It’s a myth that pharma can’t “do” content marketing.

While it’s true that “pharma has a ton of content,” many industry watchers believe that “pharma can’t do content marketing.” According to Bill Meisle, senior vice president and director of Customer Engagement at ICC Lowe, that second statement is not necessarily true. “We have the ability to do content marketing,” he explained, “but we need to think of new ways to do it.” Speaking at the recent Medical Marketing & Media “Skill Sets Live” seminar on content marketing, Meisle encouraged the audience to “Think like a publisher: think of content marketing as an asset to be leveraged.” The problem that many pharma marketers run into is that content marketing is contrary to the hard-sell, product benefit-based approach we’ve grown accustomed to. Most pharma brands lack a well-defined content marketing strategy, he said, because most pharma companies don’t understand how content marketing can create impact.

Content marketing is as much about promoting the ideals of a brand or a company as it is about promoting products, Meisle stated. “Customers want to go to a company they feel knows them, and companies must create compelling content.” Providing compelling content means knowing what the customer wants, and delivering a continuous stream of content that addresses customer needs. This can be challenging, in large part because the concept of customer engagement is changing. “More and more, engagement happens asynchronously, across multiple channels, via continuous, ongoing interactions that make up the entire customer experience,” Meisle noted. “But customers want to engage on their own terms, on their own time and in their channels of choice. Content marketing helps build brands, increase engagement and social interactions by giving customers the rich content they crave.”

Thinking like a publisher means “owning the document,” Meisle continued. “Start the strategy; start the discussion. This is the marketing that will count. Customers want to know you’re there with them and putting out content that matters to them. When you create compelling content, half the battle is won.” He noted that 95% of online “clicks” come from the first pages of Google searches, and that companies have to pay for such prominent positioning for their sites. On the other hand, physicians tend to stay away from company-owned sites, instead gravitating to properties such as Doximity, Medscape, Epic, epocrates,, and WebMD. “Things have changed forever because we have the platforms,” Meisle observed. “If it looks and smells like advertising, people won’t flock to it.”

Traditionally, content marketers/publishers have largely focused on short-form, text-based platforms such as newsletters, press releases, Q&As/FAQs, testimonials, and e-mail copy. Longer-form text media, such as case studies, protocols, guidelines, and white papers are also part of the pharma marketing mix, even if these aren’t “marketing” materials per se; in recent years, “micro-form” media such as Facebook posts, Tweets, and blog comments have carved out a growing share of voice. Yet the astute content marketer would be unwise to ignore audio, video, graphic illustrations, and even apps and games. “People like pictures,” Meisle commented, remarking upon the increasing prominence of MOA infographics, product demos, slide shows, webinars, and podcasts as marketing vehicles.

So what is the ideal mix? It depends on the company and product category, Meisle counseled. He offered several “essential steps” to content marketing, including landscape analysis, behavior analysis, creation of marketing personas, specific positioning, developing a content strategy/conversation plan, creating and adhering to an editorial calendar, and devising a multi-channel engagement plan. As a medical writer, I see the inherent logic of this approach, but I must admit to being less than completely proactive in taking such steps. While I’ve been fortunate to have much of my workflow driven by regular clients’ needs, I must continually remind myself not to become complacent about where my next project will come from, or when. To the extent that I can counsel clients on their content marketing strategy, rather than just react to their short-term needs, I can serve their interests as well as my own.

Getting back to Meisle’s presentation, he cited a 2013 Content Marketing Initiative survey in which respondents with a documented content marketing strategy indicated that they:

– Feel significantly less challenged with every aspect of content marketing;
– Generally consider themselves more effective in their use of all content marketing tactics and social media channels; and
– Are able to justify spending a greater percentage of their marketing budgets on content marketing.

Meisle implored his audience to “start somewhere,” offering the following quotation from Tony Robbins: “By changing nothing, nothing changes.” He encouraged pharma marketers to “be the heretic: look at the calendar, engage your agencies, pull together people throughout the company. There’s content everywhere; start that process.” The strategy should be visionary, he added, but it does not necessarily need to start at the top. “To think like a publisher is to think of content marketing as an asset that you own,” he concluded. “Think about changing things.” Good advice indeed.