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Forget Digital Differentiation: Focus on Cross-Channel ‘Fusion’


Pharmaceutical Executive

Forget digital differentiation and innovation. You need to be focusing on cross-channel ‘fusion’, writes Peter Houston.

Forget digital differentiation and innovation. You need to be focusing on cross-channel ‘fusion’, writes Peter Houston.

Like you, I get invites to attend educational webinars on an almost daily basis; I probably actually attend one every couple of weeks.

Most invites get passed over because it’s not my field, I’ve heard it all before or I don’t have the time to attend. One caught my eye recently though, mainly because a phrase in the title chimed with a lot of the work I am doing in the magazine market: “Cross-channel”.

Magazines, Pharm Exec included, are working really hard to distribute their content through the channels their audiences use most. Print is still a big one no matter what went on at Newsweek, but also so is digital in the shape of the web, email, social media and mobile apps.

Of course, the quest to fill your target audience’s information channels is every bit as relevant to pharma leaders as it is to magazine editors: Focus on one place and you’ll get passed over. With this imperative in mind, I got in touch with Fonny Schenck at digital marketing firm Across Health, the organiser of the “Cross-Channel” webinar that caught my eye, to ask him his views on cross-channel marketing in pharma.

He explained that companies are coming to realize that digital is not just about “differentiation” and “innovation” - the next stage is “fusion”, the integration of digital into the overall marketing mix.

Isn’t digital going to take over the whole world though? Not according to Schenck, who says, “It may replace certain channels, but it would be naïve to say that it will be the main channel.”

As you might have guessed, that doesn’t mean business as usual. “The meaning of some ‘old’ channels will be redefined thanks to the arrival of digital”, Schenck says. He cites Wolfgang Riepl, a German Newspaper editor who said way back in 1913, “New, further developed types of media never replace the existing modes of media and their usage patterns. Instead, a convergence takes place, leading to a different way and field of use for these older forms.”

Until now, most companies, whatever market they are in, have been experimenting with digital in isolation. Disconnected marketing and in many cases limited budgets, have resulted in mixed business outcomes. Schenck believes that by integrating digital channels in the overall mix, and executing coordinated cross-channel campaigns, significantly better business impacts will be seen.

There has never been a greater number of channels for pharma companies to communicate with patients and HCPs, but marketers are struggling to consolidate the opportunity. “The saying ‘tactics in search of strategy’ still holds true in pharma” says Schenck. He thinks the problem is that proven tactics are not sexy enough, the focus falls on “innovative” new channels and while it’s fine to run pilots, the problem comes when the tested tactic is not rolled out across the organization.

“Impact measurement is very often poorly done. Ideally, there is an upfront business-case assessment, followed by leading and lagging qualitative and quantitative metrics, but in most cases this data is missing. In addition, learnings are not shared rapidly across the organization, leading to reinvention of the wheel all the time,” Schenck says.

Too many digital projects are reactionary, almost about filling perceived competitive gaps in the marketing mix rather than dealing with any real information need. According to Schenck, digital is still being resorted to if the higher-cost traditional mix cannot be maintained. This can work, but it strongly depends on the market, lifecycle stage and competitive pressure.

“Digital is not a silver bullet. Increasingly, we are seeing more sophisticated uses of digital, integrated with offline channels, and initial steps towards customization, ” Schenck explains. He offers tablet detailing as an example of a clear cross-channel opportunity that is being missed.

“In our experience, this critical feature is not being used a lot. That’s probably also why most marketers are unhappy with their tablet detailing programme - ‘making tablet detailing a success’ it is the top priority of over 300 marketers who participated in our Digital Barometer 2013.”

So what does Schenck thing pharma marketers should be doing to implement effective cross-channel campaigns?
First up define the target audience and develop your key messages and action triggers. Plan for a sustained campaign across key channels with clearly defined reach, sequencing and estimated impact. Then work up a creative execution that will maximize customer engagement. It’s also important to centralize campaign management. Oh and you’ll need a cross-channel customer database.

“Increasingly, we will direct channels to customers based on their channel acceptance rather than ‘carpet bombing’. Also the messages will be customized based on the individual/segment needs. To make that ‘right message, right channel’ happen through multichannel, you need to have actionable customer information in your database - which very often is missing.”

To make it easier to figure out if all this is working, A-Cross has developed a framework to measure the impact of new channels relative to the rep impact with the intention of developing a proxy for rep activities. Schenck says a key benefit of this approach is that companies understand the metrics very well, because it links the new (digital) to an established gold standard.

“Of course, there is more to cross-channel than just creating the same share of voice through multichannel – we need to move more towards pull, personalization and online/offline integration… but it is a great start.”

The Across Health webinar, ‘Transforming fusion strategy into cross-channel execution‘ takes place April 18th at 5pm CET. It will be available on demand after that date.

Peter Houston is former Group Content Director for Advanstar Pharma Science. He is now an independent media consultant and founder of Flipping Pages.

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