My goal in attending conferences like CBI’s iPharmaCONNECT, which is currently in progress in Philadelphia, is to come away with at least one new topic worthy of discussion. Thanks to yesterday’s session on “What Makes a Health App Effective?” presented by Jim Dayton (@JimDayton), Snr Dir Emerging Media at Intouch Solutions, I have a topic I think worthy: Are we getting too much religion (preaching to the faithful) versus science (useful data) at these conferences?

Dayton was reviewing the story and “success” of GoMeals, the iPhone/iPad/Android app developed by Sanofi Aventis that is intended to help people with diabetes count their calories whether at home or eating out at restaurants. I have reviewed this program in a previous post (read “The iPad as a Pharma Marketing Platform“).

One piece of data that Dayton presented was the fact that the GoMeals app has been downloaded about 415,000 times since it was launched in November 2009. Of course, it is widely known that nearly 85% of the people who download apps use them maybe once or twice and then never use them again. I did that with GoMeals. I stopped using it when my favorite local restaurants were not included in the database.

Also, like me, maybe many people downloaded the GoMeals app to multiple devices (eg, iPhones and iPads).

Thus, the number of downloads of an app is NOT a useful KPI (Key Performance Indicator), IMHO.

Dayton did mention that GoMeals enjoyed an abandon rate slightly less than the 80-85% average I mentioned above. But he couldn’t (or wouldn’t) give the audience any hard data regarding that or practically anything else that might be considered a true KPI.

Dayton, of course, is limited in what he can reveal about his client’s product. It’s obvious, however, that Sanofi considers GoMeals a success because it has continued to update the program and supports it with a web site and a twitter account. All of this requires a certain commitment of resources. But is this commitment justified by relevant data or just because the faithful believe in the program? Do you justify money spent by science or by religion?

Sanofi obviously collects useful data from GoMeals users. For example, the application includes a survey that asks questions such as:

  1. Do you or anyone in your household who uses GoMeals have diabetes?
  2. How often do you use GoMeals?
Answers to these critical questions would provide some true KPIs. Unfortunately, we don’t know what the answers are unless Sanofi chooses to reveal them.
That lead me to ask an unusual question during the panel session yesterday; namely, why doesn’t Sanofi reveal these data? The only answer I got was that GoMeals was considered an important part of the marketing plan and therefore that information was proprietary.
I understand that there is a lot of competition among pharma companies in the Type 2 diabetes arena and a lot of this has to do with diets, meals, and menus rather than the benefits of the drugs being marketed (see “Three Companies Compete for Diabetes Market Share Using Recipes Rather Than Product Efficacy“). If competing on helping diabetics with meal planning is the most important part of your marketing plan, then sure, you got to keep this stuff secret.
But how important are mobile apps in pharma’s integrated marketing approach? It’s got to be a very small part of the pie in terms of resources. If Sanofi revealed what percent of the GoMeals users actually had diabetes, would that be giving too much away?
Why should pharma companies reveal more hard data that can prove (or disprove) the effectiveness of social media and mobile apps? If the SM and mobile evangelists want to convince us that pharma should be doing more in this area, they need to give us some hard data in support of that. If they hide these data and just report “soft,” meaningless numbers, I think they are preaching, not teaching.