The recent eyeforpharma eCommunications and eMarketing conference held in Philadelphia included an international mix of speakers and attendees. I met pharma people from China, Peru, Germany, UK, and Mexico as well as the US. Of course, all were proponents of “e” for marketing and the two most discussed topics were social marketing on the consumer side and eDetailing on the physician side. I covered the social marketing discussion in a previous post (see “The Girl from Google“). Here, I cover eDetailing.

Mark Bard of Manhattan Research moderated a panel discussion entitled “Using the Internet to Support and Evolve Sales.” Panel members included Craig DeLarge, Associate Director of eMarketing at Novo Nordisk, and Clay Butterworth, eMarketing Manager at Shire.

Bard, as usual, opened with some numbers regarding physician use of the Internet and adoption of eDetailing. He summed up the current eDetailing situation succinctly by stating “Half our clients think eDetailing will be dead in 2 years, the other half says it will take off.” He pointed out that for eDetailing to take off it has got to change and get more in sync with what physicians who use the Internet want, which is something Bard knows a lot about (see, for example, the report that Manhattan Research was handing out at its booth: “Trends Impacting Consumer and Physician eMarketing).

Bard presented some data showing that the percentage of physicians using eDetail programs in the past year has leveled off at around 40% — no longer growing, in other words. However, only 20% of docs say they have absolutely no use for eDetailing. That leaves 20% who might have use for it if it offered them what they want. Unfortunately, a lot of them want money or cash equivalents. Although pharmaceutical companies have gotten away from a “pay for view” regime, which is frowned upon by the watchdogs, some have worked around this issue by paying physicians to take a short survey after the eDetail. Some doctors have their children press the forward button to get through the eDetail so that they can get to the money at the end.

To entice doctors to participate in eDetails without monetary rewards, some vendors have come up with hooky ways of engaging docs such as pretending that the eDetail is a soccer match. One presenter admitted that this wouldn’t work in the soccer-challenged US market. It might just be as boring as the game itself! Maybe the doc’s children will enjoy it though. (OK, have at me in the comments.)

The core problem with eDetailing remains: it’s still a sales activity rather than an information sharing or communication activity that physicians prefer. It’s worse than a live sales rep. A savvy physician can manipulate a rep to just deliver the goods — essential prescribing information and samples. I suspect that manipulating computerized eDetails is not as easy — and you don’t get the samples at the end!

DeLarge agreed — and I am paraphrasing him here — that eDetails are too sales focused vs. customer insight focused. There is an opportunity, DeLarge said, through the eChannel, to get a better idea what physicians want vs. being another sales channel. “Companies that do this well will have a tremendous competitive advantage in the next 2-5 years,” he said.

I also heard from pharmaceutical people at the meeting that eDetails “still cost too much” although they agree that the ROI is good.

A new vendor in the space asked what pharmaceutical companies wanted from eDetail vendors. What the best vendors offered were eyeballs (access to physicians) and analytics. Pharma companies actually want to own the physicians and are not content to “rent” lists from vendors. Some vendors have pushed back and refused to deal. That may be the Achilles heal of eDetailing.

One of the highlights of the conference was my live podcast during the lunch break on the second day.

Joining me for my podcast was Mark Bard, President, Manhattan Research, Harry Sweeney, CEO of Dorland Global Health Communications, Svetlana Toun, SVP, International Strategic Alliances, Alansis Media, Steven Krein, CEO of OrganizedWisdom, and Unity Stoakes, CMO at OrganizedWisdom. Fard Johnmar, Founder of Envision Solutions, L.L.C. and fellow blogger over at Healthcare Vox also joined in by phone.

Listen to what these experts have to say about social networking and how pharmaceutical marketers should get involved. Click here to listen to an archive of this podcast. You will need Microsoft Media player. Go to the Pharma Marketing Talk Host Page for other options and to listen to previous podcasts.