Does Omnichannel Marketing have a Future in the Pharmaceutical Industry?

Dec 4, 2022 | Commercial Data Management
Sayantani Sen
Omnichannel Marketing

Does Omnichannel Marketing have a Future in the Pharmaceutical Industry?

Does Omnichannel Marketing have a Future in the Pharmaceutical Industry? 1024 683 deepak

Traditional Multichannel Marketing in Pharma: A Brief Look

With growing digital sophistication, healthcare practitioners and life sciences companies engage in tailored and engaging experiences that help in marketing their drugs and services. Over the past 20 years, multichannel marketing has been evolving as a solution to marketing challenges plaguing the pharmaceutical industry. At first, this strategy was effective as it enabled pharma marketers to activate multiple channels simultaneously. Despite this evolution and availability of new communication channels (email, digital, social, etc.) many pharma companies were slow to adapt this approach to their existing customer engagement strategy. Most companies instead focused on their field force. This resulted in personal and non-personal engagement that was separate and siloed.

Adding to this complexity was the implementation of strategies focused on other customer stakeholders such as patients and payers without incorporating or providing input that connected holistically with traditional healthcare provider strategies. Multichannel marketing therefore was based on siloed activations in separate channels with limited coordination and intersection across stakeholders. Pharma companies interacted with customers and HCPs in a highly personalized manner primarily via face-to-face in-office visits. Increasingly, this is proving to be expensive and medical liaisons reaching only 60 to 70 per cent of the HCP market for most brands.

Is an Omnichannel Marketing Plan the Right Approach?

An omnichannel approach integrates various channels to fulfil customer’s needs for marketing their products at every touchpoint. Such a marketing approach also enables companies to engage with customers with the right message at the right time through their preferred channels. The pharmaceutical industry has been slow in catching up on this digital journey. However, the pandemic has created a unique opportunity to move such marketing attempts to the top of company agendas globally. In 2021, pharma companies spent $11 billion on healthcare and pharma digital ads, an 18% growth year over year.

Pharmaceuticals is rapidly activating digital marketing channels that has been accelerated by the pandemic. With lockdowns impeding in-person visits, emails, web downloads and webinars have become the life sciences Companie's only reliable method of connecting with HCPs. This digital shift has also been the impetus for a new go-to-market model where a hybrid rep is supported by digital marketing components. Pharma companies are engaging digitally for all health conditions, products, and markets.

Personalization is increasingly facing a thorny challenge. Traditional multichannel marketing was inherently personalized and retained the human touch. With the digital or omnichannel approach this is not specific to one communication channel and leverages complex medical data to deliver customized content. Increasingly, innovators are launching and scaling hybrid commercial models by using insights gleaned from health practitioners and users, such as channel and content preferences. Sophisticated marketing tactics like customer micro-segmentation and advanced technologies such as automation and AI are conjoined. The best path for pharma majors globally is the omnichannel marketing path and then scale from there to drive broader business value.

Omnichannel ecosystems purposefully orchestrate live and non-live communications with their customers. Most pharma companies have invested in marketing technologies such as Salesforce Marketing Cloud, Veeva, and Adobe stacks, which have enabled them to excel at well-coordinated multichannel and digital communications (e.g., email, direct mail, web, conferences, sales reps) that interact with customers separately, versus orchestrated and cross-connected.

An integrated strategy based on omnichannel marketing is now gradually evolving from a siloed and fragmented multichannel approach. Most pharma companies employ various channels across personal and non-personal media, addressing the integrated needs of multiple stakeholders like patients, end users, healthcare professionals and payers. Bringing the channels and stakeholders together in a truly integrated manner is the shift needed to break through the crowded and often very clunky pharmaceutical marketplace. This marketing activity optimizes interconnections and cross-pollination among channels and stakeholders.

