With the requirements of strict compliance to ‘Covid appropriate behavior’ becoming critical for all, pharma reps’ physical access to physicians for F2F calls got severely restricted, across the world.
A paper from IQVIA of May 14, 2021, reported: ‘As patient visits shifted to digital in 2020, pharma was pushed to digital customer engagement at the same time.’ It further added, ‘there was a 75% decrease in promotional activity worldwide, and up to a 500% increase in engagement via remote channels. In my article dated October 19, 2020, I also wrote that the pandemic propels healthcare into a new and the virtual world, creating a new growth driver for pharma.
Looking ahead the above IQVIA paper envisaged – post pandemic, when the medical profession will get ‘busy with a backlog of patients returning to in-office visits, providers may prefer to continue engaging remotely with pharmaceutical reps via email or video conference.’ As this trend gains traction with greater application of Artificial Intelligence (AI), it may prove to be a blessing in disguise, to excel in pharma business with greater cost-effectiveness and overall business productivity than the pre-Covid era.
I deliberated some of these issues in my article of April 05, 2021. However, my today’s deliberation would focus on the relevance of leveraging AI to gain a competitive edge in the changing dynamics with Omnichannel pharma marketing.
Let me start with a basic question – would Omnichannel marketing significantly help to achieve greater cost-effectiveness in pharma business as compared to the old normal?
Would digital transformations yield greater cost-effectiveness?
This point was also deliberated by the JAMA Health Forum on September 08, 2020. It found: “The switch to video meetings and online presentations has made drug promotion far less costly for companies – no travel expenses for sales reps and doctors, no fine dining events, and low fixed costs of producing video content that can reach a large audience. History and economics tell us that the lower the costs of doing something, the more firms will engage in it.”
The article further reiterated – now that remote working has dissolved the boundaries between home and office, sales reps can reach doctors in their homes, at all hours, ratcheting up the intensity of exposure to product messaging. Having validated greater cost effectiveness of the digital shift of the pharma business operations, including marketing, let me get back to some key findings of the above IQVIA report dated May 14, 2021.
The new customer engagement model will expand to remote and digital:
The above IQVIA research captured the following worldwide trends, vindicating the above:
- The trend of customer engagement preferences and behavior is shifting toward virtual and in favor of remote channels.
- Relationships won’t go away, but reps will need to shift their focus from relationship management to more scientific engagement to ensure that detailing adds value to the doctors.
- Remote detailing is here to stay with in-person detailing remains at an all-time low.
- Depending on the therapeutic area, telehealth visits will increase anywhere from 50% to 200% from pre-COVID-19 numbers, with both patients and doctors appreciating their value.
- To stay competitive in this new reality, pharma companies will have to adopt new models of customer engagement across their entire organization with more agility than ever before.
- Companies will need to quickly understand different customer preferred channels, types of engagements with them, and shift investments based on the new information they’re receiving.
- Flawless integration of such information for precise execution is critical for remote Omnichannel engagement capabilities – to deliver the right content and services to customers, while measuring impact.
A few years ago in the old normal, on December 18, 2018, I emphasized that: “Pioneering ‘Omnichannel’ engagement is pivotal” in the pharma business. Let’s have a quick recap of this area.
Relevance of Omnichannel marketing in pharma:
For the last several years, pharma companies have tried to go beyond its traditional F2F interactions of sales reps with its customers, especially the physicians. However, Covid pandemic triggered a paradigm change in this area with a rapid increase in the use of multiple digital channels to offer remote interactive, and mostly live platforms to them. The channels, nature of content for each, time, and place of such personalized interactions, are selected according to specific customer preferences and are generally made available 24×7. The key objectives include, building customer loyalty towards pharma brands/services of the company and make them feel valued.
According to ‘Prognos Health’ - an Omnichannel approach in pharma includes a cross-channel strategy that seamlessly integrates content – both online and offline – to provide consistency across multiple end-to-end touch points
during the customer’s journey. This approach is especially important in pharma marketing where physicians tend to be short on time and are under pressure to make treatment decisions quickly for their patients.
A well-researched and innovative Omnichannel campaign when meticulously executed, is expected to be more effective, as it helps pharma players to reach the right customers, at a right time with the right content. Besides, it is more cost-effective, as by leveraging AI, it can help optimize the nature and quantum of promotional spend – based on previous outcomes and other measurable impacts.
