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Technology isn't the magic bullet, but it can help you hit your target
Decisions. Decisions. Decisions. Today's multimedia world offers so many choices for reaching healthcare professionals, what are brand managers to do? Ideally, pharma companies can appeal to physicians with a combination of quality, in-person sales calls and targeted marketing outreach. Technology can also be a great asset, but only if it's leveraged with focus and care.
We're all probably guilty of using the shotgun approach to reaching customers—that is, shooting in all directions in the belief that eventually we'll hit a valuable target. It's not just that this technique is unsophisticated; it's inefficient and prevents the marketer from really homing in on what individual doctors want and need. Doctors and pharmaceutical companies may not all be ready for Web 2.0, but we can do better than the shotgun approach.
There are many attractive, flashy new e-marketing tools and techniques available. But if you're not focused on the right customer base, it doesn't matter. It's essential to send the right message to the right doctor in the manner that he or she prefers. Otherwise, you're wasting the most valuable resource any doctor has: time.
These days, physicians have higher patient loads and more administrative tasks. Despite sales force cutbacks, physicians still deal with plenty of sales reps and read plenty of marketing materials on a weekly basis. It's critical we recognize the enormous importance and immeasurable value of making communication with healthcare providers worth their while. This is the only way to build the essential trust that drives our message. Any successful dialogue has to begin and end with knowing the customer and what he or she wants and expects.
Nothing can really replace good, solid, intelligent, face-to-face interaction in which doctor and sales rep really take time to get to know one another. Today's typical, 90-second sales calls aren't exactly ideal, and as sales forces shrink and overworked doctors get busier and busier, those face-to-face meetings are a decidedly rare occurrence.
Luckily, with the help of technology we can mimic that type of interaction. Using specialized software and the power of the Internet, we can track each doctor's preferences.
This stands in stark contrast to the far more common, far less intelligent campaign management approach, wherein a company pre-sets its communications strategy in advance, and never deviates from the plan. For example, the sales force sends boilerplate email number one and boilerplate email number two, followed by a generic snail mail letter. This "set it and forget it" approach is sub-par.
Technology can do what the now-nonexistent armies of sales reps used to do. Industry experts have developed systems that combine database technology, modeling technology, and tracking software. Systems like these enable pharmaceutical companies to become more nimble in addressing the needs of their customers. It's no longer necessary or sufficient to wait until a direct marketing program ends to see how it performed. Today, we can monitor and adjust immediately to ensure that the most effective interactions are taking place.
Thanks to new technologies, marketing teams can take advantage of multichannel marketing efforts. In order to best utilize digital tools in this brave new world, it's advisable to follow these sensible steps.
Choose an objective Figure out what you are trying to achieve, and pick the solution that is best suited to meet the objective. Remember, not all marketing programs are created equal.
For example, you may be promoting a large, established brand to primary care physicians, looking for an increase in prescriptions from doctors who already know your brand but are not writing an optimum level of scripts. Blasting out impersonal waves of direct mail that "introduces" the product would likely only serve to annoy the physician, and worse, lower your brand's value in his or her eyes. Stay away from possible solutions that are broader than what you actually need.
Target Once you have identified your objective and matched it with a solution, then it's time to target your customers using that particular strategy. You might want to cast as wide a net as possible to convince a bevy of doctors to write more scripts for your drug. But the point of targeting (versus blast) is to find those doctors who are most likely to grow as a result of a marketing program, and avoid those who are not positioned for growth.
For example, one large, established pharma brand has over 200,000 prescription writers. Even with that size audience, they made a decision to work with a software product that specifically targets the writers that generate 80 percent of the scrips for the brand. This way, over the course of a year, the company can send multiple, targeted messages across several channels to those writers, instead of only a few single-channel messages to all 200,000. (That would be like putting a drop of water in a 5-gallon bucket: you'd never see the difference, and you'd have wasted that drop.) Thus, the company chose to concentrate its resources.
Be relevant and timely By targeting the right audience for your message, you improve the chances that the message will be heard or read, and not end up in the trash. Achieving this step goes a long way toward building relationships with physicians. This is how the perception of adding value begins.
Integrate communications Multichannel marketing is chaotic if it's not integrated. We need to think of multi-channel marketing as a seamless stream of ongoing dialogue rather than silos of unconnected email, direct mail or telemarketing. For the best results, these should all be properly coordinated. Again, remember to avoid the "set it and forget it" mentality. Ultimately, you need a rules-based system that can adjust to changes in communication needs. This is particularly important, because doctors frequently opt in and out of different channels and change their message and communication preferences.
Be dynamic Pay attention to what your customers say, but don't stop there: pay attention to what they do. For example, if a physician says his preferred method of communication is email, don't feel you can't call him if you believe you have a better chance at reaching him via the phone. Be astute, and always know the best way to reach your customer for best results.
One brand director recently described a conversation he had with a physician who had received a package in the mail, even though his stated communication preference was email. He told the brand director how he had opened the package, read the material, used the item included in the package, and even visited the brand's Web portal to find more information. From this, we know that this physician is open to direct mail when the message is relevant, and that knowledge becomes part of our analysis when deciding on the next communication channel and message to choose for him.
The key to today's successful marketing for pharmaceutical brand mangers is to use resources available to optimize communication with doctors, which means continually delivering relevant and timely information and support through the most effective channels. Done properly, doctors will be more receptive to key messaging, and be able to use the information at the point of prescribing—ultimately providing great value to the physician as they treat patients.
Anthony Bianciella is vice president, marketing at MTI Advantage. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org