HCP-interaction models and customer engagement is via digital and advanced analytics which have been critical in transforming traditional commercial models. This approach to marketing drugs and services is aided by an analytics-enabled commercial model that is creating value. While pharma lags other industries, channels to engage with HCPs and end users is proliferating and the line between online and offline engagement is blurring. Most companies are investing in these technologies that place content design first and channel selection second. This is a data-driven customer understanding that enables design content that meets customers in their healthcare and information consumption journey. Omnichannel marketing now has shifted from coordination of channels to the orchestration of modular content delivered through unified channels. Key to this omnichannel marketing technology is the use of robust marketing technology infrastructures. Integrated platforms enable continuous learning across content and channels, that become part of a company’s proprietary CRM knowledge database.

This integration can take place inside the pharma company’s infrastructure and competitively differentiates communications comes from the plug and play benefits of traditional marketing and by working with smarter technology and data inputs. Some of these machine learning technologies are accessible within more sophisticated third-party platforms such as AKtana. Pharma companies are now taking advantage of built-in AI from partners like these to extend their internal IT and analytics know-how to achieve omnichannel intelligence. These platforms enable companies to break content creation barriers by speeding up data insights for content creation that can be built and approved once and disseminated many times across channels. The state-of-art omnichannel marketing platform helps drug companies leapfrog their omnichannel capabilities by maximizing existing infrastructure while maintaining customer privacy and compliance obligations.

With increased amounts of large amounts of pharma data along with technology and analytics, marketers can get closer to their customers and satisfy their information needs. These platforms address the pharma company needs while ensuring their data privacy and that of their partners in an evolving global privacy landscape. With newer marketing methods, traditional models and metrics applied by the pharma industry to measure marketing performance were stagnant and focussed solely on ROI. With advanced tools in AI, ML and NLP, omnichannel marketing can perform dynamic analytics and modelling to enable smarter campaigns.

Elements to Omnichannel Marketing in Pharma

There are several elements required to develop and execute omnichannel marketing that enable the agility and speed of execution elevating the ability to connect and optimize communication across channels and customers.

  • Turning Promotion on and off: This is an element of omnichannel marketing that enables marketers to determine which promotional activities to dial up and dial down and even turn off entirely based on evidence and data.
  • Advancing intersection of communication across audiences: New models of engagement between patients and physicians have been driven by the COVID-19 pandemic and there has been a rise in virtual care and telemedicine.
  • Fiscal Optimization: Traditional marketing methods apply direct spending across a single or a few channels. This is not the case in omnichannel marketing that offers opportunity to work with brands on a continuous optimization cycle throughout the life of a campaign. This optimized spending helps in stemming wasteful expenditure by streamlining marketing operations.
  • Targeted Spend and Personalized Attention: Based on the increasing availability of data along with technology and analytics, marketers can get closer than ever to their customers in order to meet their expectations and satisfy their information needs.
  • Use of Machine Learning Tools: The models and metrics traditionally applied by the pharma industry that measure marketing performance have been modified to ensure measurement of simultaneous impact across channels and customers. A lot of old measurements that were used to assess marketing impact were stagnant and the focus was solely on ROI. With advanced technologies like AI, ML and NLP, omnichannel marketing can perform dynamic analytics and modelling enabling smarter campaigns.

Omnichannel marketing can 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 customer experience.

The Road Ahead for Omnichannel Marketing in Pharma

There are many shortcomings that have stood in the way the industry and healthcare practitioners adopting an omnichannel marketing plan. In many ways, HCPs and patients have always wanted answers to their specific questions regarding healthcare access and medicine availability. They have wanted to engage with pharma companies in a concise and convenient way. Rather than addressing these aspects, often life sciences companies focus on their own context and use channels that patients and healthcare professionals are not too comfortable with. The success of omnichannel engagement requires the use of the right audience-specific channels and content at the best time. Pharma companies need to get the pulse of customer preferences and behaviours. This needs orchestration and a feedback loop to assess how well this kind of engagement is functioning and can be adapted. 

Lack of Actionable Insights

An integrated marketing platform allows any company to combine everything under one roof. But there are challenges in generating and receiving messages through the right channel at the right time. Not all pharma brands have a sustainable technical infrastructure and most lack a comprehensive marketing strategy. Many also lack the resources to carry out in-depth market research and target audience segmentation alongside the creation of a general omnichannel communication plan.

