“The COVID-19 pandemic forced pharmaceutical companies adopt digital-first marketing models when in-person strategies were inaccessible, but health care practitioners report they’re becoming increasingly inundated with information and the shift to virtual marketing isn’t meeting their needs.” This was the finding of a new research of Indegene, published on March 02, 2022. The survey covers around 1,000 physicians from the U.S., Europe, China, and India.
Currently, many HCPs construe that pharma’s increasing frequency of digital outreach – involving several digital channels and various touch points, primarily to push product-related promotional information, is excessive. Continuity of such feelings could be counterproductive to the desired intent of drug companies.
Therefore, the point that surfaces: Is the digital marketing drive of many pharma marketers, even when the Covid pandemic is in a waning phase, ‘overwhelming’ some Key Opinion Leaders (KOL)? More important is to fathom, how to address it? Today’s article will focus on this emerging issue. Let me begin with a few other key findings of this paper.
Some other key findings of the survey:
Some of the major findings of the above survey include:
- Digital marketing channels for HCPs most commonly include webinars, social media outreach, emails and text messaging from reps and self-directed web and remote detailing.
- While HCPs are becoming more familiar with digital technologies, 62% of them feel ‘overwhelmed’ by product-related promotional content they receive from pharma companies through various virtual channels.
- 70% feel that drug companies are out of touch with their information needs and expectations from new drugs, besides other products and services.
- 63% HCPs expect pharma companies to share only relevant content with them – over channels of their preferences, and at a time of their convenience, to make the interactions more insightful.
At this point, let us also have a glance at the findings of other recent surveys, as well, in this space.
Other surveys also point in the same direction:
Yes, other surveys also vindicate this point. For example,
A. Just prior to the above study, on December 07, 2021, Accenture published the findings of their own study in this regard, which includes the following:
- 65% of HCPs feel that several pharma companies have “spammed” them with digital content as the COVID-19 pandemic went through several waves.
- The firms need to do more to better understand and meet HCP expectations (56%) and their patients (60%) due to COVID-19.
- When pharma companies do more, 80% of HCPs would be twice as likely to meet the pharma reps with more time and attention.
- Almost half of the HCPs surveyed (46%) prefer a mix of in-person and virtual meetings focused on the needs of their patients, as the COVID-19 pandemic ends.
B. Another study on this subject was published in PLOS ONE, on April 16, 2021. This study focused on pharma Webinars. As many will be aware, Webinars comprised a major avenue for customer engagement during COVID-19 – creating initial general satisfaction among physicians.
This, in turn, led to an increase in webinar usage in 2020 compared to the same period in 2019, with more than 300% in one study and up to 3250% in another. Which is why, despite the initial satisfaction – over a period, most physicians ‘felt overwhelmed with the number and frequency of webinars.’
Hence, customer satisfaction being crucial in any engagement process, Webinars may now be used with a purpose to complement traditional in-person methods, rather than replacement, study concluded.
What exactly doctors want to know in the new normal?
Against the above new backdrop – the issue is, how can pharma marketers engage the HCPs without overwhelming them, mostly with continuous, too frequent and wave after wave digital contents. This point was addressed in a Fierce Pharma article, published on February 16, 2022. It quoted some doctors saying, such as:
- “If I’m a [high prescriber], great, remind me about efficacy.”
- “But I also want to know who’s the right patient for this drug.”
- “I want to know what access is like.”
- “What types of patient savings programs are available?”
- How can I support my patient, so they stay on the drug—because I believe in it.”
- “If I’m a non-writer, I want to know how the mechanism of action is different?” “How does this drug show up in the guidelines?”
- “Is there head-to-head data versus another drug?”
Reps digital training demands a fresh focus:
Educating or updating doctors through Continuing Medical Education (CME) programs is an ongoing process for drugmakers. It remained so with remote digital channels during the pandemic, as well. Whereas, selecting digitally savvy reps, training and helping them to be “flexible and efficient” in using digital channels and content, based on HCP preferences – demands a fresh focus.
As some of the above studies also emphasized that significantly reducing the number of reps because of wider use of remote digital platforms, may not be advisable at this juncture. This is despite some companies are now doing it – both globally and locally. For example, on January 12, 2022, Reuters reported: ‘Pfizer to cut U.S. sales staff, as meetings with healthcare providers move to virtual.’
On the contrary, I reckon, most reps will need fresh training to ‘go beyond the product script, particularly if a given doctor has seen plenty of digital product info already.’ The same paper further suggests: “Reps should focus on conversations that make the interactions insightful – and avoid driving product information fatigue.”
With the intensity of Covid-19 pandemic subsiding, many HCPs feel that they’re getting too much digital content from pharma companies. While they aren’t totally averse to digital communication, several of them expressed by being increasingly “spammed” as the time progressed.
For making pharma companies’ engagement with their customers in the changing times, this issue needs to be effectively addressed, soon. The companies will need to select and deploy marketers with a deeper understanding of what HCPs are looking for, to make new digitally focused marketing more meaningful to them – fetching greater business return.
Some studies also signaled that significantly reducing the number of reps – as less staff is required for digital engagement with doctors, may not be prudent at this stage. Instead, the companies need to upskill their digitally savvy reps ‘to integrate remote and digital touchpoints successfully with their in-person touchpoints.’
All these new initiatives when taken in tandem and well-integrated manner, will help meet doctors’ engagement preferences. In that process, pharma players will succeed in taming physicians’ digital fatigue with product-communication overdose, especially, in today’s time – making their marketing efforts more productive and meaningful to HCPs.
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.