Cleverpeeps catches up with an old friend and partner in the popular digitally sick podcast the very talented Alex Butler
Tell us a bit about yourself?
I studied ancient history and ancient languages at university, I was from an age when even though I could have gone into science or mathematics, arts and the humanities was my passion and this is direction I took. The modern business challenge is about communications and the distilling of information and meaning from large and complex abstract data. Amazingly history and languages are a perfect training ground for 21st Century digital,
I have worked across the pharmaceutical industry with marketing, corporate and brand communications and digital and social media strategy and finally leading marketing communications for Europe, Middle East and Africa for Johnson & Johnson pharmaceuticals.
Having worked in pharma for 12 years before setting up a digital healthcare agency called The Social Moon, this challenge and reward is heightened by the tough regulations and the possibility of directly improving people’s health.
I think we are privileged and lucky to live in the age we do. This blink of an eye that has been the age of computers has already moved into world of almost limitless connectivity and communication.
Where did you start your career?
I started my career at the bottom of the pharmaceutical ladder as a part time sales representative selling unremarkable drugs to uninterested GP’s across what seemed at the time the wastelands of Northamptonshire, England. Even though this was a stop gap at 21 years old until I decided what I wanted to do, for some crazy reason I caught the bug for pharmaceuticals and within months had moved into a more substantial and rewarding role.
Any tips for people wanting to get into marketing communications?
I am going to completely contradict myself here, but then life is all about contradictions.
Marketing is a science and a process; I lecture for the Chartered Institute of Marketing and write on marketing application in digital. I also am a member of the Wharton University Future of Advertising global advisory board. Academic understanding is essential and often not pushed or demanded rigorously enough in pharmaceuticals.
However, I think that marketing and especially digital marketing and communications is about intuition and emotion. People who just do things in life because they feel they should; the right degree, the right social clubs and even the right friends will not be the kind of people to drive change through the most disruptive period in marketing history.
If you want to get in and make a difference you should be brave, build your own personal brand, read and listen to people and get in touch with the companies that turn you on directly and in imaginative ways.
Who inspired you in marketing?
I have always been inspired by people who persevered and believed when others said they would fail. Having a poorly developed sense of fear allied to a personal code and focussed determination seems to make the difference.
The inspirations for me include Alan Turing, English mathematician, logician, cryptanalyst, and computer scientist, Nolan Bushnell who founded Atari, Steve Jobs who’s vision and determination epitomise the technology entrepreneur, Jean-François Champollion the French classical scholar who was fundamental to the deciphering of ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphs.
You’ve been behind some amazing social media campaigns, what inspired you?
The inspiration for social media within the pharmaceutical companies should primarily come from a desire to help and support people. Historically pharma companies have invested millions in the support of patients but this has almost always been mediated by healthcare professionals, patient organisations and other third parties. We now have an opportunity to directly communicate with the public; this is a big step for pharma due to the strict regulations and the broadly conservative company culture.
Campaigns I designed, such as one in psoriasis (a chronic immune mediated skin condition), was founded on simple principle that we should reach out to people with tools to help them manage and understand the condition. We knew that people living with psoriasis often did not have a good understanding of the severity of their condition, could not fully comprehend the often large impact this had on their quality of life and were not good at speaking to their doctor. We created applications to help people and then reached them through a multi-platform and multi-channel approach including the world first pharmaceutical company managed disease awareness facebook community. Tens of thousands of people accessed these tools through facebook alone and the app entered the iTunes top ten for medical applications.
The driver was not to do facebook or YouTube but to help as many people as possible by going to them rather than expecting them to come to us.
In the world of a fully socialised internet it is a fundamental responsibility for pharma companies to be present; this can be done with the right mind-set.
After so many years in digital marketing - why do you think it’s such as great industry to work in?
We are coming to a point where the separation of digital marketing from marketing not only makes no logical sense but is counter-productive to a company’s strategic focus. That being said digital is my passion even though it is built on a broader understanding of marketing and communications.
It is a great industry simply because we are living through the most exciting period in the history of marketing and communications. Digital has gone in 20 years from being a peripheral experiment to an essential fundamental in the strategy of serious marketers. Today digital is going one stage further and redefining the very foundations of marketing itself. Yet still many people think of digital as assets, appliances and platforms. The true value of digital is in the processes they improve in people’s lives; even though there are a few marketers who are building online customer relationships, many are just building websites or mobile applications.
For the person with the right attitude and philosophy this is right place to be to make a difference for businesses whatever they do, it is very exciting to be involved.
Tell us about The Social Moon?
The Social Moon is a digital marketing agency that specialises in the healthcare sector. We provide a full service from strategy through to production and implementation ranging from the fundamentals of website design and build, mobile and social media design and community management through to expertise in games and motivational design and online influence mapping (including bespoke influence portals in complex disease areas such as diabetes). The emphasis is on the bridge between integrated digital strategy and high quality production.
Why did you start it?
Even in a senior position in a very large company I could not find an agency that provided both the strategic understanding and the ability to produce high quality assets. There was also no in depth understanding of long term community management and support-a key part of digital planning and implementation within an organisation.
I believed that health deserved an agency that could provide broad expertise and an understanding of the regulations and special requirements of working with pharmaceutical companies.
How you helping healthcare marketing?
With all of the above! Bringing the company together both internally and with the wider world to make it happen. Digital and social technologies have the capacity to revolutionise health and pharmaceutical companies business, if implemented sustainably and in an integrated manner.
What marketing/advertising books do you recommend?
I would recommend The Master Switch by Tim Wu, The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood by James Gleick, anything by Clay Shirky especially Cognitive Surplus.
Who should we follow on Twitter to get some clever ideas from?
If you are interested in social media and healthcare you can follow a whole range of fantastic people on hashtags such as #hcsmeu #hcsm #hcsmuk.
You can link with me at @alex__butler on twitter and I of course recommend my illustrious Digitally Sick podcast colleagues @sickonthenet and @andrewspong
Check out social moon here