Lack of Technical Infrastructure

Once sentiment is mapped and analysts analyze the medical abstracts, there is an evaluation of the share of voice and engagement for each abstract. This abstract analysis is critical based on the number of mentions, reposts, likes, engagement and average engagement rate, the theme of posts, sentiments, the share of voices, and distribution of posts by users such as HCPs and patient advocates. Most pharma companies follow a step-by-step approach for shortlisting social media channels. They extract relevant data and remove noise to identify insights.

Lack of Integration in Platforms

The success of an omnichannel marketing platform depends on how well three major platforms like the client relationship management platform, marketing automation platform and content creation platform are consolidated. Which approach should marketers choose when segmenting the database? What channels are most effective and for which segment? How can the team improve customer journeys? These are questions that have few answers in the omnichannel marketing landscape today.

Spend Optimization

Brands must also understand how to spend resources wisely and find ways for optimization. For instance, content production usually takes a lot of time and money and because pharma companies cannot produce high-quality content without third party assistance, there remains significant roadblocks in churning out omnichannel marketing content.

Churning out Seamless Content

Most pharma companies reuse and repackage the same content in ways that can be difficult and not appropriate for given channels. Custom-made experiences based on a specific content-channel mix needs to be created. There are several barriers to implementing an omnichannel engagement. Pharma companies need to have deep customer knowledge, mastery of relevant channels and powerful content for each channel. They also need highly coordinated action across channels and the agility to adapt in response to customers’ feedback. This is an ongoing learning process that is built on data, and monitoring discipline, and agility.

All of this may require significant organizational changes to a company’s operating model. Such changes are time consuming, costly, and potentially risky. There also needs to be an acceptance to move away from tried and tested models. In the light of the complexity of implementation of such an engagement approach, pharma companies need a vision or a reason to believe in the benefits of large-scale change. They need best practice instances demonstrating the benefits of omnichannel and providing templates for how to realize them. Very often, the benefits are not so tangible, and the success stories are rare. Pharma needs to look at other industries for inspiration.

The Final Word: Are Pharma Companies ready for Omnichannel Engagement?

To be ready, a culture of optimization needs to be established and gradually phased in, to enable the organization to advance beyond the pilot and recognize the greatest results. The momentum towards omnichannel engagement is increasing, building on powerful market trends, and changing customer needs. Pharma companies are being forced to rethink the way they interact with customers, driven by the proliferation of technology and mobile connectivity, increasing experience with digital engagement and restricted sales rep access. Paired with growing customer needs for an on-demand and personalized content, agile support and an increasing affinity with non-personal and digital forms of engagement, the growth in omnichannel marketing seems to be a reality today.

For most mid-size pharma companies, the challenge in implementing an omnichannel marketing in pharma is less with strategy or technology and more with implementation. Most mid-size pharma companies develop a strategy to deliver an excellent experience for HCPs. Technology helps achieve this with the right expertise. However, this is not enough. The human factor is critical in appreciation that any new technology or initiative needs to be implemented with careful consideration of people’s beliefs, knowledge and skills. The main obstacle remains in bridging the gap between strategy and implementation and providing practical tools to enable people to enact it.

Most mid-size pharma companies lack the right framework for planning an omnichannel marketing flow. An omnichannel engagement in pharma can only work if the marketers can create local plans, tools and training to support their initiatives. Currently, most companies create content for each channel and then for a website. While content from one channel can get repurposed for use in another, this process isn’t easy as it should be. Adaptations are often needed, and multiple reviews are needed. The process isn’t very efficient and is very slow. These in effect hamper the marketing team’s efforts to fully embrace omnichannel marketing.

How you enact omnichannel marketing will depend greatly on where you are on your digital journey and the ambitions of your company. Omnichannel customer engagement can be very sophisticated with targeted communications that precisely meet different kinds of customer needs. This can be very simple and most of the critical success can therefore apply to any ambition level while others are more relevant for advanced forms of omnichannel marketing. Most pharma companies want to activate their content and want to work more strategically. They want to design customer journeys that meet specific HCP information needs and respond to people’s channel and format preferences. You can create an omnichannel system that meets your objectives. Start with your existing content and deliver a better customer experience. This can increase relevancy with customer profiling thus helping mid-size companies with omnichannel tactics and plans in the long run.


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