Zen Chu, MD, of Accelerated Medical Ventures and senior lecturer at MIT Sloan School of Management, said “We’ve got so many new technologies and redesigned experiences impacting both the value we deliver and also the value patients are getting from healthcare.” A SWOT analysis shows that virtual reality (VR) is a novelty that will be become another successful communication marketing platform in the pharmaceutical mass media mix. From the assessment below, the benefits of the strengths and opportunities of VR marketing techniques substantially outweigh the challenges of the weaknesses and threats, which inevitably will decrease over time.
Marketing approaches are enhanced with VR by providing more innovative information with immersive storytelling. Patients are exposed to the impacts of their medications by viewing colorful three-dimensional (3D) videos instead of reading dull, long-winded, monotonous drug information in black and white printed materials. The immersive Mechanism of Action (MOA) animation of VR is a full circle video experience with 3D images that provides narrative while stimulating the senses. Spatial audio allows patients to hear information emanating from all directions that result in a blended experience. In-depth sensory perception with VR creates empathy with an inspirational message that takes patients on a journey, captures their full attention, draws them into an encounter with pharmaceuticals, and coerces them into exploring their options while ensuring a memorable experience. Patients are motivated to become engaged with drugs in a resourceful way immediately after a VR pharmaceutical experience, which strengthens the value of VR as a marketing tool.
Pharmaceutical marketers encounter challenges with the promotion of 3D imaginary visuals, the possible high cost of required equipment, an increase in manpower budgets and the subsequent lower marketing budgets and the lack of technology acceptance. Often times, VR marketers are confronted with the seemingly futile struggle to overcome the fantasy versus reality theme. 3D visuals bring the patient into a conceptual, fantasy world of a fictional environment as opposed to augmented realty (AR) which delivers a physical, real-world environment including sound, video, and graphics generated by computer technology. The cost of the necessary head gear can be expensive which could hinder marketing strategies that would promote it as an easily attainable communication vehicle. The patients’ perception is that it is not worth their investment of time and money considering the high probability of the insignificant value of 3D visuals that are not operational on such devices as iPads. VR campaigns necessitate more staff, such as artists, animators, and copywriters, which escalate the cost of manpower while decreasing the available funding for marketing efforts. Modern technology lacks human interaction in a manner that patients believe is detached and aloof. Simple, high-tech tools such as glasses lack warmth and are devoid of personal touch. Combining medicine with technology is regarded by some patients as standoffish and distant.
The promotion of products with branding, growth of empathy awareness through an imaginative experience, education, and training are all marketing opportunities that engage patients and doctors while increasing sales, drug compliance, and the number of new drug users. VR produces branding by supporting products that stimulate creativity and evoke senses which results in a unique, complete experience rather than merely a visual presentation. Empathy is built when doctors reaffirm to themselves that they chose their medical careers so they could positively influence humanity. VR serves as training and education for doctors with the optimistic outlook that any mistakes would occur during these simulated patient encounters and not in the real world. By presenting in videos the negative impacts on the quality of life with drug non-compliance, doctors are encouraged to prescribe certain therapeutic medications to keep patients on drug therapy for a longer period of time. This not only equates to improved health, but also an increase in sales and market penetration during growth and maturity drug cycles.
VR marketing strategies are susceptible to exposing the missing value or content, glossing over the specific benefits and risks of the drug, depicting non-compliance with the FDA, and focusing on a flashy fad. The VR experience is an entertaining simulation, but does not always include the requisite information. Striking graphics can overshadow the content. The patient remembers the glitzy presentation while recalling the data as lackluster. As one pharma marketing executive at Ferring Pharmaceuticals said, “Content is king and experience is queen.” Patients may lose interest in the health topic and be unable to identify the positive and negative impacts of the drug after viewing the video for only a few seconds if there is not an angle to keep them focused on the content. Messages are sometimes camouflaged by a great deal of pizzazz; however, they need to be a true representation of the drug that shows compliance with FDA approval and specific industry regulations. Many patients are under the impression that glasses can be easily replaced with the next innovation which may be less associated with a passing, showy toy, and more connected with a modest health apparatus that has longevity in the industry.
In summary, a SWOT analysis outlines the positives of VR pharmaceutical marketing which surpass the negatives. In the near future, challenges will be overcome in at least three ways:
- The cost of equipment is decreasing as demand increases and less expensive, more sleekly designed head gear bursts onto the market;
- Technology acceptance is growing immeasurably;
- More value and content is being added.
Undoubtedly, VR is destined to become the newest, avant-garde media tool in pharma that will increase patient engagement and ROI exponentially while improving patient well-being.
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