Two years ago, in the article "Out of the SPAM Can" (Pharmaceutical Executive, November 2002), we compared e-mail marketing to the strange uncle we see only at family gatherings: No one is sure who he's
actually related to. We discussed how product managers were often willing to fund e-mail initiatives, but uncertain about
how to integrate the online component into the overall marketing mix. Unfortunately, pharmaceutical marketers today are still
missing the mark when it comes to making e-mail part of their campaign.
As it did in 2002, e-mail carries unique benefits as a marketing channel. It incurs low costs compared to other direct channels,
such as call centers and direct mail; it allows for rapid turnaround time from campaign deployment to response tracking; it
generates high response rates and a strong ability to influence consumers and physicians through more timely communications;
and it's easy to measure. But just in the last couple years, as e-mail has made its way well into the mainstream, the benefits
of the channel have been complicated by the overwhelming growth of SPAM, spoofing, phishing, and other abuses.
This article provides a fresh perspective on best practices for e-mail marketing in the pharmaceutical industry, with special
attention to today's unique and ever-present challenges.
The Benefits of Integration
E-mail is no longer limited to a niche audience. According to the 2003 Pew Internet & American Life Project, 117 million Americans
use e-mail. That's almost twice as many people as those who watched the first Presidential debate in 2004. Seniors, once thought
to be laggards in adopting e-mail, have "completely embraced" it, according to the Pew study. And e-mail users are frequent
users. The UCLA Internet Project found that 76 percent of e-mail users check their inbox every day; over a third do so at
least several times per day. According to Forrester Research, physicians are especially enthusiastic adopters of e-mail,
with 91 percent of US physicians checking e-mail at least once a week.
Despite extensive research that demonstrates the prominent role e-mail has in consumers' and physicians' daily lives, most
pharmaceutical brand managers still treat e-mail and other web communications as separate, with little or no integration with
direct mail, call centers, or other media channels. What's worse, companies often don't integrate consumer e-mail programs,
like e-newsletters, and physician programs, which are often one-off e-detail invitations, with sales force activities. In
that way, marketers are losing the amplification of benefits that e-mail can bring when it is part of a bigger marketing program.
Here are some examples of the cross-channel benefits of using e-mail marketing in an integrated fashion:
- Turning awareness into action by providing e-mail addresses in advertisements that link to auto- response systems.
- Driving new patient trials by offering an e-mailed physician-visit reminder as a follow-up to standard direct mail packages.
(A timely follow-up e-mail survey after the physician's visit can also deliver cost-effective market research to brand management.)
- Improving retention through targeted communication based on consumers' channel preferences and behavior throughout product
Similar integrated programs can be created for physicians, enabling sales representatives to send targeted follow-up e-mails
after sales calls to address specific concerns or objections. Also, from a corporate marketing perspective, a comprehensive
view of physicians enables consistent, efficient communications about a brand.