In today’s rapidly evolving industry environment, pharmaceutical marketers are challenged more than ever to reach and engage their customers. With the growing number of uncoordinated communication channels, the constantly changing behavioral influences on consumers, healthcare professionals, and payers, and spiraling promotional costs, marketers are asking themselves how to best achieve commercial success.
In response to these challenges, there is a lot of buzz around omnichannel marketing as a potentially more powerful approach to orchestrating and optimizing all the marketing efforts across all channels and multiple stakeholders. Omnichannel marketing is emerging as the way forward by enhancing engagement across personal, non-personal, and media challenges to meet the integrated needs of providers, patients, and payers.
However, adopting an omnichannel approach is not a quick fix. It requires a fundamental shift in how marketers simultaneously orchestrate and execute their promotional strategies and address the integrated needs of multiple stakeholders. Omnichannel marketing requires a breakdown of internal organizational siloes.
Pharma marketers’ pain points
Pharma marketers are experiencing several pain points when planning and executing their marketing efforts:
- Spiraling costs of promotion: This year, the pharmaceutical industry will spend more on its promotional activities than any year prior. The advertising spend on healthcare and pharma digital ads is estimated to be $11 billion in 2021, which is an 18% growth year over year.1
- Waste: While the promotional spend is rising, a significant number of promotional activities also appear to be wasted. It has been reported that pharma marketing content waste reaches up to 30%.2 Wasted promotional spend produces a degraded and negative experience for customers, and raises concern that brand messaging is not reaching the right patients, prescribers, and payers.
- Overwhelming channel use: The volume of challenges for pharma marketers is amplified by growing concerns about the overwhelming and uncoordinated use of varied channel use to reach customers. This occurs because of limited and siloed insight into what is actually driving customer impact. A clear measurement of promotional ROI is often either not available or not accurate.
- The tsunami of data: The expansive volume of data available to marketers is both a blessing and a curse. With a seemingly infinite amount at hand, the need to provide actionable insights from that data in a timely fashion is more critical than ever. Without a solid approach, it is increasingly difficult to discern what data should be used to inform strategy and derive insights, and marketers don’t have time to rationalize the entire load. It is, therefore, paramount that they rely on strong partnerships both inside and outside of their organizations to develop a data strategy that will provide them with the metrics and insights necessary to answer their key business questions.
- The empowered consumer: We have all experienced the sense of empowerment derived from doing our own research to make our healthcare decisions or, at a minimum, to better understand why decisions are being made by doctors on our behalf. This is only going to continue as we look to publishers, patient groups, forums, influencers, and thought leaders for broader and deeper healthcare content. This requires the pharma industry to ensure it is providing accurate information in a way that is understandable and through channels where patients/consumers are seeking it out.
- The evolution of predictive analytics: Advanced analytics -- Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML), and Natural Language Processing (NLP) -- is one of the greatest advancements that will benefit marketers, but these novel technologies can also be confusing to understand and to guide meaningful action. When seeing these analytics, marketers often ask what action they should subsequently take as a business leader based on the insights provided. Additionally, the outputs are only as strong as the models developed to generate them, which initially require the right inputs. Humans are making increasingly rapid – and sound – business decisions based on these capabilities, but we have a way to go before we let the machines take over.
Multichannel marketing was not the solution
In response to many of these challenges, multichannel marketing has been evolving as a solution, but with limited success. Multichannel marketing is the ability to use multiple channels for engagement in parallel, yet still isolated from each other.
The pharmaceutical industry was first built on personal interactions between the field force and the healthcare professional. Over the past 20 years, despite the evolution and availability of new communication channels (email, digital, social, etc.), many companies have been slow to change their approach to customer engagement strategy, and instead focused mainly on their field force as the priority. In many cases, this disconnect has resulted in the development of commercial strategies in which personal and non-personal engagement, or multichannel marketing, are viewed as distinct focus areas. Adding to the complexity is the implementation of strategies focused on other customer stakeholders, such as patients and payers, without incorporating or providing input that connects with traditional healthcare provider strategies.
