Comparing Three Common Pharma Communication Avenues

There is no question that communication with healthcare professionals (HCPs) remains a priority for the pharmaceutical and life sciences industry these days. Many organizations continue to adopt more digital tools and channels to increase efficiency.

As many likely witnessed several years ago, the industry experienced the advent of mobile apps; then, remote conferencing and detailing became a must. Now, social media and messenger campaigns have become the “new world” to discover.

There are several different approaches in pharma-HCP communication that are clearly the best in terms of digital transformation. Over the years, working on digital transformation in pharma, it’s apparent that these technologies and channels tend to follow a certain evolution within the pharmaceutical and life sciences industries.

There is one notable peculiarity, though. Initially, early adopters enjoy the benefits of their newest competitive advantage. Over time, as more organizations include the channel or tool, the efficiency starts to decline.

Generally, different and often unique approaches to communication adopted by pharma organizations can be classified into three categories based on how the channel mix is treated.

The Bare Minimum Approach: detailing + single channel

The more ascetic strategies rely almost exclusively on traditional sales representative calls: Face to face (F2F), more recently phone and online detailing, with email as the first go-to digital channel. This self-imposed limitation mostly stems from either inertia or the unwillingness to risk investing in a new channel. And often, companies cite financial constraints.

The problem with this approach is that it typically covers only a part of the contact base, and any attempts to extend coverage result in a loss of cost-efficiency. After all, F2F visits are among the most expensive channels, so sticking to the good old model often proves more costly than adopting new channels.

Even with maximum effort, a personal promotion like rep calls, medical science liaison (MSL) calls, and conferences can only cover a little more than half of the audience at best. The main issue is that it leaves a lot of HCPs from lower-priority segments chronically overlooked. Email alone cannot solve the issue - this channel is prone to oversaturation besides the consent management problem. And, statistics show that at least 50% of email users think spam is a major problem.1

The Intermediate Approach: detailing + multichannel

This approach appears to be the most popular, with the pharma brand testing the waters of multiple channels. Apart from reps, a certain number of digital channels are used, often in detached projects and campaigns: websites, portals, webinars, contact centers, sometimes social media, messengers, or even mobile apps. The strategy still views personal communication as a staple. Nevertheless, it introduces digital touches here and there: an app for a certain HCP segment, a social media group for another, or a landing page or website for a specific campaign.

This approach mirrors the general trends from across industries as, according to different sources, about 90% of customers prefer to communicate with a brand across multiple channels.2

Over the years, the wide range of customers proves that by introducing more of these into the mix, they extend their reach and comply with the expectations of the HCPs themselves. We should not forget that life sciences are expected to be on the cutting edge in a world where we believe that digital technology will improve treatment outcomes.

At the same time, the great peril that comes with this approach is getting repetitive. When multichannel is scaled, the temptation to shoutout using each communication means can lead to excessive use. An HCP that receives the same messages via multiple channels, especially the more heavily promotional ones, is more than likely to get tired and perceive them as background noise.

Thus, the solution is in providing not separate messages but continuous dialogue, which is only achievable with the smart approach.

The Smart Approach: detailing + omnichannel

So, why is the smart approach the solution for pharma and life sciences industries? This philosophy embraces the digital channels interconnected and managed from a single palette to create and follow the personalized journeys of each customer.

In terms of channel quantity, omnichannel does not suggest plugging in more channels but rather a possibility to do so with the necessary link between them.Instead of throwing the same messages via different channels, the brand can communicate in more meaningful and coordinated ways to the customer.

This approach is already becoming the norm in retail – McKinsey states that the average omnichannel customer purchases 70 percent more often than the offline-only shopper.3

Pharmaceutical companies are starting to adopt omnichannel, too, and thinking of ways to adapt it to the industry specifics. However, it's important to understand that pharma has a unique relationship with doctors. Thus, omnichannel there will not work the same as in retail, but the point is evident. Usually, pharma faces some difficulty when it comes to measuring tangible outcomes from the implementation of this promising strategy, making it somehow less sweet than it was declared.

So, is it just another trend that comes and goes? No, omnichannel is here to stay - it offers many benefits to pharma and life sciences like improving nearly every aspect of the campaign and providing clear ROI measurements.

Pavel Klymenko is Head of Omnichannel at Viseven.

1 https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/2003/10/22/part-7-when-spam-is-a-big-problem/

2 https://www.pedowitzgroup.com/26-statistics-on-why-you-should-consider-omni-channel-marketing/

3 https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/retail/our-insights/ready-to-where-getting-sharp-on-apparel-omnichannel-excellence