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Redefining communications excellence

How to be heard in today’s multichannel, multistakeholder, multimedia world

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The rapid proliferation of communication channels and shifts in the identities and preferences of key stakeholders are redefining what it takes to get compelling messages to the people that matter. In this competitive, changing environment, knowing what constitutes ‘excellence’ in communications and how to achieve it is essential.

Successful communication campaigns come in all shapes and sizes but they share a common root. In each case, the first steps involve understanding the target audience and what it is about their behaviour or views the campaign wants to change. This knowledge informs every downstream decision, from crafting messages to measuring success.

While biopharma companies can rely on third parties for lots of the communication creation process, their own staff typically play a central role in discussions about who the key stakeholders are and why. Those discussions result in a broad definition of the target audience, which can be refined through further research.

These research efforts are guided by more data than ever but there are downsides to abundance, particularly when designing disease-specific campaigns that target patients and the general public. Social media data offers a quick way to identify apparent key influencers in a disease area but marketeers have learnt that the numbers paint an incomplete picture.

“There are lots of metrics out there which show big numbers but they don’t necessarily translate into real influence,” Harry King, a healthcare communications consultant, told PME. “They’re perceived as vanity metrics, rather than value metrics of real influence.”

The growing number of physicians who are active on social media means this issue also affects campaigns targeting professionals. However, social media metrics are far from the only way to assess the influence of professionals. The availability of less equivocal types of data from institutions and the academic literature make it easier to mitigate the unreliability of social media metrics when running business-to- business campaigns.

Crafting messages, choosing channels

Knowledge of the audience guides decisions about the heart of the campaign: the messaging. As Adrian Brown, a healthcare communications training consultant, put it at an event in 2017, ensuring the campaign “completely differentiates the product being promoted from its competitors” is “fundamental to an effective strategic communications plan”.

This overarching objective is easier to state than achieve. To achieve clear differentiation, a company first needs to establish the brand proposition. This is the core idea – such as the benefit to a patient – that all messaging must support. The details of the brand proposition vary significantly depending on what a company is trying to achieve, but the creation process typically factors in the goals of the campaign, the competitive landscape and other matters.

Establishing the brand proposition gives a campaign the foundation for future messages, all of which should tie back to this core idea. The messaging itself must persuade people to pay attention, deliver on this teaser by articulating the significance of the brand or idea and end in a way that drives a change.

Clear, simple messaging cuts through the noise better than long lists of benefits or features.

The need for clarity is particularly important in today’s noisy, multichannel environment. The emergence of this environment has also increased the value of effective channel selection. A compelling message is of little use if the campaign fails to get it in front of the eyes and ears that matter.

While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to multichannel engagement, there are signposts that can guide the way. If, for example, a company is promoting a product that is prescribed by specialists, audience research will have revealed that the campaign may struggle to get the specialists to find the time to talk face-to-face. However, they may be part of disease-specific online communities, or open to learning about products via e-detailing.

This example shows how effective channel selection is based on an understanding of the audience and a desire to convey information in a way that fits in with their preferences and schedules. Doctors are busy and appreciate the option to continue learning at home, rather than being made to squeeze face-to-face visits into their working days.

Measuring success

Audience research, message development and channel section all lead to one question: Did the campaign work? This can be a difficult question to answer.

Some campaigns have hard, inbuilt endpoints that companies already track, such as sales. The effect of these campaigns can be affected by confounding factors, but if sales go up it is a sign that the initiative may have worked. However, many campaigns have more nebulous goals, such as raising awareness or changing perceptions. These metrics are harder to track, leading companies to define an objective upfront but shy away from putting processes in place to gauge whether it has been achieved.

In a world of finite resources and high staff turnover, the decision not to commit time and money to the long-term tracking of changes in awareness and perception is understandable, particularly when social media engagement data can serve as a proxy.

Yet, social media engagement is an imperfect proxy for success. People like and share posts on social media all the time without digesting the content, let alone letting it change their minds.

To achieve communications excellence and accurately gauge the impact of messaging, campaigns need to gather and analyse other data. This can be achieved by performing robust surveys before and after a campaign. The process begins by running a survey to set a benchmark for the audience’s awareness, perceptions or behaviours. A later survey can then gauge whether the metrics have moved following exposure to the campaign. In doing so, a company can tie its metrics for success to the goals of its campaign. These tasks take time and money, but can deliver a return on investment down the line.

“If you show the activity is making a difference among your stakeholder groups, it’ll often lead
to more funding in the future because the brand starts to do well,” King said.

Improving outcomes

Perhaps the biggest difference a campaign can make is to improve patient outcomes. This goal is too far removed from many campaigns to be trackable, but some communication strategies have a more direct link to health. If a campaign causes healthcare professionals or patients to change their behaviour, it could improve health outcomes.

Gilead Sciences is among the companies to be lauded for running campaigns that could affect lives. In 2016, Gilead broke its self-enforced moratorium on the marketing of Truvada for PrEP, its drug for preventing HIV. The campaign tried to educate physicians about which of their patients may be at risk of catching HIV by presenting statistics on the rate of infection in different populations. Gilead also provided resources to help physicians talk to patients about sexual health.

The focus of the campaign reflects known barriers to the use of the drug. A survey run in 2014 and 2015 found two-thirds of primary care physicians had never discussed Truvada for PrEP with their patients. One-quarter of the 278 physicians said they were at least somewhat uncomfortable discussing sexual activities with patients. A separate survey found 57% of resident trainees did not know the local rate of HIV.

Those figures illustrate the potential of Gilead’s campaign. If the campaign gives physicians a clearer picture of HIV in their community or encourages them to start conversations with patients, it could lead to prescriptions that prevent people from contracting the virus.

Many campaigns are a step or two removed from such outcomes, but still contribute to the effective functioning of the healthcare system by raising awareness and encouraging positive behaviours.

In all cases, campaigns benefit from striving for excellence by rigorously analysing the audience, choosing messages and channels tailored to it and measuring the results.

Article by
Nick Taylor

Nick Taylor is a health journalist

15th October 2018

From: Marketing



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Established in 2001, Fishawack Health (FH) is a purposefully built commercialization partner for the biopharmaceutical, medical technology, and wellness industries....