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Communications effectiveness – what are we really measuring?

When pharma clients demand more effectiveness, do they really know what they want, asks Michel Nakache?

Communication effectivnessThere needs to be a step-change in the way agencies and their clients understand and measure the effectiveness of advertising and communications campaigns for pharma brands.

Measuring effectiveness is a well-established practice in consumer marketing, following tried and tested methodologies to enable clients and their agencies to identify the most effective marketing communications channels and tools, in particular by discounting activities which may have impacted performance, but are not marketing communications.

The net result is that clients know what their budgets are achieving and agencies understand the contribution they are making to the overall success of their client.

In my own experience of working with the European Commission, outside of the pharma sector, you would not even think of starting to plan a campaign without a full diagnosis of the current situation, leading to a definition of appropriate goals, quantitative and qualitative measures of belief and behaviour change and a clear commitment to post-campaign analysis. It sounds simple … set goals for behaviour change and then measure results to see how successful the campaign was and which elements contributed to success … but I've been in the business for 35 years and it's very rare to see this happen!

What does effectiveness mean?
In the pharma sector, effectiveness is a goal rather than a practice. Effectiveness pervades every corner of our conversations with clients, but when they ask for effectiveness, they really mean more sales for less money. While sales and prescription rates are important, they are not the only benchmark of a campaign's effectiveness and they can be impacted by many different factors.

The reality is that we don't have standard practice in metrics – at either agency or client – and this leads to an exaggerated focus on simplistic analyses. 

For example, if a client's salesforce was reduced by 50 per cent it would have a massive impact on sales – but without proper measurement, the failure to reach goals can be wrongly blamed on the communications campaign or the agency.

How much and which drugs diabetologists and GPs are prescribing is actually the result of a combined effort between the salesforce, the communications campaign, pricing and distribution, competitive activity and a host of other variables. Not being able to separate these out means that the true impact of marketing communications cannot be understood properly.  

There is a strong relationship between goals and campaign results – but to get the best from an agency, they need to be able to judge the success of their contribution, not just the overall result of the combined action. Now, even when clients share quantitative success, the agency doesn't know what its own contribution has been.

It is possible to analyse digital usage, PR results or advertising impact on the public, but as things stand now, in pharma, there are no studies in place to begin the process.

One of the reasons why consumer marketers, in the OTC sector for example, are so much better at measurement is that the marketer has annual budget, of which perhaps as much as 95 per cent is allocated to a TV campaign and spent in a relatively short period of time, leaving just 5 per cent for the rest of the year for other activities. So the OTC marketer has to measure carefully to make sure the budget is spent wisely.

However, on the prescription side, impacts are much longer-term, so clients are under less pressure to invest in measurement.

we don't have a standard practice in metrics and this leads to an exaggerated focus on simplistic analyses

This is not to suggest that agencies are without blame. There is a self-serving tendency among many to focus too much on 'look and feel' and not on quality of impact. Agencies tend to search for insights and 'look and feel' with a view to winning awards; conversely, clients often appear to look only at sales.  Yet, in between, there is a whole world of possibilities!

What needs to change?
To change this impasse requires flexibility and understanding by both sides: pharma companies should not focus only on sales, but on the whole marketing journey to check if agencies are performing across the board.

For their part, agencies must focus on key performance indicators (KPIs) and demonstrate why concept, messaging and channel choices are made and how they can be optimised.

Better input before and after a campaign would provide more pertinent work, add value to the strategic thinking of agencies and positively impact end performance for the client.

This overall lack of understanding and acceptance of qualitative research is especially apparent in the pitch process, where clients give much more information about key competitors, their position in the market, a lot of scientific information plus quantitative information on sales performance, number of prescriptions, target audience etc. 

What agencies actually need is insights-driven information, for example what physicians are thinking and why they prescribe one brand over another; similarly, patients have a strong influence on physicians, but no usage pattern studies are provided.

As a result, agencies have to do their own research, but in a pitch process lasting perhaps three to five weeks, there is no time to do this properly and all recommendations are therefore based on small samples and very basic questionnaires.

What's needed is more investment in market research

To change this impasse requires flexibility and understanding on both sides

It is clear that, to get the best work from agencies, there is an urgent need to invest in more market research. Clients need to do more pre-work on qualitative studies and at the end of the campaign to re-do qualitative studies in order to measure its success in terms of belief and behaviour change. This would result in better definition of what clients need and more importantly to a sharing of mutual goals, rather than the current practice of working along parallel but separate paths. It would impact enormously on the quality of the work created.

Everyone understands that businesses are struggling with budgets and challenged to improve profitability – but the answer is not simply to reduce spending and demand more effectiveness, without defining what that really means in measurable terms. The current situation leads to more and more pressure from clients to improve effectiveness without giving agencies the tools to do it, ultimately leading to dissatisfaction and a constant cycle of pitches and agency changes.

To be really effective, agencies and clients need to be held accountable to mutually agreed and measurable goals. This will lead to better informed and more creative campaigns and in turn result in improvements in effectiveness and efficiency. 

The outcome must be a win–win for both sides. 

Agencies must get closer to their clients' businesses and get to grips with their quantitative and qualitative goals in order to develop joint KPIs that show what effect the agency is having. Agencies need to explain why pre- and post-research would improve effectiveness and ask their clients to do pre- and post-tests. 

For their part, pharma companies should undertake to do more qualitative studies and share their business issues more openly with their agencies.

In short, we need to bring the discipline inherent in the consumer sector into the pharma sector.

One way that the Health Communications Council of EACA is trying to do that is through the creation of a pharma category in the established Euro Effie Awards, the only European award for marketing communications effectiveness for international campaigns. As this grows, it will demonstrate that pharma marketing communications can be effective in isolation from other factors, can be properly and accurately measured and hopefully convince more and more clients that the way to greater effectiveness is through greater understanding.

Michel Nakache

Michel Nakache
is EVP Europe at McCann Healthcare, a member of the EACA Health Communications Council.  

25th September 2012

From: Marketing

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