Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Are Marketers Artists or Mathematicians?

How many marketers does it take to calculate ROI?

None. There's a lot of talk about ROI, but no one's got the time, money or the inclination to do the math.

Sorry, just thought I'd open with a little joke as in a live presentation.

Speaking of live presentations, have you ever accepted an invitation to make a presentation on a subject with which you have very little personal experience or knowledge?

That is currently my predicament.

I am presenting a keynote speech at the Measuring Marketing ROI conference in London next month. The title of my presentation is "Why many pharmaceutical marketers ignore ROI and rely upon anecdotal evidence."

I've had plenty of time to prepare my presentation, but I have done practically nothing so far to put my slide deck together. I'm beginning to feel the pressure building and I need help.

Of course, although I have practically no experience measuring marketing ROI, that doesn't stop me from having an opinion based on conferences I've attended and watching marketers ignore ROI. In fact, I've commented on this issue in at least several posts to this blog. See, for example, "Do Pharma Marketers Need a Thick Skin or Will a Thick Skull Suffice?" and "Rozerem Ad Spending Exceeds Sales!"

But that is the limit of my knowledge. So, I would really appreciate your insights on this topic, which I also hope to write up in an article for the Feb issue of Pharma Marketing News.

Here's my keynote outline:

Why many pharmaceutical marketers ignore ROI and rely upon anecdotal evidence
  • Are marketers artists or mathematicians? [It's obvious (or maybe not): Marketers are not daVinci's -- they are not good at combining art and science.]
  • Right brain vs. left brain thinking
  • Creativity vs. accountability
  • There are very few awards given for the latter, but many for the former
  • Can six sigma be applied to marketing?
If you have any insights into these bullet points, please post them in the comments section of this post below.

If you are a member of the Pharma Marketing Roundtable Forum, you can participate in the discussion thread located here. (You have to be a member to access the forum. To join the Roundtable Forum, fill out the Roundtable Membership Request Form.)

If I use your pearls of wisdom in the article or presentation, I will be happy to give you credit if you identify yourself. Anonymous comments are also welcomed (don't worry, I won't tell Congress).

Full disclosure: I am working with the event organizers (ViB Events) to help them promote this meeting. I am not getting paid to be a speaker or even to promote the meeting, but they are paying for most of my travel expenses -- not including food other than that included during the conference.


  1. Anonymous5:10 PM

    What happened to the Chantix post?

  2. Took it down for personal reasons that I cannot get into here.

  3. Anonymous8:23 PM


    I founded a condition-specific media company on the premise that much of pharma ad spending is spent with poor ROI. So I've had an interesting experience understanding how the industry perceives ROI. I see several factors that contribute to low returns:

    1. Pharma marketing is very different from traditional consumer goods marketing. For most pharma products, the potential customer base is a tiny percentage of the overall population, which means that, in general, mass media does not work well. But for marketers who come from a traditional ad background, getting huge coverage with millions of viewers is a surefire way of getting sales because you can turn almost anyone into a Coca Cola drinker. But Boniva is not Coca Cola.

    The desire of the industry to "create" perceived new diseases is a side-effect of this: traditional marketers are good at creating needs to stoke demand, but this has a host of ethical problems when the product is a medical product.

    2. Getting good ROI for pharma brands is hard work. Mass media is easy to buy: a few purchases can soak up tens of millions of dollars. But, as per above, it doesn't work well for these brands. Unfortunately, doing the hard research to understand what media is available that reaches the patients you need, at a time they are willing to listen, in a format they can understand, is tough work, because these media only exist in the world of newer, fragmented audiences. And for some of these conditions, the most common way to achieve good targeting (the web) still suffers from low adoption and lack of confidence in the medium.

    Patient relationship marketing is also more effective with pharma, because trust is such an important facet of medicine, and relationship marketing also is much better at reaching communities of people with conditions that a product treats. But it's much harder than signing on the line for a CNBC buy.

    3. Incentives. If an agency is getting paid 15% of spend, it's bad business to spend more on research and analysis to find niche media.

    4. Risk. It's safer to suggest buys from name-brand media than a niche strategy, and the pharma world can be staid sometimes. It's hard to get fired for buying mass media.

    5. And lastly...content. Today's DTC ads seem obsessed about hugely expensive, short, meaningless soundbites packaged into slick commercials, with awkward FDA mandated language shunted in apologetically. What patients really want is trustworthy information. I can be persuaded by buy P&G's fancy new soap by a slick ad, but when it's about a product that could hurt me, slick graphics matter less than meaningful engagement. Finding the right media channels and putting together the right message to help patients understand their condition means more costs for creative and analytics, even if lifetime value of a patient for many conditions delivers great ROI.

  4. Anonymous12:37 PM


    I think there are several reasons:
    (1) They haven't been forced to;
    (2) They don't clearly understand the success metrics and what is causality versus correlation; and
    (3) They data is hard to get to using traditional mediums such as letters.

    That being said. I have never had the luxury of launching programs without a way of tracking and demonstrating ROI. I haven't worked for pharma, but I have worked in the PBM and now HealthComm industry. It is possible (and difficult).

  5. ROI is a very important aspect of marketing activities. As a practitioner of Pharma marketing I strongly believe in following up the execution of specific strategies and see the results. I use the following method. For eg., let us say the strategy is promote a brand based on a special Rx pad that will make the target doctor measure the abdominal waist circumference (to assess the abdominal obesity). This measurement will provide the stimulus for prescribing a herbal support product for reducing body weight like Shuddhaguggulu Himalaya and Vrikshamla Himalaya. I follow up the implementation in specific territories where I can even do some field work easily. And then the next month I see the secondary sales off take of the campaign products in the closely monitored territories. These sample territories will give an idea of the impact of the campaign or marketing strategy, and the effects can be directly measured. The sales offtake can be displayed using bar graphs and comparatively observed how the campaign has impacted relative to months when the campaign was not there.

    This is one approach that can be routinely used to see measure the bang for the marketing spend - buck.

  6. ROI is just a word. In my experience, especially in big pharma, product managers will do 10 programs at 100K rather than 1 for 1MM. Why? Because the program for 1MM will have to be signed off by all levels of the organization, questions will be asked and an ROI analysis will have to be done. In order to do the ROI you have to wait 6 months for the program to be in market and then another 6 months to get the results. Generally the team is on another project. The only ROI's that should be conducted are for large scales programs such as peer to peer, samples and DTC. The rest should use other metrics such as response and qualitative feedback.


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