will be interesting to watch how pharma companies approach development and distribution. Partner or solo? Branded or unbranded? One thing is for certain: With more than 300,000 apps currently available for Apple devices alone, mobile marketers have an awful lot of differentiating to do.
Megan Beardsley (iPhone)
Creative Director, Digital
Jeff Greene (Droid)
Director, Digital Strategy