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Volume 40, Issue 3
How to capitalize on the rise of omnichannel engagement in pharma and pursue myriad modes of message delivery in today’s digital world.
How to capitalize on the rise of omnichannel marketing by taking those added channels-now enhanced by online avenues such as social media and mobile devices-and targeting the modern customer in a coordinated manner
The explosion of online technology over the last decade has created tremendous opportunity for pharma to market to healthcare professionals (HCPs) and customers. At the same time, the field has become inundated with so many new tools that it’s sometimes difficult to understand how to implement them successfully. The complexity isn’t just in the addition of new channels, but in today’s connected world, the integration of those channels is where the emphasis now lies, and omnichannel marketing is leading the way.
What began as multichannel marketing-targeting customers through multiple pathways such as TV ads, in-person visits, direct mail, and in-store ads-has evolved into omnichannel marketing. The advantage of omnichannel is taking those different channels, now enhanced by a variety of online avenues such as social media and mobile devices-and using them in a coordinated manner. Omnichannel addresses the modern customers’ seamless movement through all types of media in everyday life. It is about using integration and customer experience over a more traditional siloed marketing approach to attain the greatest reach and richest results.
“I think we are moving away from a multichannel concept- where a marketer has to master push-message deployment into standard channels such as mail, newsletter, and the web-to a real omnichannel concept,” says Tim Fischer, director, head of channel evolution and operations at Merck KGaA. “Marketing executives need to ensure omnipresence of content relevant to their customers in all available channels so that customers can ‘pull’ content from their preferred channels and not the other way around.”
This importance will only grow as digital channels continue to expand. According to We Are Social and Hootsuite’s Digital 2020 reports, 4.5 billion people around the world use the internet, up 7% since January
2019. The average internet user spends six hours and 43 minutes online each day, which translates to 40% of their waking life. One-third of that time is spent on social media (see sidebar). GlobalWebIndex indicates that mobile use makes up half of all internet use. And a quick search on Google Trends confirms the term “omnichannel” has been outpacing “multichannel,” on average, in popularity over the past year.
Pharma’s engagement with customers has also changed over the last decade due to the increase of online digital media and the interconnectivity of the physical and digital worlds, with the help of the Internet of things, voice assistants, chatbots, and similar technology.
“HCPs are not only using websites or smartphone apps to inform themselves, but they and their patients are getting used to more integrated digital solutions from diagnosis, to treatment, to interaction with HCPs and other stakeholders,” says Fischer. “As such, the ecosystem of apps, devices, digital media, and traditional contact points has become complex through the rise of AI-enabled services, machine learning, and the use of chatbots and voice assistants.”
“If we look at Gartner’s recent list of key strategic technology trends for 2020, such as hyperautomation, multi-experience, and cloud computing, the marketing executives of tomorrow need to be masters in managing customer experience rather than channels, and experts on how to change business processes and see efficiency gains as well as understand technology to best use it in their omnichannel presence,” says Fischer.
It’s not enough to jump on the bandwagon of a new technology, such as AI, virtual reality, Snapchat, or TikTok, just because it’s the hot new thing. Companies need to focus on cutting through the noise to discern what is really worth the investment.
“I have somebody on my team who works on new technology and innovation, but he’s also aligned to the brands as well,” says Paul Dixey, multichannel lead at Novartis UK. “This particular person looks at what’s coming in from global or what agencies are suggesting, and is tied to the business to say, ‘Well, how does that actually fit in with our business? How does that actually deliver a better experience to customers and to patients, and that has a longer time scale?’”
Once the new technology is fully understood and becomes relevant, then it can be integrated into a greater marketing plan.
While staying innovative and relevant is important, there are some basic marketing tools that should not be forgotten.
“I still think there is good value in doing a proper website that people can easily find and navigate, and having an email platform that doesn’t get blocked by filters,” says Dixey. “They should be essentially just your entry ticket. What really is the game changer is putting great content into those channels. Otherwise, these channels are just empty vessels. That’s where I think pharma still struggles-with putting the right content in there.”
Another traditional marketing tactic that should not be overlooked is face-to-face interaction, from simple office visits to conferences. “I think the medical scientific liaisons, account management, group meetings, conferences are all still important,” says Dixey. “I just think we need to look at them in a different way.”
Adding a digital layer to those experiences can enhance their effectiveness. For example, Stefania Alvino, digital and multichannel manager at Daiichi Sankyo Italy, says that roundtables or mini networking events could be run better if they were linked to a social community.
“The role of a sales rep or medical liaison will change from a mere visit to someone who masters digital media to communicate more richly with peers,” says Fischer. “The actual physical engagement will become less important vs. other digitally enhanced forms of contact. This is already changing customer relationship management (CRM) in the industry right now.”
Before companies try to reach the customer, it’s important to look at who they’re trying to reach. Discerning customers’ goals and challenges can be helpful in creating a marketing mix. Offering content that they’re interested in and that the company is interested in putting in front of them is the sweet spot, says Dixey.
“We are still not enough campaign-driven and do not think enough from our customers’ communication need point,” says Fischer. “I think our industry is still in a product-push rather than information-pull mode. If we understand what stakeholders are looking for online or offline, and can bring them together in relevant CRM systems, we are much better at orchestrating channels. Creating the right data hub model, the right CRM infrastructure, using the right platforms, and connecting this to the channel ecosystem is the key element.”
One of the main advantages of a pull medium, such as a website tagged with relevant key words, is that the audience self-selects its information, which can create a higher relevance in the audience. Simple digital metrics such as click-throughs and downloads reinforce that relevance by allowing a company to see how consumers use their information. Based on those details, companies can quickly adjust their message if needed.
“You have to be constantly looking at this, fine-tuning your approach, rather than spending ages producing a great big box of content and then putting all of your money in one channel and then not doing anything until you’ve got the next budget round,” says Dixey.
Though online and offline channels each have their benefits, they are most effective when overlapped. “Look at inbound call centers,” says Fischer. “Artificial intelligence algorithms paired with voice assistants or chatbots are a great example of how you can reduce the cost per touch point, enable a faster and better customer experience, and combine this with multiple digital outlets such as a kiosk system, your website, and your business card to make your service available 24/7.”
As customers move effortlessly across old and new media, the distinction between channels is certainly blurring. And to be successful, companies should look to omnichannel marketing’s separate-but-whole approach centered around a positive user experience, experts believe.
“The right solution for a good strategy is a channel mix made of online and offline touch points that can work together if they share the same message, customized for each channel but integrated between them,” says Alvino. “Field force should be in the middle like an orchestra director, choosing the right channel [such as social media, email, or in-person visit] for the right customer.”
Elaine Quilici is Pharm Exec’s Senior Editor. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org