Pharma goes mobile: Making the most of the app opportunity

*As smartphones and tablets take over, pharma needs a strategic understanding of how mobile solutions improve customer outreach and drive competitive advantage.*

As smartphones and tablets take over, pharma needs a strategic understanding of how mobile solutions improve customer outreach and drive competitive advantage. Andrew Tolve reports

The popularity of smartphones like the iPhone has created an entirely new marketplace for mobile applications.

With one click, customers can download apps for a seemingly boundless range of functions, to track the weather, find new music, get directions, and meet new friends.

Pharmaceutical companies are starting to see the value these apps can provide.

A properly designed appbe it a medication tracker, a disease calculator, an educational catalogue, or a patient diarycan improve the lives of patients and physicians and thus increase customer collaboration.

At the same time, a well-designed app in the hands of sales reps and marketers can maximize organizational efficiency and create competitive advantage when it comes to selling drugs.

In the past year, pharma investments in smartphone apps, social media platforms, and wireless devices have grown 78 percent, according to Ernst & Youngs annual global pharmaceutical report.

David Hunt, digital director of Creative Lynx, a digital design and marketing agency that works with many of the top Big Pharma companies, says he cant believe the demand from pharma for apps.

Mobile technology represents a significant growth area for our company, and we are witnessing real demand from our clients right now, he says.

Pharma companies need to develop a strategic understanding of how these mobile solutions can improve customer outreach and drive competitive advantage, both externally and internally, especially as smartphones and tablets become more pervasive.

Patient and physician apps

If you go to the Apple App Store today, youll find thousands of medical applications; about 50 of these belong to the pharmaceutical industry.

Abbott, AstraZeneca, Bayer, GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson, Merck, Novartis, Pfizer, Roche, and Sanofi-aventis all have apps on the market.

Many of these apps target physicians and nurses.

Novartis GIST Calculator, for instance, lets physicians calculate a patients Risk of recurrence for Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumors (GIST) with an iPhone or iPod Touch.

Roches Nursing ACE provides nurses with patient educational information and contacts for nearby clinical coordinators.

And Johnson & Johnsons Psoriasis App gives dermatologists an easy and accurate way to calculate PASI scores during patient check-ups.

These apps can create value for physicians and find widespread traction among target stakeholders.

The Psoriasis App, for instance, was released a year ago and already has been localized in 25 languages.

It averages 60 downloads a day and has diagnosed 27,000 patients.

Thats all from a little app that was relatively inexpensive to develop, says Hunt whose team at Creative Lynx designed the Psoriasis App.

Pharma apps also aim to make the lives of patients better, whether by managing chronic conditions or providing reminders about medications and doctors appointments.

Mercks iChemoDiary, for example, gives patients an easy way to record treatments and medications and keep track of the symptoms they experience.

Bayers Kid-K teaches kids about hemophilia and the fun they can have despite their chronic condition. (For more on hemophilia apps, see Collaborative care: Improving information exchange and adherence.)

And Sanofi-aventis GoMeals lets users access nutritional information of everyday foods, track the values of their food intake by meal and by day, and monitor personal consumption of carbs, fats, and proteins.

These apps can build a positive association between a brand and a lifestyle and can be integrated into every part of patients lives. (For more on pharma brands and adherence, see Compliance and the corporate brand.)

Theres no better example than GoMeals, which has been downloaded more than 300,000 times and ranks 77th on Apples Top 1,000 for Health & Fitness, the highest ranked pharma app.

GoMeals is a way for people living with diabetes to access the information they need where, when, and how they want it, says Lindsey Schedler, manager of communications at Sanofi-aventis US.

Sales and marketing apps

The mobile revolution can add efficiency and effectiveness to pharmas internal functions as well.

The right apps turn mobile devices into powerful, real-time tools for sales forces and marketers.

This is especially true of the iPad, which is receiving huge interest from the industry right now. (For more on pharmas enthusiasm for the iPad, see Will the iPad kickstart a pharma sales and marketing revolution?)

On its own, the iPad is perceived as a cool gadget, says Dan Goldsmith, general manager, Veeva Systems.

Pair this with dedicated and fully integrated CRM and CLM applications and you have a solution that can transform customer interactions, improve sales and marketing collaboration, and help pharma gain real competitive advantage.

Just last month, Veeva launched iRep, an integrated customer relationship management (CRM) and closed-loop marketing (CLM) solution designed specifically for the iPad.

iRep unites the two core components of CRM and CLM into a single, sleek solution, says Goldsmith.

Four of the top 12 global pharma companies are currently in the process of deploying iRep.

Through integrated CRM and CLM solutions on the iPad, organizations have a real opportunity to improve reps delivery of the brand message and create a feedback loop that brings together brand strategy, sales execution, and customer response, adds Goldsmith.

(For a podcast on CLM, see Closed Loop Marketing in a Multi-Channel Environment; for Dan Goldsmiths take on key account management, see What pharma can learn from the use of KAM in other industries and Podcast: Making KAM commercially effective.)

Other digital media and software firms have unveiled apps as well.

