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Achieving communication excellence by targeting the right channel at the right time

By Danny Buckland

Launch exellence

It’s been a turbulent term for the pharmaceutical industry and the end of year reports make for patchy reading as the pandemic’s forced syllabus changes created a new world of learning.

Introducing new subjects and accelerating the core curriculum has challenged the keenest of teachers and students, while the pursuit of top marks in communications excellence has involved equal measures of head-scratching, innovation, inspiration and heavy homework duties.

Adjustments have been tough across all sectors and pharma, with its more cautious approach to digital transformation, has faced the biggest burn as the pandemic scorched through traditional lines of engagement and reframed how healthcare professionals (HCPs) and industry communicated. Insights have been hard won, but there is an emerging class of excellence that focuses on an acute understanding of both the knowledge HCPs need as well as the how, when and where that knowledge will be consumed.

“Change is always hard and a lot of people are still adjusting. All companies were somewhere on a digital transformation journey, but no one envisaged the amount of change we have experienced over a short period,” said Harriet Coady, account director at Purple Agency, an international marketing agency that is part of HH Global.

“There was a mass onslaught for healthcare agencies as they digitised assets, which was a learning curve in many respects. But, after the initial panic, there is now a clear understanding that there are opportunities as well as challenges. It has made companies more agile and adaptable.

“We have seen from research that engagements between pharma and HCPs have become more focused and meaningful. It shows that HCPs still want contact and information, but the demand is for the content to be exactly what they want. This puts pressure on communications to deliver with precision.”

Coady believes that communications excellence is achieved by combining relevant content with the right channel and timing. The extra element added to the mix is the need to target messaging to each HCP or group of HCPs.

“We have to analyse and understand our target HCP audience and how we can serve them best, and that might even mean stepping back at times if there is nothing new or interesting to share,” she added.

“You do not want to be part of the digital bombardment where your messages become diluted... [The key is] selecting the right channels, and making sure that your messages resonate at the right time with the right audience, otherwise they will just switch off.

“Investing time up front to understand who they are, their behaviour, what they want and then mapping channels of communication is crucial. You have to delve deep into your customer journey and plan it in a lot more detail than you typically would have, in order to make sure that you are hitting them with the right message. And it has to feel personal to them.”

Pharma is getting braver
Purple has introduced more convenient, light- touch engagements with HCPs by supplying them with podcasts, short videos and bite-sized webinars that can be downloaded during spare moments in the day or out of working hours. It is a strategy of convenience that is radiating around the sector, with the aim of creating interest and encouraging engagement rather than swamping HCPs in the hope of flushing out opportunities.

“Creativity is still very important and we are seeing more of that on social media and, thankfully, the pandemic has triggered companies to be braver,” added Coady. “These changes have been tough because they have come at such a pace, but they had to happen and it is a good thing to be pushed sometimes. It makes for an exciting future.”

Barney Mayles, a director at Anthem Public Relations, a Resonant Group company, sees digital and social media exerting significant and lasting influence across the sector. “Everyone is used to digital now. It is technically easier to communicate and every pharma company has shifted online,” he said. “This has created a race for the most optimised and targeted delivery, which is where segmentation comes in. You cannot send out blanket communications. You have to know your client audience.

“The contact also has to grab their attention and be highly relevant or it will end in the bin along with so many of the emails HCPs are inundated with.

“Digital has made it both easier and harder for communications, in a sense. You have more channels to reach them on, but is it easier to pique their interest? Probably not.

“This is one of the biggest challenges companies face – they are all firing out information which is competing and the only way to win is through relevance and not wasting HCPs’ time.”

His insights drive at a highly nuanced and reactive sector where campaigns have to be accessible to regular tweaks to secure interest and product traction. He advocates using digital options to measure outputs across impressions, engagement rates, video views, downloads, shares and retweets that allows content to be finessed to drive action and change in target audiences.

Attention to practicalities may not be high on the creative to-do list, but it pays dividends, he added. Ensuring databases have the right consents and permissions, having strong GDPR and making it easy for HCPs to search and discover content via simple logging-in processes helps encourage enduring connections.

Authenticity beats air-brushing
The temptation to plunder digital’s graphic capabilities to produce movie-style quality should be used with caution, added Mayles.

“We’ve witnessed in our campaigns that the best performing content is not always shiny or polished. The authentic often out-performs the airbrushed,” he said.

“The direction is moving away from the filters and towards the real world of patients and their experiences. It is content from a patient perspective with no company logo on it.

“A couple of years before the pandemic, videos would involve a film crew, a big production with a soundtrack and the patient speaking to a camera, but now there is a definite shift to authenticity with unstaged videos in patients’ homes really resonating.

“The more targeted and authentic you are, the more you will be able to address the unmet knowledge gaps with your target audiences. This leads to more collaboration and respect between pharma and HCPs because we are seen as offering something valuable, which addresses their unmet need and helps them support patients better.

“We are finding that smaller, snackable content performs better. For example, a one-minute video that piques HCPs’ interest can link through to a five-minute explainer video that might not have landed if it was the first point of contact. They are also unlikely to read something with a long list of all your key messages.”

The era of change is far from over, said Roy Rogers, director at Research Partnership, the healthcare market research and consulting agency, part of the Ashfield group. “We are still trying to find a landing spot post-COVID-19, but regardless of where that space is, it won’t stay there for long because the pace of innovation has increased,” he added.

“Pharma marketing has tended to be more conservative than consumer categories, for obvious reasons, but the pandemic has forced a degree of innovation onto the industry, at speed. Now, industry is embracing the benefits of a faster pace of innovation, and utilising the technology that’s out there.

“The key challenges are no different to pre-pandemic times – how to achieve effective targeting with the right content through the right channels.”

But Rogers identifies a step change in the traditional route of deploying social media. “One of the more interesting elements of social media is the emergence of a new brand of influencers,” he said.

“Influencers in the pharmaceutical space used to be highly regarded experts that we know as ‘Key Opinion Leaders’, but we now see a quite different influence from people who are maybe less senior, but are well and broadly connected. They operate like online influencers in any other category, except they are healthcare professionals.

“Industry is still trying to work out who these people are, and how to – or whether to – engage with them. So it’s a case of identifying them and understanding what content they react to and how they share it, and the challenges and opportunities that presents.”

Maximising return on investment
Rogers believes the new era of digital or hybrid communications needs to have greater attention paid to audience segmentation, and deeper measurement and evaluation to unlock its true value. “Communications excellence is a combination of effective targeting and the quality of the content which are disciplines pharma is familiar with,” he added.

“But pharma marketing has not optimised what is available in terms of understanding the likely impact and response that the communications will generate. Traditional research approaches tend to access more considered ‘system 2’ responses, but not necessarily the instinctive or more visceral ‘system 1’ responses.

“There are tools that use AI and implicit techniques, which access these more instinctive responses, and we see those being used more as clients search for a fuller picture of customer responses to their campaigns.

“This is ultimately about maximising return on investment. If you are making huge investments in terms of content creation, you need to be sure you have the right content, delivered via preferred channels to the right segments. This is a mix you need to constantly evaluate.

“The market is increasingly fragmented in terms of what clients want and how they want it, and we can expect more developments and evolution over the coming years.”

The grounds will continue to shift, but analysing target audiences to understand their specific needs for content and making it available when, where and how they want it will form the foundations of communications excellence.

Danny Buckland is a journalist specialising in the healthcare industry

2nd August 2022

Danny Buckland is a journalist specialising in the healthcare industry

2nd August 2022

From: Marketing

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