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How to Overcome Inertia and Adopt Omnichannel Marketing for Pharma


Omnichannel marketing touts delivering efforts across all channels simultaneously, and looks to dethrone the incumbent multichannel marketing, but making the switch isn't exactly easy.

Omnichannel marketing is gaining traction within the pharmaceutical industry as a concept, replacing the current dominant multichannel marketing approach. The omnichannel model is attractive as it promises to help orchestrate and optimize all marketing efforts across channels and multiple stakeholders simultaneously, while delivering a more honest view of promotional ROI and helping to reduce marketing waste.

However, the prospect of shifting to omnichannel can appear overwhelming at the onset. Nevertheless, pharmaceutical organizations that are prepared to make the shift will have the opportunity to generate unprecedented benefits for their brands and for their customers (patients, healthcare professionals, and payers).

Why is the shift towards omnichannel marketing seemingly so difficult?

There are several reasons why pharmaceutical companies are struggling to make the shift towards a full omnichannel approach.

The framework of multichannel marketing is so ingrained in the mindset of many organizations and brand marketers that inertia is understandable. The traditional model has been used with moderate success for decades. Whether supporting a newly launching brand or continued support for a mature brand, the mantra has been: “We’ve always done it this way.”

As the approach is deeply ingrained, brand health and KPIs are rooted in the multichannel approach. Therefore, brand leaders with visibility in the organization observed that success within these parameters is often tied (in whole or in part) to promotions, bonuses, and other incentives. If you or your team have experienced continued success within this framework, there may be a perceived disincentive to move in a new direction.

The current multichannel marketing model largely mirrors the fragmented nature of organizations today. As an example, the people developing and executing the consumer strategy, and the people formulating the professional strategy may be two completely different teams, and they are not often looking at the interplay between the audiences as a result of this siloed approach.

Agency services also reflect this fragmentation. The agency working on the digital strategy is typically different from the agency working on the TV strategy, media support is often separate from the creative and account services, etc.

Cognizant of these circumstances, we find ourselves in situations where the traditional approach and supporting measurement framework are designed to reward on success metrics that are based on outdated thinking. Breaking things apart to bond them together again takes effort and diligence and many teams do not have the time or resources necessary to do so.

Why have cracks in the multichannel model begun to occur?

Despite the ingrained nature of the multichannel model, cracks in this approach are becoming more and more visible.

With the multichannel approach, channel impact or return on investment are viewed on a channel-by-channel basis and operate under the assumption that a channel or tactic is solely responsible for the new patient start. In stark contrast to this are the media-mix model results provided every six months or so by the organization’s internal advanced analytics teams. These results are aligned more so to the omnichannel approach, and thereby, account for variables such as the overlap across channels and audiences. With everything reported in silos in the channel ROI reporting approach, results are often contradictory in nature to the media-mix model results, potentially leading to confusion (at best) and misinterpretation in informing strategy (at worst).

Let’s consider this example: Assume that I am a potential new patient start who saw Brand X’s commercial on TV and was exposed to digital display during my health information journey shortly thereafter. In the siloed approach of multichannel, both TV and digital would get credit for the conversion despite there only being one individual (me) with one Rx in hand. The media-mix model would then only count one new patient start, which reflects reality. There is already potential for contradictory results and we haven’t even addressed the added complexity of healthcare professional promotion (both personal and non-personal), the impact of payers, etc.

Increasingly marketers acknowledge that there is a disconnect between these KPIs and the business reality – causing them to ask how they can bridge the gap. Thankfully, the evolution of the technology and data available to support more complex analytics has increasingly enabled a more integrated view across all channels and audiences. For example, our client reports can be provided weekly, monthly, or quarterly for all channels and audiences, and these data points can flow into an omnichannel approach more akin to a media-mix model.

Are smaller, emerging biopharma companies more adaptive when it comes to omnichannel marketing?

Using a metaphor, it is easier to change course rapidly and navigate more nimbly with a small boat than to do so with an ocean liner or cargo ship. If an emerging company has a small number of brands or a single entrant in the market, there is less history (or baggage) that encourages brands to do things “the old way,” and therefore, affords the freedom to chart a different course.

Additionally, many emerging companies are serving smaller and/or rare disease populations with new and novel types of therapies. When attempting to reach a diabetes audience, you may be able to rely on higher reach channels and be comfortable with large amounts of waste. However, with smaller disease states, your efforts require precision in execution, and you need a measurement framework and approach to know quickly what is (and is not) resonating with your audience. Companies faced with these challenges are more open to exploring a new approach, and often their success is linked to embracing new ideas - especially during a critical launch phase.

How can pharma move towards the omnichannel approach?

Adopting an omnichannel marketing approach requires a fundamental shift in how marketers simultaneously orchestrate and execute their promotional strategies across media channels and address the needs of multiple stakeholders – consumer, healthcare professionals, and payers.

Conceptually, pharma companies concur that the omnichannel model is the future, and they agree that the interplay of channels and audiences is the best way to understand overall impact and optimize accordingly. However, many conversations stop prior to the execution phase, when in reality, it will take stakeholders with influence across all brands to share the omnichannel vision and gain consensus.

Here are some ways that advanced pharmaceutical companies have started to move successfully towards the omnichannel model:

  • Leadership: It often comes down to sponsorship from a person or team in a position of authority to create the needed buy-in across the organization. Organizations need the right leader with the right vision, as well as empowered stakeholders to drive change. These are typically individuals who sit above the brand level, as it is unlikely that a single brand alone will drive this change within a larger organization that owns multiple brands and serves multiple patient populations.
  • Resources: Change agents are not enough. Those driving this change also need to have the resources, time, and budget to do so. Given that these investments may not easily tie to a positive ROI in year one, the business case demonstrating the longer-term value of the shift to omnichannel may be met with resistance in securing the necessary resources.
  • Pilots: In the event that the steps need to be more incremental in nature before organizational buy-in can be obtained, it may make sense to work with IQVIA on a pilot brand. However, the pilot approach can be challenging as an ideal brand must be selected. Investment in multiple channels and multiple audiences is a must as the proof of concept needs to show how things work in concert rather than in silos. Absence of these criteria can allow those that resist to poke holes, and the longer one waits for actionable results and proof points, the greater the risk that change momentum can be lost. Therefore, the pilot model carries risks, and some people may choose to stay the course rather than see the process through to recognize the rewards.

Omnichannel marketing is the future

The omnichannel marketing approach is the model of the future for pharmaceutical brands and organizations. The path to broad adoption will be difficult as it requires a breakdown of organizational siloes and mindsets. However, the rewards are compelling, and companies will reap the benefits for their own organizations, while also delivering better results for all of their customers.

By Andrew Burkus

Principal, Omnichannel Marketing, IQVIA

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