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Integrating multichannel marketing

External forces are driving the need for pharma to use a greater variety of channels to reach customers
Integrating multichannel marketing

Among the pharma industry's many reputational traits - both deserved and undeserved - is that of an industry that relies too much on previous success and is slow to adapt to a changing business environment.

Although some individual company examples may disprove the rule, this particular attribute seems to fall firmly in the 'deserved' category, especially when it comes to embracing new technology and ways of communication in comparison to other industries.

Digital as the enabler
Over the past few years this rise of digital technology has contributed to the growing capability of multichannel marketing, however, adding new tools to the traditional marketing arsenal.

Put simply, multichannel marketing is the idea of integrating different elements of the marketing mix, including traditional methods and newer digital channels, into an overall strategy that allows these individual channels to complement each other to support a customer who can choose his preferred pathway.

And there is an eager audience for such capabilities with Jan van den Burg, VP commercial strategy, Veeva Europe, explaining at the recent eyeforpharma Barcelona 2014 conference that 2014 marks the year where most healthcare professionals are now 'digital natives', ie they have grown up with digital technology as an integrated part of communications.

This is a new paradigm that has had a marked change in relationships between the pharma industry and their customers, according to Biogen Idec's director marketing excellence, global commercial strategy, Mikael Nilsson.

Speaking to PME, he explained: “The 'Googleification' of the world means you can always get more information instantly. That change in the power structure between HCPs and patients - I don't think it's one channel. It's this massive access to information that's around us.”

As might be expected, pharma is yet to make the most of these capabilities, with Nilsson going on to say: “What I see is that we are afraid of embracing new ways of communicating and new ways of education for ourselves, HCPs and patients. We need to look outside the pharma world to look at what's happening in other industries.”

It doesn't take much research to see that companies in other areas are managing to use digital as part of an effective multichannel marketing approach that can have a real effect on performance.

Take Gatwick Airport for example, which implemented a multi-pronged customer service initiative that used Twitter for real-time customer support, mobile barcodes on construction hoardings linking to airport information and integrated online reviews site Qype (now part of Yelp) into the airport's website to allow customers to review facilities both on a smartphone or at home.

Or take the even simpler idea of a TV programme telling its audience to tweet using a specific hashtag while watching the show to encourage social media discussion. This approach is now so popular that Twitter has developed a guide for TV networks to run a successful campaign.

Digital may have provided the tools for multichannel marketing, but pharma is only now being faced with the drivers to adapt.

Economy as the driver
Ragnar Gaseby, global head of multichannel marketing at Merck & Co/Merck Sharp & Dohme (MSD), discussed pharma's slow integration of multichannel marketing during his presentation on the subject at the eyeforpharma conference.

“In 2008 I moved to a regional role in Europe in charge of multichannel marketing,” he said. “And at that point in time, people asked me 'Why are you doing this?' So I told everyone that this is what marketing is going to be five years from now. Multichannel marketing is marketing in pharma. It is the future.

“Unfortunately I was wrong. We're now over five years ahead and we're not much further compared to 2008.”

This failure for pharma to embrace a multichannel approach has been partly down to there being “something wrong” in what marketers are communicating to the business decision-makers at companies, explained Gaseby in his talk.

And this is mainly to do with the value proposition seen to be offered by multichannel marketing; business strategy leaders at pharma companies are influenced by the bottom line and are looking for more revenue and improved customer experience at a lower cost - something that might not be immediately obvious in multichannel marketing.

However, the wider healthcare environment is now driving the industry towards a multichannel approach, said Gaseby in his presentation, as payers and governments take stricter control on treatment reimbursement and what medicines patients have access to, and tighter healthcare budgets mean reduced spend on drugs.

These issues, coupled with the greater use of digital technology by doctors, patients and other healthcare stakeholders, are driving the need to more efficient, targeted communication that more closely relates to the needs of the customer - something that multichannel has succeeded in doing in other industries.

Speaking to PME, Gaseby's colleague at Merck & Co/MSD, Philippe Kirby (director customer engagement capabilities for the EU and Canada), confirmed the industry's reluctance to fully incorporate multichannel marketing into its business strategy was due to concerns about its worth.