Ultimately, during the past two decades, multichannel marketing has been based on siloed activations in separate channels with limited, if any, coordination or intersection across stakeholders.
Omnichannel marketing is evolving as a new promise
An integrated strategy based on omnichannel marketing is now increasingly replacing multichannel marketing. Instead of the fragmented and siloed multichannel approach, omnichannel marketing employs the simultaneous orchestration of channels across personal, non-personal, and media, and addresses the integrated needs of multiple stakeholders–consumers/patients, healthcare professionals, and payers.
Bringing the channels and stakeholders together in a truly integrated manner is the pivotal shift required to break through today’s noisy and crowded pharmaceutical marketplace.
Key elements of omnichannel marketing
There are several elements required to develop and execute omnichannel marketing that enable agility and speed of execution, and elevate the ability to connect and optimize communication across channels and audiences:
- Turning promotion on or off: The omnichannel marketing approach will enable marketers to make data-driven decisions on which promotional activities to dial up, dial down, or turn off entirely. From a promotional journey standpoint, there may be overpromotion within a certain market segment, and therefore, excessive overspend. For example, if HCPs are already frequent prescribers of a given brand, is it necessary to frequently promote that brand to the HCPs? If patients are already asking for a brand, and adherence metrics are strong, is it essential to continue direct-to-consumer awareness campaigns? Great marketing is not only deciding what to do, but also what not to do.
- Advancing intersection of communication across audiences: New models of engagement between patients and physicians have been driven by the COVID-19 pandemic environment, with emphasis on the rise of virtual care and telemedicine. This is a great opportunity for both patients and physicians to engage in new ways with one another. Because of this shift, marketers need to adjust their messaging to ensure it is reaching each party when they need it. For example, for point of care, how do you ensure patients have access to that same content if telemedicine is now used more frequently than it was pre-pandemic?
- Optimizing across channels and stakeholders: Traditionally, marketers might direct spending across a single or just a few channels, but not across all channels and/or customer stakeholders. That ultimately erodes fiscal optimization. Omnichannel marketing provides the opportunity to work with brands on a continuous optimization cycle throughout the life of a campaign. This is designed to recognize inefficiencies earlier in the process, while also identifying areas where ROI can be improved by reinvesting dollars that previously would have been wasted. The result is a win-win: improved patient health outcomes and greater contribution to the growth goals of a brand.
- Personalizing and targeting: Based on the increasing availability of data along with technology and analytics, marketers can get closer than ever to their customers in order to satisfy their information needs. Addressing customers’ healthcare needs, while also ensuring their data privacy, will be essential to marketers and their partners, particularly as the global privacy landscape is evolving.
- Getting smarter with machine learning: The models and metrics traditionally applied by the pharma industry to measure marketing performance will need to be reassessed and modified to ensure measurement of simultaneous impact across channels and customers.A lot of the old measurements were stagnant, and the focus was solely on ROI. With advanced technologies (AI, ML, and NLP), omnichannel marketing can perform dynamic analytics and modeling and enable smarter campaigns.
The challenge and the promise of omnichannel marketing
Omnichannel marketing has the potential to improve the pharmaceutical customer experience by increasingly influencing the number and adherence of patients on therapy through integrated promotional efforts that engage them in their own healthcare journey. This promotional approach also will enhance the pharma organization’s experience by enabling it to optimize spend as it efficiently navigates all relevant channels and stakeholders.
This will generate tremendous benefits for companies and their customers. However, the move forward is unlikely to be without hurdles.
Historically, the pharmaceutical industry has been slow to adopt omnichannel marketing, and implementing a fully integrated promotional strategy across channels and stakeholder audiences may challenge siloed, organizational structures and meet resistance. To be ready, a culture of optimization needs to be established and gradually phased in (crawl, walk, run), to enable the organization to advance beyond the pilot and recognize the greatest results.
- Upton J. The Multichannel Reach: Balancing the Local and Global Voice. Pharmaceutical Executive. March 11, 2020. https://www.pharmexec.com/view/multichannel-reach-balancing-local-and-global-voice
Andrew Burkus is President, Omnichannel Marketing at IQVIA.