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Digital communications—not just for whitespace anymore

By Brad Davidson, PhD, SVP Strategic Planning
There is a belief among many healthcare communications and brand managers that multi-channel marketing (MCM) is a substitute for human interaction—and a poor substitute at that, one whose relevance was forced upon the industry as a direct reaction to the rise of “no-see” physicians. This may have once been true, especially at the beginning, when the loss of access started accelerating and digital was still in its infancy (or at least, toddling along).

We started, as do all industries undergoing massive technological, administrative, and social changes, by adaptation-by-analogy, or what can be termed the “faster horse” syndrome: for doctors to whom we could no longer provide an in-person detail, we created e-details; for audiences who no longer went to congresses, we created virtual conferences. Taking these one-to-one conversions from face-to-face to digital were, almost always, seen as a step backwards. Digital communications, at the beginning, were something we settled for when the real McCoy wasn’t available to us.

That thinking is obsolete. Digital has changed how we—and that includes physicians—communicate.

At some point in the last decade, digital became a de-facto fact of everyday life, commerce, and relationships. There isn’t a single purchase I make today for which I don’t do some research online, and more often than not, that purchase is conducted online. Likewise, if I need to learn something, train for something, get certified in something, I start with the Internet.

There is not one single relationship I have that is not, in some way, mediated or supplemented by digital communications: this is true for my work relationships, my professional associations, and includes everyone in my personal life, from my wife, to my children, to every friend, colleague, and acquaintance who shares interests with me. I not only see my family almost every day, I text, email, and Facebook with them; for all my work colleagues, you can subtract Facebook but add LinkedIn, Yammer, Skype, and Gmail.

And doctors, like everyone, do the same. At some point, digital went from being a form of second rate coverage for “whitespace” physicians, to a necessary component of ANY communication campaign, be it promotional, educational, or social.

Understanding the who, what, and when of digital technologies

HCPs clearly have an appetite for digital technologies.  In fact, recent research shows that 92% of U.S. HCPs say digital platforms like mobile apps and websites improve the quality of medical information they receive, and 84% say digital technology can improve the patient experience in healthcare. Yet only 36% of HCPs either agree or strongly agree that access to digital information has improved the value of interactions with pharmaceutical reps. The majority of them are on the fence. (These data are based on a recent survey of over 1200 members of our web and mobile physician community; we see similar data among HCPs in European markets.)digital survey stats2
The key is to develop the right cadence of communications – understanding which tactics to deploy and when and to which audiences in order to provide a valuable, highly engaging experience that keeps the relationship fresh in-between live interactions.

For example, we worked with a client to boost engagement around a therapy in a very competitive market. Taking a “surround sound” approach to engagement – including using digital to round out and make comprehensive their face-to-face meetings with sales reps – led to significant, measurable lift in new prescriptions over a 22 month timeframe.

That’s a great headline for our client. Further analysis showed that the campaign had significant impact among HCPs who received zero sales rep promotion—scenarios in which it makes sense for lower-cost digital outreach to stand in for rep visits. Perhaps more interestingly, the campaign had the greatest impact among the client’s “highest value” HCPs who did experience some level of sales rep promotion. For these highest value HCPs, the campaign appears to complement and add value on top of live details.

Key takeaway: Digital should be central to your engagement strategy, not just an ancillary element of your multi-channel marketing mix. An integrated, thoughtfully deployed digital campaign will of course engage your whitespace HCPs, but it also complements the efforts of your field force, keeping the lines of communication open and gathering insights reps can use to create a higher value experience. Because if you’re not in a digital relationship with your audiences—especially with physicians who are unfamiliar with your brand and its attributes—you’re only in half a relationship.

31st May 2016


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Aptus Health

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