The Self-Fueling Marketing Machine

December 1, 2008

Pharmaceutical Executive

Pharmaceutical Executive, Pharmaceutical Executive-12-01-2008, Volume 0, Issue 0

How to extract valuable market research from e-marketing campaigns

With the number of e-marketing campaigns currently being conducted, it's a wonder that pharmaceutical marketers are still scratching their heads about how to acquire viable data. The power is literally in their hands. Invaluable marketing data can be had simply by knowing what you're looking for, how to ask for it, and working with the right provider. Creating a self-fueling machine that produces data—which steers the marketing channel and in turn produces more data—represents the necessary evolution for the survival of pharmaceutical e-marketing.

Dave Ormesher

Choking to Death

There are two types of e-marketing: transactional and relational. Transactional e-marketing is focused on short-term results, and looks for low-hanging fruit. It works well as a promotional tool for retail commodities (think Amazon pre-orders) or general broadcast announcements. Tagged as "batch and blast" campaigns, recipients are faceless database records used to meet volume and frequency goals. Targeting and messaging are based on generalized assumptions distilled from aggregated focus group results and market research. Transactional marketing uses a lowest-common-denominator approach, rather than a targeted message strategy, to reach as many customers as possible. Data gleaned from this is rudimentary, at best. But, unfortunately, that's all that many marketers expect from their campaigns.

Frank Leontis is a marketing manager for a large, New Jersey–based pharmaceutical company and a regular speaker at e-marketing conferences. He has a history of recognizing and supporting marketing innovations, and knows the current benchmarks all too well. Just as the pharmaceutical industry is beginning to seriously rethink the traditional field sales force model and look for alternative, non-personal channels, Leontis is reviewing data that shows that the average Web user receives 70 spam messages a day. Additionally, 69 percent of recipients report email as spam-based solely on the subject line, and 30 percent of subscribers change email addresses annually.

Leontis is rightfully concerned that the industry's reliance on transactional campaigns is choking it to death. How can a pharmaceutical product marketing team expect to build a business on such a fickle online channel? There's another way.

Something's Gotta Give

Relationship marketing is based on the rules of reciprocity, in which there is a two-way, balanced value interchange that yields information as well as imparting messages. Relational email marketing allows the marketer to identify, differentiate, interact, and customize, using the channel as a way to listen, learn, and respond in ways that are both relevant and value-driven. It takes traditional market research as a starting point, and then layers email interactions as opportunities to refine the research at the level of the individual customer. Asking insightful questions gets to the heart of a customer's need, allowing marketers to sharpen their interactions and focus their messaging.

To think about email marketing as a market research channel requires rethinking both activities. It means broadening the definition of email marketing, using it more as a social networking tool than as a direct marketing tool. It also means opening the constraints on valid market research by capturing and analyzing response data as a way to improve individual interactions and provide tailored value.

At the heart of a relational email marketing campaign is the database. Campaigns can be run using an in-house database, or more often, a third party service provider. The key to success, however, is building a marketing model to capture everything and consider every piece of data as an asset: it's not enough to get typical reach and frequency reports (deliverability, opens, and click-throughs). Relationship marketing collects data from the email campaign at the individual level and allows for analysis at the individual level. Here's an example of how it works.

Capturing Insights

Every two weeks or so, The McKinsey Quarterly sends out a short email focused on a single business issue, and invites subscribers to take a short survey with the promise that all participants will receive the aggregate report within a week. The topics are timely, the surveys are well written, and there is often an additional offer of a recent white paper from their business journal as a thank you. This is classic relationship marketing, and over the past several years, McKinsey has built rich profiles of its members' interests, perspectives on business, and responsiveness to email as a communication channel. The rules of reciprocity are in effect, with both parties receiving value from the ongoing conversation.

A large global pharmaceutical firm has been experimenting with this approach for a new product with a unique mechanism of action. By incorporating attitudinal, behavioral, and practice-management questions over the course of several email campaigns and Web site visits, the brand has been able to capture valuable insight into its target physician audience. For example, one question asked if a physician's willingness to try a new therapy was based on whether there were samples in the office. Although the average response was that samples were not important, more than 25 percent of the physicians admitted that they were critical. The marketing team gained information at an individual level and were able to demonstrate this value to those physicians, thereby increasing trust and confidence in the brand.

Here are three steps to turn your email marketing campaign into a market research channel:

  • Audit your email marketing provider and determine whether it has the capability and willingness to help you build a custom database. This database will hold the proprietary market research data that will come from your email marketing campaign, and it shouldn't be shared or available to your provider's other customers. Your provider should have the capability to analyze the data and provide you with detailed profiles of individual customers.

  • Create the master list of "Golden Questions" that will help to fill in research gaps, or that can be used when market research shows a lack of unanimity on a particular issue and you need to know how individual physicians feel. Golden Questions can cover beliefs about a disease state or treatment options, practice habits, or attitudes about novel therapies. You might ask eight to 10 questions in the course of a multi-wave email marketing campaign, but you should only ask one or two at a time.

  • Develop a pilot project that includes sales management, market research, and managed markets leadership. By leveraging an existing email marketing budget to ask questions of your customers, these various stakeholders will get value from your efforts and help to shape sales and marketing messages so they are more relevant and valuable to your physician audience.

Be careful when developing a sophisticated program like this. Do not move too quickly, and make sure you've found the right email provider. Providers who compete on the size of their database or the speed of getting an email drop out the door are not selling the qualities you need. True relationship marketing involves not only recognizing customers when they return, but also capturing and analyzing their responses. Your campaigns can evolve into this self-fueling research/marketing cycle through careful application of these techniques and examples.

Dave Ormesher is the CEO of Closerlook, a relationship-marketing firm specializing in healthcare. He can be reached at dormesher@closerlook.com

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