Lack of Multichannel Confidence: A Step on the Road to Digital Maturity

May 29, 2014
Peter Houston

Pharmaceutical Executive

I’ve been lucky enough to get a sneak preview of Across Health’s 2014 Multichannel Barometer report.

I’ve been lucky enough to get a sneak preview of Across Health’s 2014 Multichannel Barometer report. This is the sixth year the Belgium-based digital consultancy has conducted its Barometer survey and it’s interesting to look at the progress, or lack thereof, across the years.

Peter Houston

The data collected for last year’s survey led Across CEO Fonny Schenck to conclude that Pharma had entered the ‘trough of disillusionment’. This is the spot on Gartner’s Hype Cycle where interest in new technologies begins to weaken as ‘experiments and implementations fail to deliver’. Basically Pharma had started to wonder when the bold promises made around digital marketing would begin to pay off.

The disillusionment is even more obvious in the data drawn between February and April this year from more than 300 executives in 100 companies across Europe, the US and emerging markets. In stark contrast to other industries, where spending on multichannel initiatives is over 20 percent and rising, digital’s share of Pharma marketing budgets is down from 16 to 15.6 percent.

The reported drop in digital spend seems to be a symptom of a general dissatisfaction with multichannel marketing strategies and skillsets and a corresponding rise in demand for solid evidence of ROI.

As you would expect in 2014, the majority of survey respondents say their business has a company-wide digital strategy in place (although 40 percent don’t). The problem with those that do is that less than a quarter believe it to be well executed and more than a half say their organisation’s digital strategy is not implemented ‘rigorously’. One fifth of the 2014 Barometer survey respondents questioned the validity of the digital strategy that their companies have in place.

Underpinning this lack of belief in strategic implementation is a falling confidence in Pharma’s ability to understand and act to secure the benefits of multichannel marketing. In 2009, 31 percent of Barometer survey respondents rated their company’s expertise in digital marketing as sufficient. In this year’s survey, only 25 percent believed that knowledge levels were up to scratch.

A lack of internal skills might go some way to explaining the continued reliance on digital marketing tactics that are perceived to be of limited impact. Despite scoring a mid-ranking on the survey’s ‘impactful’ scale, Pharma-owned websites - standard practice among 80 percent of survey respondents - are still the most commonly used digital marketing channel.

Compare that with integrated cross-channel campaigns, rated at the top of the impact scale, but standard practice with just 25 percent of survey respondents. Focused patient tactics such as patient adherence tools were also rated as high impact, but used regularly by just over a quarter of companies. Only tablet detailing scored high on both usage (71%) and impact.

The bottlenecks to multichannel progress are depressingly consistent from year to year. The top four continue to be regulatory/legal/compliance issues; lack of digital strategy; concerns about ROI; and lack of internal knowledge.

Worries about ROI have increased most since 2010. Lack of management support is also a growing concern, understandable given the general sense of disappointment that seems to surround multichannel efforts to date.

The 2014 Barometer survey also shows little change in channel mix, with nine out of 10 respondents, saying that defining optimal channel mix is not a simple task. Compounding this issue could be the continued failure to collect customer intelligence: More than 4 of 5 respondents have not implemented a framework for leveraging customer data.

It would be easy to see this year’s Barometer survey results as further evidence that Pharma is doomed to never get digital. But Across Health is more optimistic than that, positioning the data as a sign of the industry’s digital maturity.

CEO Schenck says this year’s Barometer survey highlights Gartner’s ‘long fuse’ analogy as particularly appropriate at this time in Pharma’s digital development. “It may still take a while before the healthcare market ‘explodes’, but it is time to start preparing for this transformational event.”

He advises companies to focus on implementing their company-wide strategies, processes, technology and governance and on developing the right set of multichannel tactics. “Rolling these out at scale and measuring for performance are key steps to move beyond the trough of disillusionment,” he explains.

“We see an increasing focus on such strategic efforts – maybe 2015 will be the first year of the ‘plateau of productivity’ and 2014 the last year of the very long fuse…”

I can’t wait for next year’s numbers.