According to Deloitte Consulting, healthcare and pharma marketers spent just $1.4bn on digital ads, a figure that lags marketers in other industries.

One of the consequences of this digital underinvestment is that this has created opportunities for third parties to become the go-to resources for consumers and physicians looking for healthcare information online.

Our new Embracing Digital Transformation in the Pharma and Healthcare sectors report looks at the opportunities and challenges faced by organisations looking to respond to competition, and the changing needs of their customers and the approaches they are taking.

The research is based on interviews with senior digital professionals across a range of pharmaceutical, biotech and consumer healthcare companies which included Alere Inc, Fermenta Biotech Limited, GSK Consumer Healthcare, MSD AP, Lenovo Health, Ogilvy Commonhealth Worldwide, Roche Products Limited and Takeda Pharmaceuticals.

It was also supplemented with data from our own research looking at digital trends for 2016 and beyond, along with third party research.

For more insight, Econsultancy subscribers can download the full report, but here are several key trends and insights emerging from the study.

Responding to changing customer needs

Consumers are increasingly expecting the same level of experiences from brands, whether they be digital trend setters like Amazon and Apple or healthcare providers.

Companies are looking at how digital can improve the relationship their sales reps have with their customers and how they can impact the experience for the end consumer or patient.

This need to focus on the customer experience by putting the customer at the centre was highlighted by some of the companies interviewed.

This is backed up by Econsultancy’s survey which shows that just over a fifth of company respondents from the pharma and healthcare sectors said that customer experience represents the single most exciting opportunity for their organisation to deliver on their priorities for 2016.

Which one area is the single most exciting opportunity for your organisation in 2016?

However, some companies we interviewed said that defining what customer experience means is a challenge.

Companies emphasised the importance of developing and strengthening relationships with customers and looking at ways to provide added value services and the role that digital could play in supporting this.

For many companies they were focusing on customer journey mapping to understand the touchpoints and the experience customers have with their products and how they engage with their brand to identify any pain points where digital can improve the experience.

Companies talked about the challenge they were still facing around the ROI of digital and the need for new customer-focused indicators.

Measuring engagement and satisfaction is becoming increasingly important to understand the quality of interactions.

Content optimisation seen as top digital priority

Companies talked about the need to deliver more timely and relevant content.

This focus on optimising content was highlighted as a top digital priority for 2016 by close to a third of pharma and healthcare companies, with targeting and personalisation ranked second by just over a quarter of respondents.

Which three digital-related areas are the top priorities for your organisation in 2016?

With the focus on digital services becoming more automated and personalised a number of pharma companies talked about moving into the area of marketing automation.

They recognised the need to serve more relevant content based on a customer’s profile that is more relative to their needs and provided in a much more efficient and timely way.

Digital needs to be part of the DNA of the organisation

For many companies it is about ensuring digital is a part of the DNA of the organisation, where digital and traditional are fully integrated.

For this to be effective and for digital to thrive and not be seen as a one-off project, the right culture and skills need to be in place.

Companies were embarking on a number of ways to drive this cultural shift.

Digital technology is changing the traditional and highly-regulated world of pharma and healthcare.

We are witnessing a shifting focus towards health and wellness and digital is presenting new opportunities for companies to get closer to their customers and enhance the customer experience.

Pharma and healthcare organisations are therefore not immune to digital transformation and can no longer treat digital as a separate bolt-on to the traditional way of doing things.

For more insight download our new Embracing Digital Transformation in Pharma and Healthcare sectors report.