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European life sciences organizations have invested lower budgets on digital and non-personal promotional tactics compared to their US and Japanese counterparts. However, the trend toward digital and non-personal promotion has been increasing in Europe in recent years. As per IQVIA’s 2018 study,1 while there has been a 25% decline in traditional healthcare professional (HCP) contact time in the 2012-2018 time frame within Germany, France, UK, Italy, and Spain, the investments across various digital channels have seen an increase of 13-37%, with investments in digital detailing seeing the most significant increase. A 2020 survey by Bryter research shows that despite the increased usage of digital promotion by Europe’s pharma industry to address the issue with limited physician access, European organizations still lag their US and Japanese counterparts in the usage of digital marketing. The volume share of digital promotional activity in Europe is only 11%, compared with 21% in the US and 47% in Japan.2
In recent times, European brand leaders have shown a greater preference toward building orchestrated omnichannel marketing strategies. In an omnichannel approach, multiple channels are used to engage with the customer to increase the share-of-voice. The channels are also coordinated to create a seamless experience for the customer.
As EU brand leaders build their omnichannel customer engagement strategies, they need to address challenges in the European environment with a well-thought-out deployment plan. Based on our experience working with many brand teams in Europe, we have observed the following challenges that need to be addressed before the brand can embark on the omnichannel journey.
1. Digital as a core customer engagement strategy
As European leaders expand their digital presence, they need to ensure holistic digital customer engagement becomes a core element of their strategy. A 2020 poll of more than 2,500 global companies by Twilio, a digital communication specialist, found that 74% of healthcare companies have accelerated their digital transformation because of the COVID-19 crisis and expect omnichannel communication to take on new importance in the future.3 This is a significant shift to prioritize omnichannel marketing. An earlier 2019 survey by Simon-Kucher & Partners4 found that even though 89% of respondents understood the relevance of digitization and chose a strategic digitization approach, 59% of life sciences companies did not have their digital strategy in place yet, which is needed to enable omnichannel customer engagement.
2. Data quality process
There is a critical need for strong process frameworks to build or collect data, especially at the HCP level. These frameworks directly impact the quality of analytics that can be performed and, hence, can be instrumental in the success of omnichannel programs. Due to HCP-level data availability limitations in Europe, the issue is even more pronounced. Due to regulations, HCP-level sales data is unavailable from syndicated data providers, so organizations need to build high-quality internal data assets. As an illustration, to have a quality HCP segmentation to drive omnichannel analytics, there needs to be thought leadership in the organization to identify good segmentation frameworks, alignment on the strategy across European headquarters and individual countries, and eventually, consistent messaging from the countries to the field force for the expected rollout of the segmentation strategy. Organizations need to invest both time and effort in setting up effective processes to enable rich analytics in the future.
3. Investment decisions for omnichannel programs
In Europe, HCP promotion is at the center of all marketing activity, and there are limited investments in direct-to-consumer (DTC) promotion. Also, the government bodies or public healthcare systems control most payments.5 For HCP promotion to be impactful, marketing organizations like to monitor the ROI of the promotional activity. But unavailability of HCP level prescription/sales data makes ROI measurement challenging for HCP-centric programs. Omnichannel programs require large financial investments. Before making such significant investments, organizations would like to understand whether the investments would return a high ROI. As ROI measurements are more complex and less accurate in European markets as compared to the US market, leaders are often unsure of the value they can generate from large omnichannel programs.
4. Infrastructure & readiness
One of the most crucial omnichannel enablement and orchestration elements is getting the right technology and infrastructure to support personalization on multiple channels. As COVID-19 accelerated pharma’s journey toward digital, many companies struggled to get the right infrastructure in place during the initial months of the pandemic.
Infrastructure needs for operationalizing omnichannel can be complex and demand high levels of investments. Companies with a greater centralized strategy and execution across countries can find it easier to invest in such technology and infrastructure as they benefit from economies of scale.
Companies with a more decentralized infrastructure approach make local decisions to optimize their individual market needs, leading to higher costs and decoupled systems.
There are various considerations to be considered for scaling an omnichannel solution in Europe. Specific nuances around data, environment, and even product strategy across different countries or even within a country need to be considered. The regulatory environment (restrictions around promotion and barriers to access, compliance processes, consent, etc.) varies significantly across European nations. Quite often, different regulatory authorities approve drugs/indications at different times. All these nuances have a major impact on physicians’ attitudes and behaviors.
Start small! Life sciences organizations can start to assess the value of an authentic omnichannel approach by piloting it in a few countries. A pilot can help gain insights into the value of an omnichannel approach and identify the operational kinks that need to be resolved before a wider European rollout.
Life sciences organizations can use aggregated brick-level data to measure omnichannel program impact. In such cases, it is not the accuracy of “one” measurement but rather the “improvement” in the outcome measure over time that would be more critical. If the program impact can be measured with a strong foundational methodology, the outcomes can be tracked from a “directional” perspective, enabling organizations to make better data-driven business decisions.
Once a strong foundation for omnichannel customer engagement is laid out, the approach can be scaled up for multiple brands and countries. However, as highlighted above, the rollout needs to be customized for each country due to many specific nuances across countries. Organizations can plan for such nuances during the pilot phase and ensure that the technology is designed to handle such nuances. Organizations can also follow a consistent approach for overall impact measurement.
In the same way that today’s self-driving cars continuously learn from the drivers’ driving habits and use onboard sensors and computers with a built-in artificial intelligence layer to make driving automated and safer, a holistic omnichannel solution for Europe needs to also leverage artificial intelligence with human intelligence (AI+HI) to generate value for organizations. European leaders need to pair their experience of interacting with customers on physical mediums with machines and algorithms working on digital mediums that can adjust to each customer action in real-time to enable holistic omnichannel customer engagement plans. A clearly articulated omnichannel vision with a well-defined roadmap can help European leaders accelerate their transformation toward that vision.
Prabhjot Singh is director and Devesh Verma is principal, both at Axtria.
1. Alexandra Smith, Patrick Bervelt. Discover pharma promotional spend in 2018. IQVIA. Available from https://www.cib-pharma.be/uploads/iqvia-cib-promotional-overview- 20181543077660.pdf
2. Laurence Olding, Georgina James. Multichannel engagement and the need for greater understanding of European markets. Available from http://www.pmlive.com/pharma_intelligenc/Multichannel_engagement_and_the_need_fo r_greater_understanding_of_European_markets_1343332 [Accessed 7th Oct 2021].
3. COVID-19 Digital Engagement Report. Twilio. Available from https://pages.twilio.com/rs/294-TKB-300/images/UPDATE_Aug_Twilio_COVID- 19_Digital_Engagement_Report.pdf [Accessed 7th Oct 2021].
4. Simon-Kutcher & Partners. Digitalization in Healthcare: Trends and Challenges in 2020. Available from https://www.simon-kucher.com/en-be/node/5142 [Accessed 7th Oct 2021].
5. Mads Krogh Peterson. Pharma Digital Marketing in EU, US & Asia. Available from https://medium.com/@mkpcom/pharma-digital-marketing-in-eu-us-asia-d34d179ec5f4 [Accessed 7th Oct 2021].