Pharma’s ignorance of China’s booming mobile web

By the end of June 2012, mobile had overtaken desktop as the most popular device to surf the web for China’s 538 million Internet users, according to the China Internet Network Information Centre.  As we pointed out in a recent blog post on mobile marketing, China has reached this ‘tipping point’ ahead of the U.S. where it’s predicted to happen by 2014.

This growing adoption of mobile is something that is affecting all industries, including pharma.  According to Manhattan’s latest China research, 87% of Chinese physicians own/use mobile phones for professional services (whilst 82% own/use desktops/laptops), and they spend a combined 38% of their professional online time on smartphones, PDAs and tablets.

Curious to see how well Pharma has responded to the trend, we visited the top 10 pharma companies’ Chinese sites, and astonishingly found that none of them currently have a Chinese mobile-optimised site.

Similarly,  mobile ad spend in China only accounts for 1.5% of total ad spending.  This echoes the misalignment in marketer’s channel selection in China and Chinese consumers’ digital consumption habits outlined in an earlier blog post.

Our experience with clients shed some light on the reluctance to move into mobile marketing in China.  Apart from the usual compliance, legal, and language/cultural barrier concerns, the key issue seems to be a psychological one – the idea that Chinese consumers are digitally savvy is yet to sink in with many pharma marketers.

However, evidence is mounting that mobile is an increasingly essential channel for reaching Chinese audiences, and it’s only going to get more influential, as mobile internet access grows thanks to an increase in 3G penetration from 9% in 2011 to 31% in 2015.

To effectively reach Chinese HCPs and patients, pharma marketers need to stop burying their heads in the sand, and start incorporating mobile as part of their multichannel marketing mix.  Mobile marketing in China is no longer a-nice-to-have, it’s a necessity.

So where do you start? Here are five questions to ask when it comes to mobile marketing planning:

1.   What can you use mobile marketing for?

There are two broad categories when we refer to mobile marketing:

  •  As a reach channel : such as mobile sites, mobile search, mobile display advertising, QR codes, eDetailing (via Tablets), SMS/MMS, location-based marketing
  • As a standalone product/service: such as apps, games, remote monitoring devices, and augmented reality applications.

Mobile’s unique characteristics also pose distinctive opportunities and risks compared to other channels:

  • It’s personal – so while the impact can be stronger as an engagement tool, the damage on the relationship can be greater if you abuse it;
  • It’s instant and highly interactive – 95% of text messages are opened within 15 minutes;
  • It’s always-on;
  • It’s geographically aware – great for location-based offerings
  • The screen sizes are smaller – so content, tasks and interaction elements must take this constraint into account

Understanding these fundamentals enables you to maximise the opportunities of mobile marketing and have more meaningful conversations with your marketing agencies. 

2.   What role should mobile play in your overall China marketing strategy?

Given its unique characteristics, mobile lends itself as a fantastic engagement tool where interactivity and on-the-go convenience is required.  In China, mobile is great for targeting consumers in rural areas (which is also where growth will come from). 

Start with your overall marketing objectives and define what role mobile is best suited to play and how it would best work with other channels. Integration planning should be at the beginning, not the end of your plan! 

3.   What is your Chinese audience using mobile for?

According to Manhattan’s 2012 China research, the most common functions used by HCPs for professional purposes are text messaging; instant messaging; visiting websites (to read, look up information, or network); and checking and sending emails.  Mobile apps usage is considerably lower compared to visiting websites (28% vs 60%), and over half (52%) of physicians are turning to general social media platforms for professional purposes such as Tecent’s QQ and Kai Xin.

4.   What are the implications of the audience and market insights?

Focus on tactics that align with consumption habits and attitudes of Chinese mobile users, as well as China’s unique market conditions.  The key implications based on Manhattan’s China research tell us that:

  • A mobile-optimised site should be given higher priority over apps in your mobile strategy
  • Make sure your emails are optimised for mobile
  • HCPs use mobiles to look up information – make sure your site is findable on mobile
  • Your presence and content on social networks – are they optimised for mobile? Consider resources you link to from social networks as well.

Keep in mind that regional differences can be vast so the data should be validated for the region you are targeting.  Also many people, especially in rural areas, are still using relatively un-sophisticated devices, so try avoiding bandwidth intensive applications.

5.   Are you measuring and optimising?

The same rules apply as with other channels: measure, test, and optimise to get the most value from your investment.

Mobile marketing in China is not optional; ignore it and you risk missing out on one of the critical channels to reach your customers.  Are you ready to seize the opportunities this movement brings and be the first ones to reap the benefits?

Download our latest whitepaper: A Pharma Marketer’s Guide to the Mobile Web for more insight into how mobile is currently being used by pharma globally. 

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