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Getting multichannel marketing right

How the atomisation of communication is challenging and benefiting pharma


The habits and priorities of the purchasers, prescribers and users of medicines are changing rapidly. These groups consume a growing portion of the information that shapes their decisions through digital channels that barely existed a decade ago, and are motivated by different types of content and interactions from their predecessors. Faced with this atomisation of communication and evolution of their customer base, companies are turning to multichannel marketing to tailor their messaging.

The concept of multichannel marketing dates back more than 50 years and has been practised for as long as companies have long been able to use different channels to reach customers at various points in their decision cycles. However, for pharmaceutical companies one channel always reigned supreme: the field force. Meeting healthcare professionals (HCPs) face-to-face was the way to shift products.

Now, multiple forces are unpicking this long-standing model. The proliferation of digital technologies has redefined the parameters of multichannel marketing, giving companies many more ways to reach customers on their paths to purchases. More importantly, a fast-rising number of the pharmaceutical industry’s customers rely on online searches, websites and other digital platforms for information.

The new customer

Doctors who qualified after the internet went mainstream in the 1990s now outnumber their peers who predate its emergence. These people, particularly the youngest Millennial doctors, are more reliant on online sources of information and more skeptical of pharmaceutical sales reps than their predecessors. Patients and other stakeholders are undergoing similar demographic changes. These shifts are forcing marketeers to re-evaluate how they categorise and reach their customers.

“Start with a customer. Profile them. See what their needs are, what their habits are,” Panos Papakonstantinou, mobility solutions commercial director at Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research, said. “We need to start segmenting our customers differently. We cannot continue doing so in the way that we have for the last 20 years. They’re just not there. They have moved on.”

That statement has been true for several years and the predictability of demographic changes means it has been foreseeable for even longer. There is a big difference between recognising the need to engage in multichannel marketing and having the ability and will to execute the shift in strategy, however. As the industry has found, bolting HCP websites and social media handles onto existing operations only gets you so far.

These websites and social media channels have created more touchpoints between companies and their customers but results have been underwhelming, perhaps because many businesses are yet to fully commit to the model. Most firms allocate less than 10% of their marketing budgets to digital initiatives, an Across Health poll found, and have a negative or neutral view of the results.

There are signs the tide is turning, however. A new breed of digital-first CEOs, such as Novartis chief Vas Narasimhan, is taking charge at leading companies. Instead of leaving staff to initiate a patchwork of bottom-up initiatives, these leaders are actively shaping their digital strategies and ensuring they have the resources to succeed.

This will be a boon for multichannel marketing but the trend has its downsides. It is already hard to tailor meaningful content and objectives to specific groups of customers, and the challenge will be exacerbated by the proliferation of rivals striving to design the perfect multichannel experience.

The already noisy digital realm is about to get louder. The challenge now, more than ever, is to design campaigns that cut through the noise.

Keys to success

Companies seeking to gain a competitive advantage can draw on the experiences of the pioneering multichannel campaigns run by their peers in recent years. These campaigns incorporate established, company-led channels such as face-to-face interactions, HCP portals and key opinion leader webinars into broader digital and real-world initiatives that seek as much to spark conversation as drive traffic.

In recent years, Merck has run an animated video to raise awareness of thyroid disorders, Roche has recorded a choir made up of families affected by idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis and AstraZeneca has encouraged people to knit hats and blankets for babies to alert people to respiratory syncytial virus.

Each company’s ad agency created a striking central idea capable of cutting through the noise online and built a multichannel campaign to amplify and direct the attention garnered by the core concept.

This new style of campaign has different measures of success. In the case of the AstraZeneca initiative, key data points ranged from the 14,000 comments and nearly 42,000 shares on social media, to the delivery of 1,700 knitted items to 28 neonatal intensive care units. For Merck, the key endpoint was the 14,500 children and adults tested for thyroid disorders as a result of the campaign.

These initiatives are the public face of multichannel campaigns. What goes on behind the scenes is at least as important and challenging. Successful modern marketing campaigns are underpinned by the management and analysis of previously unimaginable amounts of data. This data can show how a customer interacts with a brand at every step from hearing about it for the first time right through to a purchasing decision. But only if the company has effective tools for gathering and analysing data.

A marketing team, however good, is unlikely to have the time or skills to establish and run a system that enables this data-driven way of working. It needs the support of an IT team that understands its requirements and is capable of designing a data system that meets those requirements. Given the importance of agility in multichannel marketing campaigns, cutting the time it takes to generate insights from this data comes toward the top of the wish list.

“[Marketing and sales] want everything yesterday. Saying I’ll get this analytics or this type of data to you in six months is just not going to happen. They’re not going to want it in a month, much less six months,” Chad Dau, senior director, real world informatics and analytics services at Astellas, said.

Having access to such timely data-driven insights enables marketeers to tweak campaigns mid-flight, dialling activities in each channel up or down in response to objective feedback. Marketeers can improve campaigns as they progress, both by doubling down on what is working and rethinking ideas that are falling short in practice.

Positive feedback loops

Effectively managing these tasks is challenging and requires skills beyond those traditionally needed to run pharmaceutical marketing campaigns. Shirking the challenge is not an option, however. The direction of travel is clear. Digital will become an ever-more important part of the marketing mix as people from the pre-internet era drop out of the workforce and are replaced by HCPs who grew up with smartphones and social media.

This raises the possibility that feedback will drive a rapid shift in how companies split their marketing budgets and priorities. Companies that run refined multichannel digital marketing programmes and provide the level of objective evidence demanded by a growing portion of HCPs will be rewarded. This, in turn, will see companies invest more in digital campaigns. Demographic changes mean these digital initiatives will chime with more and more HCPs, creating a feedback loop in which excellent multichannel campaigns give rise to more excellent multichannel campaigns.

In parallel, barring a dramatic shift in the thinking of the new generation of HCPs, the prioritisation of face-to-face meetings at the expense of other channels will become an increasingly bad approach. Companies that stick with what worked in the past risk seeing the aforementioned feedback loop quickly open up a chasm between them and their digitally-minded competitors.

While this description oversimplifies the forces pushing and pulling companies between different marketing channels, its basis in demographic shifts means it may prove to be directionally accurate. Marketers know their customers are changing. How they reach their customers must change too.

Article by
Nick Taylor

is a health journalist

2nd June 2018

Article by
Nick Taylor

is a health journalist

2nd June 2018

From: Marketing



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