Marketing to HCPs in the New World Order

May 31, 2020

The current COVID-19 pandemic has taken the world of HCP marketing and turned it upside down. Biopharma has had to make instantaneous decisions on how to market in this new environment, who to market to, which tactics to significantly increase, and which tactics to walk away from-all with no historical playbook.

The current COVID-19 pandemic has taken the world of healthcare provider (HCP) marketing and turned it upside down. Biopharma has had to make instantaneous decisions on how to market in this new environment, who to market to, which tactics to significantly increase, and which tactics to walk away from-all with no historical playbook. We will probably all look back on 2020 as the year that altered the course of pharma marketing more than ever before.  

Impact on personal selling and live events

Prior to the pandemic, sales rep access to HCPs had already been in decline over the past decade, and now hospital and office visits have been all but eliminated. Sales reps are replacing in-person sales calls with remote details and digital/virtual deliverables to stay engaged with their HCPs. However, HCPs have traditionally not communicated digitally with sales reps to any great extent, so it will be critical for reps to improve their digital communication with HCPs and bring significant clinical value and personalization with their messages. 

For now, nearly all upcoming medical conferences, symposia, and dinner meetings have been changed to virtual or cancelled completely. Virtual meetings and webinars are likely to be the way of the future for some time, and biopharma will be searching for new ways to derive the same amount of promotional impact from virtual meetings as from live events.

HCP digital communication

BioPharm Communications, a leading provider of third-party messaging to HCPs, has seen an increase in unique and total engagement rates with their HCP emails when compared to the pre-COVID-19 timeframe of Feb 10 to March 8. Similar increases have also been noted with Search Ad Clicks and Conversion Rates. It’s also important to note that HCP email opt-out rates have declined during the same timeframe.  

Until recently, few HCPs have used digital means to communicate with pharma, but there are early indications this is changing rapidly, as HCPs have significantly increased their use of digital resources to obtain drug information traditionally provided by sales reps.

Budget allocation for HCP promotion

There is still uncertainty as to whether total promotional spend on HCPs will decrease this year, but it’s clear that there has been a significant shift from personal to non-personal promotion. This has been occurring over the past few years as rep access to hospitals and HCP offices has declined, but the shift is rapidly accelerating due to the COVID-19 crisis. Marketers are increasing their spend on digital channels, including email, video, web-based content, banners, social media, and SEO. There has also been a movement from unbranded to branded promotion as marketers want to ensure they are getting maximum value from their promo spend.

Keys to success with non-personal promotion to HCPs

  • Provide content to HCPs that is relevant and of high clinical value to cut through the clutter.

  • Utilize behavioral data to determine both message and channel affinity of individual HCPs and deploy content accordingly.

  • Create personalized journeys to maximize user experience.

  • Deliver brand messages through third-party promotional tools that have high familiarity and clinical credibility and, where possible, use opinion-leader derived content.

  • Carefully integrate first- and third-party campaigns to avoid viewer overload or unintended “dark periods” with no brand messaging.

  • Develop quick-to-market tactics by repurposing existing approved first-party materials in third-party promotional tools with high HCP familiarity and perceived clinical value. 

  • Develop triggered campaigns providing relevant brand messages based on marketplace events and new access/reimbursement wins, etc.

  • Employ advanced technology to improve user experience with virtual/digital engagement

Norm Phillips, Brand Insights Contributor, Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer, BioPharm Communications