Agnitio, for instance, has iPad Native, which lets sales teams develop dynamic presentations for the iPad, publish CRM target lists, and capture unique business intelligence data in real time.

Proscape has the iShowPlayer, an app that lets companies transfer their current presentations to the iPad with as little bother as possible.

All 35 of Proscapes customers in the life sciences industry will have deployed the iShowPlayer by June 2011.

Apps best practice

Apps can increase the effectiveness of sales reps and marketers and open new means of communication with physicians and patientsbut only if theyre done properly.

The last few years have shown that apps can easily vanish if not designed and released appropriately.

More worrisome, of those apps that do get initial attention (enough to get downloaded), statistics show that 26 percent are only used once and then forgotten about or discarded, according to Localytics, an analytics company that provides strategic research about the app market.

Thus, to harness the potential of apps, especially those intended for external stakeholders like physicians and patients, its necessary to understand some basic points.

First, know your audience and understand its needs before introducing a mobile app.

What helps make an app successful is if publishersand this is really Marketing 101understand their target market and the users theyre trying to reach, says Brian Suthoff, vice present of market development at Localytics.

Companies and healthcare providers surely can capitalize in offering tailored apps to patients needs, seconds Jan Geissler, a founding member of the European Cancer Patient Coalition and co-founder of the CML Advocates Network, as well as a digital engineer. (For a profile of Jan Geisslers work with patient groups, see The power of patient groups.)

However, a close collaboration with patient groups in the design phase is critical, as otherwise it will miss their needs and be a dead investment, he says.

Indeed, Schedler attributes much of GoMeals success to the fact that it was designed with input from people with diabetes and actively responds to their feedback.

In order to create apps and tools that will be most useful, we need to make sure that were actively listening and engaging, she says.

A good launch

A second key is to create fanfare around your app.

The Apple App Store has nearly 350,000 apps, and 100,000 of those have been added in the past six months. The Android market has another 90,000 apps of its own.

So its critical to help your app stick out from the rest. One way to accomplish this is to focus on the launch.

If youve designed an app for nurses, release it at a large nursing conference.

If youve designed an app for patients with breast cancer, introduce it in conjunction with National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Creative Lynx, for instance, unveiled the Psoriasis App at the International Dermatology Congress and got instant pick-up with dermatologists.

We immediately got a massive take-off, and quickly people started sharing the app with others, Hunt says.

Geissler adds that embedding apps into a multi-channel strategydynamic communication through multiple touch pointsis another way to capture peoples attention.

Mobile in isolation doesn't work, he says. (For more on multi-channel strategies, see Inside pharma teams: A multi-channel extension of the mainstream sales force.)

Device diagnostics

A final key is to design different apps for different devices.

To date, the majority of app activity has taken place on the iPhone and now the iPad. Hence the reason Big Pharma has focused on Apple apps.

The Android platform is quickly growing, however, and more tablets and smartphones are hitting the market.

Since Android, Apple, and Research in Motion use different user interface paradigms, youll need to design new apps for the iPhone market, the Android market, the Blackberry market, and so on.

On the technical side, the apps that have been the most successful are the ones that are really well crafted for a platform, says Suthoff.

There arent many successful apps that are these generic cross-platform basic apps.

Everything we do is a dedicated version because one-size-fits-all doesnt work particularly well, seconds Hunt.

You have to focus on the user experience so that when someone downloads an app its very intuitive and adds a lot of value.

The industry needs to recognize that functionality delivered through a mobile browser is neither efficient nor effective for the business, adds Goldsmith.

You need specifically designed solutions for individual mobile devices, he says. In the instance of iRep, it leverages the iPads most remarkable features to deliver a completely new user experience that is both intuitive and natural to an iPad user.

A mobile future

In the past five years, the online world has morphed from a largely sedentary onelaptop- and desktop-basedto a mobile one.

Its hard to see that trend slowing down as people get more used to always-on connectivity.

Hunt believes that were quickly headed toward a world where browsers are old hat and apps are the new standard.

The way weve moved from cassettes to CDs, from CDs to mp3s, in the same way well move from browsers to mobile for everything, he says.

And despite its usual aversion to fast change, pharma so far has done a good job of embracing the mobile opportunity.

Hunt is worried, however, that sooner or later that old urge will kick in and pharma will pull back. Its important to keep the accelerator down, he says.

Apps are a much better way for a company to represent themselves and communicate through the Internet, Hunt says.

The Internet obviously will go on, its just the way you engage with it.

As Ernst and Young points out in its annual report, investments by non-pharma companies and new entrants in the healthcare space are outpacing those made by pharma companies, challenging industry members to either increase their level of investment or risk diminished relevance.

Schedler says Sanofi-aventis understands the importance of this moment and the need to stay engaged.

Weve seen ample evidence within other industries that digital technology and social media are now essential for engagement, she says.

For everything app-related, join the sectors other key players at SFE Europe from March 29 to 31 in Dusseldorf and Sales Force Effectiveness USA from May 17 to 19 in New Brunswick, NJ.

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