Looking for a Few Good Men (and Women) in Pharma

Stop Worrying About Social Media and Let's Get Back to Marketing 101

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Reading Anthony Young's piece on AdAge.com last week, Social Media Is a Venue, Not a Strategy, I couldn't help but smile. Don't get me wrong, I spent some time working at a digital agency where we helped clients embrace the somewhat scary social-media waters. But as Young says: "Social media is a venue for marketers ... a set of technologies or tactics that enable us to elevate and amplify brands and their marketing communications."

The reason I smiled was because like kids in a toy store, marketers are always going to be obsessed with the shiniest toy, but that doesn't make us better marketers. With all the advances in media and technology, what I have observed over the past four years of economic decline is that successful companies are getting ahead of their competitors by sticking to the basics: Marketing 101.

Nowhere is this more obvious than with the Hispanic community, where entire advertising sectors are a no show. How can so many companies NOT market their products or services to the ever-growing Hispanic consumer? Take the pharmaceutical category as an example. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to know that there are incredible health disparities in the Latino community. Research constantly shows us that Hispanics are at higher risk of suffering from obesity, heart disease and diabetes, among other diseases.

With all this information at hand, you'd think that Spanish-language TV would be cluttered with all kinds of pharmaceutical advertising. According to IMS Health, OTC companies are losing sleep over the fact that private-label brands have grown overall share from 23% in 2007 to 32% in 2010. They are desperately looking for new, loyal consumers to sustain growth, and yet, only one or two brands can be found advertising to Hispanics. Why?

I think the pharma industry is lost and in dire need of true leadership. I remember six or seven years ago, all the leading pharmaceutical companies were hiring multicultural directors and trying to figure out their "ethnic opportunity" -- Astrazeneca, Pfizer, GSK, you name it. They all had good people trying to get their brands in front of audiences that desperately needed their products and were always looking for more information on health in general. Some brands even had great success and were able to track eye-opening ROI with Hispanic and other ethnic consumers. So what happened?

That was before the economy went into a tailspin. Since then, however, things have gotten worse. Layoffs in the sector, followed by several challenging years, have left the pharma industry back at square one. Believe it or not, several OTC companies are using interns to handle multicultural marketing internally. Here's a consumer segment that 's critical to the growth of every U.S. company today, and these companies are putting a college intern in charge -- that is just sad.

So if you are in the pharmaceutical industry and are one of those people who are in charge of growing your business, I say forget about the FDA and stop worrying about when they may or may not issue guidelines around social media. Think twice before spending a bundle on an app that maybe nobody wants. I mean, do we really need an app for renal cell carcinoma?

I do realize that as my colleague Eric Talbot likes to say, the pharmaceutical industry is like an aircraft carrier. The industry has tons of resources and capabilities, but turning it, well that takes time. Right now, the waters they are navigating are filled with icebergs and the Hispanic patient is the only safe water to travel in. As an under-served market, they offer a vehicle of growth as marketers help close the gap in diagnosis and treatment through education.

So, if you want growth for your brands this year and for the next 10 years in a row, look no further than right here in the USA. Analyze your roster of brands and see which ones are under-penetrated in ethnic communities. Do your homework and work with your agencies and media partners to figure out the right communications strategy and brand messaging. But just start with the basics, and I can guarantee you that you'll see results.

Chiqui Cartagena Chiqui Cartagena is VP-corporate marketing for Univision Communications Inc. She is also the author of Latino Boom!: Everything You Need to Know to Grow Your Business in the U.S. Hispanic Market. Follow Chiqui on Twitter @chiquicartagena.
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