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Smart Thinking blog

Insights and expert advice on the key issues facing today’s pharma marketer

CLM Brings Supermarket Savvy to Pharma

The technology is there – pharma can now individualise its communications – through the use of closed-loop marketing. It’s all a matter of engaging customer insights. Learn from your experience as a regular supermarket shopper and put in place a similar approach to align your marketing communications to specific customer needs

Closed-loop marketing (CLM) is a system of developing and revising communications based on direct and indirect consumer feedback. It's also a set of technological tools (databases, smartphone and tablet apps, websites) that enable rapid collection and analysis of data, and rapid revision and dissemination of communications. In short, it's on-demand communications customised for the customer.

Here's a brief analogy. Think about the experience of shopping for food produce, and how it's changed:

  • Your grandparents bought their produce from a local greengrocer, who knew their names, what they liked, when major events in their lives might suggest certain needs or desires for purchases. But the greengrocer's stock levels were low, inconsistent, and sourced mostly locally. Plus, he only had resources to service a small local neighbourhood. (And he had a natural monopoly, so his prices and selection weren't subject to competition.) 'Promotion' was nonexistent, or done entirely through word of mouth and social channels.
  • Your parents shopped for food at a supermarket. They had access to an increasingly broad supply of products, at cheaper cost. But they had no personal connection to the product offerings. The supermarket's value proposition was variety plus low cost. Other than keeping a keen eye on stock levels, store managers had little understanding of what your parents, specifically, thought or wanted. Promotion consisted of adverts and weekly inserts and coupons – with little to no direct feedback from consumers.
  • Today, you might shop at the same supermarket as your parents did – but your relationship with the supermarket will be different. Now, thanks to loyalty cards and smartphone apps (and website tools), the supermarket knows more about you than the greengrocer did about your grandparents – and the supermarket can tailor its truly global offerings and its promotions to your particular tastes. The supermarket doesn't bother you with promotions that you don't care about. Tesco knows that you're a vegetarian with two cats (for example) – so they don't bother you with offers for ground beef or Winalot.

The supermarket uses CLM to achieve this – database-driven tools to customise offerings and communications to target demographics, with the ability to shift and realign messages in response to demonstrated customer behaviours and preferences. This same transformation is taking place in pharma.

How can pharma learn from the supermarket?

Adoption of CLM in pharma means that pharma reps and marketers can finally work in tandem with standard database marketing techniques that have been in place for years. It's the convergence of the best of the old (from the example above, our greengrocer's customer knowledge and personability) and the new (our supermarket's global reach and efficiency).

Through several vendors (Veeva, Skura, Agnitio, among others) – database marketing is now available at the sales rep level. Usually armed with an iPad or other tablet, a sales rep can pull up a screen in advance of a discussion with a physician, select that physician's profile, and automatically customise a presentation to that physician's needs and interests.

The iPad will show the previous calls with that physician, areas of interest (based on selections from previous details), suggested conversation topics, and suggested interactive engagements.

CLM can also incorporate 'self-driven' channels – for example, when a physician or pharmacist visits a product website, or logs in to a dedicated information-sharing portal. This information feeds into the professional's profile and preferences, adding greater richness to the rep/physician dialogue.

To some degree, CLM isn't really a new principle in pharma marketing so much as it is an acceleration and optimisation of established best practices through technology. With CLM, the basic principles of effective marketing are alive and not just well, but thriving. Now we not only identify and communicate a clear value proposition for a product, based on the specific unmet needs in the market we can do it based on the specific unmet needs of Dr Jones.

Article by
John Stacey

VP, Interactive Services
Kane & Finkel Healthcare Communications

14th September 2012

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