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2021 Will Be Another Transformative Year for Digital Marketing


Brand Insights - Thought Leadership | Paid Program

While COVID-driven challenges remain many, so do the carryover opportunities to redefine HCP engagement and communication.

Healthcare marketers experienced a year like no other in 2020. In March 2020, everything changed within a couple of weeks. COVID-19 changed the way physicians were able to practice medicine. Quarantine laws quickly shuttered practices and locked down hospitals, while the unprecedented stress placed on the healthcare system demanded the focus of our healthcare professional (HCP) customers. Necessity quickly became the impetus of much of the digital transformation that we saw across our industry last year.

Our team at BioPharm worked with brands across a variety of initiatives as the COVID-19 crisis developed in 2020, and therefore had a firsthand look at the range of experiences that marketing and sales teams were facing. While some brands were scaling back operations, others were launching new products into the marketplace. HCP experiences were also vastly different depending on factors such as geography, specialty, and addressable patient population as outbreaks were experienced across the country.

While we worked to solve many different problems driven by the crisis, we also faced some very common hurdles:

  1. The abrupt (and continued) loss of physical access and face-to-face selling was a game changer. Physician practices and hospitals have been inaccessible to many sales reps for nearly a year now. According to IQVIA’s 2020 Year in Review, this caused a decline of more than 55% in live rep details,1 forcing brands to rethink how they utilize their most effective communication asset.
  2. An entire industry shifting focus from personal selling to virtual promotion at the same time created more digital clutter across channels. The ongoing trend of shifting away from print toward digital was therefore exacerbated.
  3. Our HCP customers were very much focused on learning and adjusting to their new normal through the first half of 2020. Quarantine restrictions reduced the number of patient diagnosis visits by more than 900 million,1 drastically eroding the number of new prescriptions being written.

2021 will be an important year for defining the future of how we drive share with HCPs. The trends and behavior changes that started in 2020 will become more of the norm this year. As brands look at the year ahead, here are three areas to think about:

  1. Brands will be making better use of the customer relationship management tools that they adopted or increased use of in 2020. HCPs have illustrated that they’re willing to engage with non-personal promotion, but it must be contextual to their current reality. More dynamic, personalized journeys will be required to provide the next best message and/or action for each customer’s user experience. Use of triggered communications should also be considered to provide data-driven, timely, and relevant information to our customers.
  2. Leveraging key opinion leaders (KOLs) in the era of COVID-19 will continue to be a challenge. Dinner meetings, congresses, and many more KOL-led events were cancelled in 2020, taking away one of a brand’s most crucial share-building assets. While meetings and conferences went virtual, the impact of KOL thought leadership was diminished in many cases. Brands need to think about how they can innovate their approach to thought leaders and messaging in 2021.
  3. In most cases, the role of the sales rep channel will not go back to pre-COVID-19 norms. The last nine months have created a fundamental shift in the way HCPs are going to interact with brands and their sales reps in the future. A recent Accenture survey showed that 39% of HCPs want all rep meetings to be virtual even after the pandemic ends, while only 10% of HCPs want to go back to pre-COVID-19 norms for in-person meetings.2 Brand support will continue to be important to these customers. It’s how we provide that support that will determine success.

2021 will be an important year for digital transformation. While the challenges are many, we have an opportunity to redefine the way we communicate and build relationships with our HCP customers, not only during the pandemic, but well into the future.


1. IQVIA, “Monitoring the Impact of COVID-19 on the Pharmaceutical Market,” Published Dec. 18, 2020.

2. Accenture, “Pharma Companies Have Improved How They Engage with Healthcare Providers During COVID-19, Finds New Research from Accenture,” Press Release, Aug. 10, 2020.