Executive Summary

Messaging apps are changing how the world communicates. The shift toward mobile, decentralized communication is rapid and poses far-reaching implications for how all businesses reach consumers. But, this digital transformation in pharma in particular, represents a troubling paradox. Compliance regulations and governance requirements put pressure on pharma enterprises to employ centralized communication tools like phone and email; but messaging is fast making traditional channels obsolete in critical overseas markets, such as India and Brazil, where growth forecasts for pharma are 9.6% and 7.7%, respectively.

However, the adoption rate for messaging apps has been exponential and the scale is staggering: The total monthly active users for the top four apps combined account for more than half the global population. The question isn’t whether pharma can reconcile regulation and risk management with messaging apps, it’s how can they afford not to? The changing nature of how we communicate is forcing the pharmaceutical and healthcare industries into digital transformation. 

WhatsApp Leads The Way 

Of the top messaging apps, WhatsApp has emerged as a clear leader, with greater coverage globally than its closest rival, WeChat, which is exclusive to China.

Consider the evidence: 

  • As of early 2018, WhatsApp is the top messaging app in 128 countries.
  • From 2016 to 2017, WhatsApp went from 1 Billion users messaging at least once per month to over 1 Billion people messaging at least once per day.
  • In Brazil, 96% of smartphone owners use WhatsApp as their primary communication channel.

In addition to adoption, WhatsApp rules for usage, too. The average Indian user spends 38 minutes using the app every day, whereas in Brazil, average usage is one hour. Free and far more reliable than SMS, ex-U.S. smartphone owners use WhatsApp for basically everything.
If WhatsApp is where people are spending their time, what’s holding your business back from joining them as part of your digital transformation strategy?

From Messages to Real Economic Impact

For WhatsApp, enterprise business usage is associated with real economic growth. Some studies estimate that a five percentage point increase in WhatsApp enterprise adoption may generate as much as $22.9 billion globally. In a recent economic impact report, economists estimated the value of consumer discretionary spending associated with WhatsApp communication to be over $9.6 billion in India and greater than $12 billion in Brazil. To this end, WhatsApp found that 80% of small businesses in Brazil and India use the app to communicate with customers. This usage was compelling enough for WhatsApp to launch a business version of their app with enhanced customer service and marketing functionality for SMEs in select international markets in January of this year.

A five percentage point increase in WhatsApp adoption may generate as much as $22.9 billion globally.

Consumer-Driven Innovation

Overseas consumers now have new expectations around the ability to reach service providers, customer service, and businesses via WhatsApp. People use WhatsApp for their jobs and businesses. In the overseas workplace, people use WhatsApp to:

  • Plan future tasks or work
  • Check in about ongoing projects
  • Plan meetings
  • Send documents
  • Be more productive

As consumers, they’re using it to contact owners, coordinate deliveries, schedule appointments, and, critical to pharmaceutical companies, talk with doctors and pharmacists. Whatsapp is a driving force behind the healthcare digital transformation trend in Brazil of doctors communicating digitally with patients. Nearly 90% of doctors communicating digitally with patients are using Whatsapp for on-demand healthcare.

The ease of sending photos in WhatsApp helps people communicate with pharmacists. From a focus group of Indian consumers:
  • (I) send the chemists pictures of what the doctor has prescribed... just send a picture of the bottle that we want because many times we don’t know the spelling or we don’t know the pronunciations. Then they tell us about availability and we go and buy it from the store
  • Suppose I have some prescription and I have already met the doctor then I can message him that this is the problem ... means we don’t have to go there, we don’t have to take their appointment and wait


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Key Takeaway

Businesses in the healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors that ignore WhatsApp as part of their digital transformation strategies risk losing out in vital markets. Both local competitors and faster-moving global competitors will seize market share.

The Business Choice is Clear
For enterprise pharma looking to grow in overseas markets, it’s time to adopt WhatsApp. The benefits of digital transformation in healthcare are clear and the opportunity is too big to ignore. Many digital transformation initiatives are already using Whatsapp. Brands are taking advantage of the ability to support individual customer concerns or questions, and many anticipate WhatsApp will one day allow micro-targeting marketing messages much the way Facebook currently does (Facebook acquired WhatsApp in 2014). WhatsApp knows the economic opportunity and continually experiments with new features to help brands and companies connect with consumers more effectively. There are a lot of exciting developments in digital transformation strategy in the healthcare and pharma industries. One common one is the development of brand-specific message bots to field requests using artificial intelligence or WhatsApp for marketing and brand building campaigns that you might have traditionally seen on Facebook or Twitter.
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