According to Prognos Health, an Omnichannel approach in pharma includes a cross-channel strategy that seamlessly integrates content – both online and offline – to provide consistency across multiple touch points during the customer’s journey. That said, this approach comes with a challenge – clarity of mind for pharma marketers while taking each major strategic step in this endeavor.
Omnichannel marketing isn’t another name of Multichannel engagement:
It is important to note that ‘Omnichannel (all-channel)’ pharma marketing isn’t just another name of ‘Multichannel (many-channel)’ engagement. However, both will be able to deliver targeted contents to patients through several interactive digital platforms. These include smartphone-based Apps, specially formatted websites, social media community and the likes. But the difference is - ‘Omnichannel approach connects these channels, bridging technology-communication gaps that may exist in multichannel solutions.’
An article on why pharma marketers are embracing Omnichannel marketing, published in the Pharmaceutical Executive on June 30, 2021, highlighted: ‘An integrated strategy based on Omnichannel marketing is now increasingly replacing multichannel marketing.’ Nonetheless, any change from the fragmented and siloed multichannel approach to Omnichannel marketing would entail ‘simultaneous orchestration of channels across personal, non-personal, and media.’ This is essential to address 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,’ the article said. No wonder, why Omnichannel pharma marketing is considered by many as ‘‘The Cinderella of marketing activities,’ as it were.
Omnichannel approach – ‘The Cinderella of marketing activities’:
The pharma players’ confidence in juggling traditional channels with digital means is certainly increasing since the onset of Covid pandemic. Interestingly, the L.E.K Consulting article on this subject, published on May 24, 2021, also articulated, why only an astute pharma marketer can handle it the way it should be.
It said, ‘true Omnichannel engagement — the integration, orchestration and tailoring of customer interactions across multiple channels to match HCPs’ profile-specific needs — has been the Cinderella of marketing activities. Although, multichannel engagement — the use of two or more channels that run relatively independently from one another — is increasingly in use, ‘the Omnichannel engagement model is altogether more dynamic and complex.’
Let me take this thread to flag, how dynamic and complex Omnichannel marketing is, to reap a rich harvest in the pharma business. Application of AI will be necessary to facilitate this process.
The role of AI in Omnichannel pharma marketing:
Although, drug companies have now the requisite tools for stakeholder engagement across several channels – Omnichannel marketing will prompt their marketers to clearly know – from relevant data analysis – the answers to some critical questions. These queries include – which channels to choose for the specific customers? In what frequency? What should be the right content for each?
Yet another article from the Pharmaceutical Executive, published on July 15, 2021, underscored: ‘The answers to these questions at scale – can only be achieved using AI.’ It further reiterated that in this process, AI creates a more personalized engagement. Ironically, in this scenario, “the artificial intelligence enables a natural experience – infusing humanity back into marketing and sales.”
In the hindsight, many experts interviewed in the above article, feel that historically, pharma’s traditional product-driven marketing model has fallen short of delivering coherent and high-quality customer experience. This is sometimes due to internal competition between brands, besides lack of customer listening, and frequent employee turnover. Following this model – for a long time, alienated pharma companies, their customers, the patients, the public at large, and also the regulating authorities.
In the new normal, when Covid-19 pushes pharma to walk the talk of ‘Patient-Centricity’, the companies need to jettison its product-driven marketing model. ‘No matter how many apps and brand portals a company offers, the model was doomed to failure because it centered on the brand, not on the customer,’ as several hands-on global pharma leaders believe.
In this scenario, as I wrote on August 10, 2020, the drug players need to shift from disease centered care to patient-goals directed care in the new normal where Omnichannel marketing – backed by AI, will play a game changing role for excellence. AI will help pharma marketers use real time – unbiased data, to know what exactly a customer’s expectations are from the company, and deliver the deliverables accordingly, to delight them. From this perspective, I reckon, leveraging AI to gain a competitive edge through Omnichannel marketing, could be a game changer to win a pharma marketing warfare.
By: Tapan J. Ray
Disclaimer: The views/opinions expressed in this article are entirely my own, written in my individual and personal capacity. I do not represent any other person or organization for this opinion.