Pharmaceutical Industry Digital Marketing – Best Practices and Compliance

By Mukul Nag

As pharmaceutical companies respond to changing customer preferences and trends post-pandemic, healthcare digital marketing is the trendiest and fastest growing area. Pharma could not use popular marketing strategies due to regulatory, ethical and reputational issues.

We understand the legal framework, regulatory rules and new layers to be added when digital marketing is leveraged to reach consumers and distinguish brands.

Additionally, there is a comprehensive legal framework, regulatory standards controlling all marketing by the pharmaceutical industry, and new levels to be added as each participant uses digital marketing to distinguish themselves in front of the customer.

Better Practices

As digital marketing has become part of conventional pharmaceutical organizations, our experience reveals the best strategies for high efficiency. Here are some best practices for distinguishing digital marketing.

Start with a clean slate: Digital health marketing is multi-channel. It reaches the doctor without constraints of time, place, content or personnel. Too many operations teams still conceive of digital in terms of classic physical marketing (i.e. simply giving away scientific information and branded material) without realizing how creative technology can engage influencers (for example, a series of interesting quizzes for doctors presenting their brand).

Marketing first, not ROI first: Digital can play an incredible role in making the ground fertile for increasing brand preference. With the emphasis on ROI, digital campaigns are forced to focus on generating additional sales. Instead, pharma executives need to think about how to effectively shape the narrative around their brand using digital. How about a digital campaign to build trust in the parent company’s brand – the equivalent of Intel Inside?

Stable approach to creating brands, conveying a message: Many studies show that it takes 4-7 touchpoints to move a customer from awareness to action. A 3-6 month brand building strategy is required for brand recognition and prescription action. A business that exclusively runs month-long campaigns is doomed to failure. Treating digital like a Diwali gift by focusing on something “new” every 2 months can lead to inconsistent attendance and poor results.

Measure, optimize, repeat: The secret of digital is to obtain quantifiable and impartial feedback from the prescriber. Using this input to improve digital and physical marketing is a plus. A Van Westendorp search method among doctors provided users with accurate price data. Pre- and post-BLS testing shows brand message and influence.

Break down the silos: Businesses need to migrate from digital marketing to conventional RM-led marketing to more conventional digital marketing. When companies use their on-site staff with digital marketing, they benefit from scalability, better MR engagements, and faster physician inquiries.

Use for scale and precision accuracy requirements: Digital marketing gives pharmaceutical campaigns two seemingly unrelated benefits. This can help scale up a marketing campaign quickly (e.g. Covid-related brand awareness among 25,000 doctors in 4 weeks). On the other hand, it may determine the specific interests of doctors based on what they “do” (for example, identifying the need for general practitioners in the North East to learn about pediatrics and cancer because of the lack of specialists in these geographical areas).

Internal vs outsourced: Businesses need to know what to do internally for digital marketing and where to hire outside help. A few very high-engagement social media organizations exist internationally, demonstrating that digital engagement relies on networking effects and continuous innovation. Even the merger of telecom tower companies indicates that pooling infrastructure costs is beneficial to competing organizations and best done by independent third parties.

Digital Marketing Compliance

Traditional Pharma marketing is governed primarily by the following regulations and guidelines:

The Uniform Code of Pharmaceutical Marketing Practices (UCPMP)
Medicines and Magical Remedies (Objectionable Advertisements) Act 1954
Indian Medical Council (Professional Conduct, Etiquette and Ethics) Regulations 2002
Notification GSR 1230(E) dated December 21, 2018, issued by the Ministry of Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homeopathy (AYUSH) notifying the rules on medicines and Cosmetics (Eleventh Amendment), 2018
Although not updated for the digital age, pharmaceutical companies are aware of these laws. Digital marketing introduces new components in pharmaceutical marketing that must be carefully studied and interpreted by companies.

Information Technology Act 2000: In digital marketing, IT law applies public information (PI) and sensitive public information (SPI). While PI (gender, age, location) can be used with implied permission, SPI (biometric information, medical data, and personally identifiable financial information) of physicians and patients can only be accessed with explicit consent. Computer law compliance includes liability for adware, malware, and defamatory information.

Reactivity structures: Data collection requires a Data Protection Officer (DPO). India’s Data Protection Act will extend the DPO’s liability (expected in 2022). The pharmaceutical industry must also have teams that respond to the contributions of physician users.

Internal Compliance Burden: All data, including SPI, should be handled with extraordinary caution to avoid legal and criminal proceedings under computer law. Internal management of PI and SPI data requires strong data security systems, ISO:27001 certification, and strict checks and balances.

Other compliances: Digital marketing includes other regulations such as the Advertising Standards Council of India’s code for self-regulation in advertising (ASCI code), copyright infringement and trademark violations of being deceptively similar, impersonating another, meta tags, deep links, etc.


The highly regulated pharmaceutical industry has been slow to embrace digital marketing methods. With the huge impact of the pandemic on user behavior, digital marketing should be a key strategy. Senior management needs to integrate digital marketing throughout the company, using best practices. It also requires pharmaceutical companies to follow the rules and respond quickly to users.

(The author is Advisor and Director, CLIRNET. The opinions expressed are personal and do not reflect the position or official policy of