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Spurred on by COVID-19 and companies’ evolving digital maturity, AI looks set to gain a real foothold in pharma’s promotional activities.
A 2021 report from ZS on the potential of artificial intelligence (AI) in sales and marketing noted that pharma’s promotional environment now “requires significantly more sophistication in commercial approaches than in the past.” As such, “companies will win big by using AI to personalize intelligent engagement, maintain consistent exposure, and improve coordination across promotional channels.”1 A survey released around the same time suggested that the next few years will see AI/analytics in sales and marketing rise from a current use rate of 4% to around 18%.2
Supporting these views, customer engagement company Aktana has observed more companies scaling their AI capabilities across multiple geographies, therapeutic areas, and brands, exhibiting a much stronger commitment than simply “dipping a proverbial toe into the AI pool, as they have been doing for the last three to five years.” During that time, pharma began building digital channels at scale, but the effect did not “automatically translate to the physician experience because it wasn’t orchestrated in the right way,” says Aktana Co-founder and Chief Operating Officer Derek Choy. Today, however, Choy says he’s seeing companies progress beyond those early stumbling blocks and use AI to put their data together and coordinate their channels at scale in a much faster way.
These objectives have been on the horizon for years, of course, but we have COVID to thank for expediting pharma’s investment in and optimization of digital channels. During the pandemic, many physicians also came to the realization that they have useful options in engaging with life sciences companies. It’s not just the COVID effect driving the AI upsurge, however. “Companies are finally at the point where they are ready to leverage their data,” says Choy. “Ten years ago, they weren’t. Their data sources weren’t all in the same place; they had no way of integrating or matching data from different channels.” People are also more comfortable doing more with data and analytics, he adds, and confident that they’re not “losing control, because they know they can maintain the right level of human oversight.” And while the technology has long been able to facilitate broad-scale, multi-geography engagements, only recently have companies put the right governance and infrastructure in place to effectively manage such large-scale projects. “Now we are seeing companies looking to implement the right technology architecture, develop a common set of use cases, build the right foundation, standardize their data models, and adapt them quickly to scale,” explains Choy.
Like AI, omnichannel has been a concept approached tentatively by pharma. Its definition hasn’t always been fully grasped. Even today, it can be confused with multichannel. But while the terminology can still be problematic, Choy thinks “this is lessening and will reduce over time.” He explains, “We’re seeing a growing maturity around omnichannel; people have had to engage with it more and more over the last year.” Again, AI is helping. “The technology puts all the possible actions together, aligns them with your goals and prioritizes them. But it ensures you’re respecting the constraints,” Choy explains. “For example, it might recommend a certain action because a physician previously demonstrated that they’re more interested in face-to-face interactions for one particular topic. For other topics, they might have shown that they’re open to an email or a virtual call. The technology gives the rep that information and translates it into a recommended action at a point in time, while still giving them the choice to decide what to do afterward. On a broader scale, it can work across the entire commercial organization, triggering the right brand marketing campaigns and actions in accordance with that logic.”
Choy says that rather than just validating the value of AI, life sciences commercial and medical teams are now “realizing the value of AI—in a big way. He adds, “In 2022, expect to see more and more companies looking to roll out AI programs across multiple brands and countries simultaneously.”
Julian Upton is Pharm Exec’s European and Online Editor. He can be reached at email@example.com.