This article was first published in PME (Pharmaceutical Market Europe).
The most successful organizations of the future will be the ones that are able to ride the ‘data tsunami’ to gain a competitive advantage – and understanding data generated by digital activities will play a crucial part.
Data, particularly big data, has become a hot topic in recent years, and for good reason. The relentless move towards online, digital forms of work and communication means that data is now generated with an unprecedented speed and volume. The possibility of capturing and making use of information about each customer, communication and business function is both overwhelming and exciting. The opportunities for analysis are constantly growing – and this is before we even consider the information provided by social media, website analytics and other digital activities.
Data’s many uses include segmenting target audiences to create tailored communications, assessing and refining successful projects, and teasing out the patterns that lurk in large amounts of information to provide insights about patient behaviors and trends.
Data and communications
Despite regulatory challenges, opportunities exist here for pharma. As communication moves increasingly online, website analytics and so-called ‘closed-loop’ marketing initiatives become valuable sources of information. Social media conversations are a source of authentic insights about product or therapy area perceptions. Electronic health records, digitized clinical research and health-focused sites like PatientsLikeMe are yet more examples of the increasing pool of data.
Many tools and techniques can extract meaning from these raw materials. Social network analysis assumes that it is one’s relationships with others, rather than traditional measures of ‘authority’, that define one’s influence. It can identify important physicians or patients for a specific topic or disease. The powerful tool of natural language processing looks at thousands of web pages, or digitized clinical papers and abstracts, and pulls out unexpected insights.
An example is ‘semantic networks’ – maps of related words and concepts that allow the user to navigate the ‘cognitive landscape’ of a therapy area. Social media analysis looks at what conversations within forums, and on sites like Twitter, tell us about how stakeholders behave online, what they are interested in, and where we can reach them.
These insights are all of value to an organization but getting the most out of data is not always a simple process. Organizational silos, or more straightforward problems such as inconsistent formats, can get in the way of attempts to see the big picture by combining data sets. A further challenge is getting the results from data to end users in a format they can use. Analysis must therefore aim to be more than robust– it must also be understandable and actionable. Finally, pharma – like every other industry – faces a talent shortfall as demand for employees who can gather and analyze data, and present the results, outstrips supply. This is where agencies can step in to help, ensuring that communications activities are informed by and utilize the data available, and that opportunities to capture additional data are exploited.
Sifting out the insights from social media listening to really understand consumer sentiment and behavior, monitoring and measuring campaigns to ensure that the impact is captured (and then improved), and mapping out social networks to optimize communications, are activities that are increasingly part of the way we at agencies are supporting our clients. In doing this we aim to make sure that our clients are making the most of the data available to them, and take the first steps on a journey that promises to revolutionize how organizations work.