“We started four or five years ago to integrate multichannel marketing, but then it flopped internally because we merged and it took a lot of focus away. And that focus is very much on cost, which may be surprising as multichannel marketing is seen as a low cost means to interact with customers. But, at the time, multichannel marketing was questioned for return on investment.”

Five years on, and for the first time in history, overall pharma sales have stagnated or declined, forcing a change of heart for companies and an awareness to do things differently.

“There's a real call to action,” said Kirby. “We're saying we need to look at doing things differently. Multichannel marketing has risen back to the surface. This is a way to change the paradigm and engage with customers differently according to their channel.”

Company culture and employee skills
As for the practical implications, much will depend on changing company culture, something which Kirby says MSD is already doing.

“We invested a lot last year in iPads and digital content,” he said. “We have put our foot in the digital door. If you give digital content to a sales rep and say here are all the possibilities, you can get more interest.”

Companies also need to think about the relevant skills an employee needs if they need to make the most of multichannel opportunities, although this is dependent on the type of market they work in.

“There is still a need for traditional reps who visit physicians,” said Kirby. “Although this is mainly in smaller markets. But what we need to give everyone is a digital arsenal so that interactions with customers are more and more effective and efficient. Reps should be able to talk about anything when they see a physician.

“There is also an evolution towards different types of rep. There is now the rise of key account management. And there are layers to this as well, such as an account which is just a hospital. And there is a strategic account as well, which is your top customer in a country is based more on building a relationship than the traditional push strategy.”

This evolving approach is something being seen across industry, with Andreas Claus-Kistner, regional portfolio and solution architect EMEA for Roche explaining the views of his company to PME.

“There is a change in the role of the client rep. The sales service now requires integrated multichannel marketing, which means having the right sales messaging across all the channels.”

For Claus-Kistner, this means the use of reps as 'conductors' who can build relationships with payers and healthcare professionals.

“I don't say sales rep, I say client rep because they are the face to the customer. This person has to orchestrate all the different channels and has to tailor what is needed and when. We also have the medical scientific liaison, who has the medical information. This strategy is gaining a lot of importance, so there is a big shift.”

A multichannel approach is also allowing Roche to better tailor both the content a doctor receives and the medium through it is delivered.

“We are going away from quantity to quality,” said Claus-Kistner, who explained that part of Roche's strategy involves the development of a single, customisable healthcare portal for HCPs to access rather than creating 100s of different product websites. This project is being piloted in Italy at the moment, but is scheduled for a wider European roll-out.

“It's not what we want to tell the customer anymore,” he said. “They tell us what they would like to know. This is where we have to change. Go from push to pull and be more responsive.” 

Measuring value
But going back to the reservations of pharma companies from five years ago, measurement of value remains an important area of exploration in multichannel marketing. Just how do you judge the return on investment?

It's not a simple answer and much depends on the skills of the salesforce and the marketing channels used. 

Roche has looked to feedback from doctors, and Claus-Kistner told of how areas where multichannel marketing is already used, awareness of the areas Roche works in and its related products and services is high. “This shows already it is the right approach,” he said. “On the other side, in other countries, the awareness is very low.”

MSD's Kirby offered examples of internal added value too, including the ability for a rep to improve his work efficiency when dealing in a variety of channels using technology such as an iPad: “He's not just doing the detail. He's updating his email or doing more online planning of his next activities. Everywhere we've measured that efficiency, it's gone up 50 per cent in a short time.”

Multichannel as the norm
It may have taken an economic crash to push things forward, but it seems like a multichannel approach that allows healthcare marketing to become more personalised and customer-centric is becoming a reality.

Pharma companies will have to up their game soon though, with Biogen Idec's Nilsson warning that experienced digital and communications firms such as Google, Orange and Samsung are quickly making their mark in the healthcare world. This may prove beneficial, however, if pharma takes the chance to build relationships and learn how to manage digital communications in a multichannel setting in an efficient successful way.

The desire is already there for many in the industry; just take a look at the recent PME Digital Futures survey which saw respondents place multichannel marketing as the top answer to both the questions 'What would you like to make more use of in 2014?' and 'What will your company focus on in 2014?'

Who knows, five years down the line, Gaseby's great expectations for multichannel marketing and pharma marketing to be synonymous may yet ring true.

Article by
Tom Meek

group editor - PMGroup

17th April 2014

From: Research, Sales, Marketing, Regulatory, Healthcare

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