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Customers, content and change

By Dominic Tyer


As we move from the ‘new normal’ to the ‘next normal’ and beyond, the landscape for pharma’s commercial operations continues to shift, with all stakeholders beginning to adjust to a post-pandemic world.

Whether it’s premature or not to talk of conditions being truly ‘post-pandemic’, we have certainly left behind the depths of COVID- 19’s acute phase, with all the unprecedented upheaval that wrought on companies’ traditional engagement efforts. We can also see the digital acceleration experienced by pharma over the last two and a half years beginning to take hold, with some improvements in digital excellence last year, as organisations adjust to the changed circumstances.

This year, those circumstances have changed to gradually allow face-to-face events, in many cases for the first time since 2019. One of those was Reuters Events’ Customer Engagement Europe, which took place at the Hilton London Tower Bridge at the end of May.

In addition to it proving to be surprisingly nice to be back in a large hotel ballroom once again for an actual in-person conference, the event was a useful opportunity to take stock of some of the shifts that the industry’s commercial organisations face and hear some pandemic, and post- pandemic, lessons.

The vaccine customer
One of the stories most embedded in the health crisis was from Moderna’s Darius Hughes. Previously the head of Pfizer’s UK and Ireland vaccines business unit, Darius joined Moderna as its first UK employee in July 2021. He took up his new post as general manager for the UK and Ireland at a time of striking momentum for the company, thanks of course to Spikevax.

Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine made a crucial contribution to public health and had a transformative effect on the company that saw headcount increase from 300 before the pandemic to over 3,000. As of the second quarter of 2020, the company had never had a product gain regulatory approval or even run a phase 3 clinical trial. Fast-forward to January 2021 and the company had international name recognition and European Medicines Agency approval for its COVID-19 vaccine as a result of a very large clinical trial involving tens of thousands of participants. But rolling out the vaccine also required significant customer engagement efforts.

“[For pharma] your end customer is the patient – or in the case of vaccines, everybody. Increasingly pharma is focusing on keeping people well and stopping them being patients. The customer-centric revolution is about thinking of customers as people. [At Moderna] we don’t differentiate between end users and patients,” Darius Hughes said.

Customer engagement during a pandemic is clearly not business as usual, and for Moderna that meant a focus on the UK’s Vaccines Taskforce, which was set up in April 2020 with the express mission of introducing a COVID-19 vaccine to the UK.

However, the huge success of its COVID-19 vaccine was not without its roll-out challenges. When listening to customers, mission-critical issues were revealed, like the need for medical freezers with different temperature requirements from those required to store the Pfizer vaccine. Overcoming that hurdle allowed Moderna to distribute some three million doses of its vaccine to patients in the UK within a month.

The company also had to ensure that healthcare professionals (HCPs) were comfortable taking about the vaccine to the people they saw during its roll-out. Hughes noted: “Healthcare professional communication was about speed of doing so and identifying which digital channels HCPs used.”

Communication speed will continue to be key, and last month the UK gave Moderna its first approval in the world for its updated COVID-19 booster vaccine directed at the Omicron variant.

From personalisation to hyper-personalisation
Another perspective on customer engagement was provided by Lutz Bonacker, senior vice president and general manager for Commercial Operations Europe at CSL Behring. The biotech’s rare disease focus naturally brings with it some individual challenges and some advice for the wider industry.

“Customer-centricity is about personalised components and how to reach an understanding in a broader context so you’re accompanying stakeholders on their journey,” he said, adding: “You can’t just ‘helicopter in and helicopter out’.”

He advised attendees at the event to listen, learn before acting, and then know what you’re going to do to improve things from your customer’s point of view.

Asked how he gets insights from patients to be able to successfully define his commercial engagement strategy, he said that for his company patient organisations were a key focus area. Personalisation was also cited as one of three key trends shaping the future of our industry, along with commercial excellence and flexibility, by Janssen’s Maria Raad, Janssen EMEA’s vice president of customer and digital strategy, who made an appearance in front of the London audience remotely.

“Pharma sits on an abundance of data, but it needs to be better leveraged for the good of society,” she said. Considering what the road to a hyper- personalised approach might look like for pharma, she added: “Only looking at omnichannel isn’t enough – you need to look at the content [that’s used] and then ensure it’s what customers want.”

To deliver content that moves an HCP’s medicine practice, pharma will have to combine a human perspective with deep customer understanding, she said, adding that such a human-led approach to orchestration is a long journey that no pharma company has got right just yet.

Marketing constants and change
Also flagging some of the changes the industry faces was Julie Richards, global head of creative and digital, insights and commercial solutions at Novartis’ CONEXTS. Acting as an internal agency for the Swiss pharma company, CONEXTS’ 300 employees support all of Novartis’ key markets, with a wide-ranging collective remit to provide full support across the brand life cycle.

“We are in a critical time of change, obviously driven by COVID-19,” Julie began. “Pre-COVID-19, Novartis had a real digital-first agenda. COVID-19 accelerated that and forced us to think differently.”

Initially the company’s focus was on simply digitising its existing content, but the “marketer role is changing and become more specialised”, she said.

Some of the skills needed have been prompted by the swift pivot during the pandemic from face-to-face contact to digital channels. Previously, reactions from a doctor towards a sales representative could be easily noted through a variety of non-verbal cues, but online channels make that much harder, as emotional responses are filtered through a screen or communicated solely by text-based media.

“We are living in a world of distraction and the battle is one for ‘mindshare’,” said Florent Bühler, MSD’s omnichannel and customer experience lead – EUCAN Oncology. “We need to find our own ‘digital smile’.”

He noted that, at present, this overloading of promotional messages and commercial inputs can cause a recipient’s brain to ignore everything and check out from it as a kind of protection from the deluge of information.

“The key is relevancy – it was always true and it’s more true now,” he said, while talking about identifying and building micro-segmented customer profiles to drive scalable personalised engagement. He was clear that content remains king, as the saying goes, but for relevance to be achieved, content must be much more personalised. As part of this, Florent said, the industry’s ‘next normal’ will take it on an omnichannel journey.

Customer engagement’s content conundrum
That journey promises to be an exciting one for pharma, but it will not be without difficulty. Although plenty of time, effort and resource has been invested in content, the model underpinning its effective use increasingly looks to be broken.

The issues discussed by the speakers at Customer Engagement Europe provided confirmation, should it be needed, that pharma continues to work at achieving customer-centricity, the lack of which is ultimately the root cause of its content problem.

Omnichannel planning and customer engagement frameworks can help, but to be a complete success they also require the elimination of the silos that persist within the industry so that everyone can see the same customer data. Sometimes this does happen, but those cases remain scarce across the industry. Then, moving beyond that, for customer engagement to be a success, pharma’s apparent conundrum with content must be answered.

At present, content creation and execution is all too often seen as an end in itself. However, simply engaging prescribers, payers or patients is not enough – content has to make them think, act or behave differently. If that can’t be achieved, what’s the point?

Dominic Tyer is a Research Director at DT Consulting, an Indegene company

5th October 2022

Dominic Tyer is a Research Director at DT Consulting, an Indegene company

5th October 2022

From: Marketing


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