NEW YORK: Content marketing could become a powerful tool for pharma brands to connect with consumers in new ways, a leading executive has argued.

Trish Nettleship, director/social media and influence at pharma group UCB, told delegates at the ePharma Summit – an event organised by the Institute for International Research – that this strategy had vast potential.

"I think there's an opportunity for us in therapeutic areas to be trusted partners, advisers, in that space. And content marketing, we've found, is the best way to start to build that trust," she said.

"We have patients that need more and more information, and providing that content is one way to reach them." (For more, including how UCB built an online community for sufferers of epilepsy, read Warc's exclusive report: How UCB built engagement on Facebook.)

A growing number of consumers, Nettleship asserted, are looking online for information regarding conditions and possible treatments.

Moreover, many choose to discuss what they have learned with doctors, and even to seek a second opinion if they are not convinced about an initial diagnosis.

"Patients are out there; they're going online to find information – whether it be on Google, WebMD, your sites. They're also taking action on that information," Nettleship informed the conference audience.

Social media is playing a key part in this process, especially – but not exclusively – among younger consumers, who have high levels of trust in the information acquired via this channel.

And social sites like Facebook are a natural fit for brands keen to leverage content marketing, be it through videos or by simply distributing snippets of useful hints, tips, facts and figures.

"You have the ability to be more frequent" on this channel compared with brand sites, Nettleship said. "It's a great way to get our message out there more frequently in bite-size chunks."

While some pharma brands have been hesitant about utilising social platforms, she suggested this caution might result in them missing out on a clear opportunity. UCB plans to avoid making that mistake.

"We have to position ourselves as a thought leader. We have to help our patients. We have to get above the noise. And the best way that I know how to do that, at least in the digital space, is content marketing," said Nettleship.

Data sourced from Warc