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In the driver's seat

Mapping the customer journey is the key to effective online marketing

A child at the steering wheel of a busFor decades, display advertising has played a leading role in developing pharmaceutical brand awareness. Innovative campaigns have been created and 'pushed' into the public sphere, with the client (and regulators) firmly in control. But the rise of social media has turned this on its head. Customers and patients are in the driving seat; they control which media messages they consume or are 'pulled' to and advertisers have to keep their ear to the ground to gauge what customers want. So what is the role of online display advertising in 2010? Is it effective and, if not, what's the solution?

According to PricewaterhouseCoopers' Entertainment and Media Outlook, the market for online display advertising will reach U$51.5bn (£31.6bn) by 2010. It is big business, yet response rates are low and most is ignored – perhaps because, despite having one of the most flexible, innovative and measurable communication channels at our disposal, too much online advertising defaults to banners. Worse still, the banners are often digital versions of paper adverts. It is time to rethink how we use online behaviour data to give brands a stronger and more valuable presence in the 'pull' world. Buzz words for 2010 will be behavioural economics, real-time marketing and web optimisation.

Learn from consumers
Pharma marketers have much to learn from the consumer world. While admittedly, the regulations governing both are very different, sites such as Google, Amazon and Facebook have set the digital standards for navigation, content, interaction and quality of service, and these need to be embraced.

I'm a great fan of Nike, a brand that successfully connects at many points with consumers. At the 2009 Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival, Stefan Olander, global director of brand connections at Nike said: "Digital is such an enormous enabler, but you have to do more than the expectation. If you don't have a clear understanding of the consumer journey and if you don't understand how your brand fits into the consumer's life, then advertising can be annoying at its best or be irrelevant. However, if it does fit, it can become the starting point of a relationship."

Nike is consumer centric and understands how consumers use searches to build wider consideration lists. It reads review sites to help filter product information and shares opinions with peer groups by sending content to social media platforms. Such activity isn't revenue generating, but it does create a series of touch points that can influence purchase decisions.

"But how can you equate Nike to a prescription-only or over-the-counter (OTC) brand that I can't promote as freely? And, how do I reach payers?" I hear you ask. Well, just like Nike, each customer segment will have its own unique connection points, some obvious and some not. Mapping the customer journey – whether the customer is a carer, payer, pharmacist or a physician – is the key to success, but – and this is where many fail – the customer journey is not static, it must be continually reassessed and monitored.

In Total Access (Harvard Business Press, 2002), Regis McKenna argues that marketers need to shift their focus from creating brand awareness to satisfying customers. This real-time, customer-centric approach to marketing is fundamental if pharma has any hope of sustaining customer loyalty in a digital world that presents overwhelming choice.

All advertising needs an objective against which it can be measured. To achieve this objective there needs to be an understanding of the steps a prospect will take after seeing the advert. Companies run display advertising with simple measurements, but in the digital sphere – where there are a myriad of next steps – a one-size-fits-all approach doesn't work.

The customer journey is driven by data that needs to be updated in real time to achieve the most effective marketing. There needs to be an understanding of online behaviour: what does the customer want and why? Where, when and how are they searching for it? Google has invested heavily in understanding its customers' journeys in finding health information, and this should be a priority for us all.

Making your brand or content relevant
Because information cannot be 'pushed' at consumers in this new 'pull' world of digital communications, it is vital that brand relevance registers on people's radar. 'Search' is generally the start of a customer's online journey, but when the user heads off to a publishing site to read an article on hypertension, how can you make sure your brand is present?  

The answer doesn't lie with banners and their low click-through rates – even after optimisation. One smart solution is to turn your advert into a widget or a mini app that is highly relevant and simple to download, or alternatively offer a highly relevant pod or vodcast delivered by a leading authority, such as a cardiologist talking about a new class of anti-hypertensives. This ensures your brand becomes relevant and useful and, if the physician feels the experience has value, he may click to opt-in for the series and/or receive email alerts. This could mark the beginning of a new relationship with an important prospect or customer.

Relationships that last
An online relationship is no different to any other relationship – to be successful and long lasting it has to work for both parties. MSD – a popular physician portal in Europe – owes its success to a dedicated team that nurtures its relationships and constantly adds value. It has established a content partnership with BMJ Learning: undoubtedly a considerable investment but, in return, MSD consistently scores high in brand-recognition surveys.

The key to building lasting relationships is consumer understanding: not just knowing what they want from you now, but what they might want from you in a year, and (more importantly) what will surprise and delight them. Whereas we used to market 'at' people, in 2010 we will market 'for' them. Consumers expect service on demand. Allow them to customise their own channel then 'connect' with them on their terms in their sphere.

'Active listening' is crucial in managing customer relationships. It is hard work, but will help you to have the flexibility to react to changes. If you haven't heard from a customer in a while, send them a friendly note asking if they are happy with the service and how it could be improved. If a customer keeps engaging with a particular type of content, suggest similar things they might be interested in. This sounds simple, but it takes an intelligently-designed marketing engine to make it work seamlessly.

Sometimes people can articulate their need directly (you should be asking), and sometimes they can't (learn via testing and ongoing optimisation). It is important to ensure that dialogue does not slip into monologue. Actively leverage your customer database to understand the value your brand has with its customers.


Understanding the customer journey

Although much that we do is borne out of habit, our quest for information is also driven by need. So where does advertising fit within this? Let's take a couple of examples:

1. Customer: My child has developed asthma – what does this mean?
Customer enters "asthma in toddlers" into a search engine and up pops a series of optimised pages including and paid links including commercial sites.
Customer: is a good bet because it's a community I know.
Here is an opportunity to advertise an educational site encouraging mothers to talk to their pharmacist via a display advert or sponsored content link.
Customer: You've got me!
Customer clicks on the sponsored video link of a case study about a toddler of a similar age to his/hers.

2. The same customer visits the pharmacist to ask for his/her toddler's inhaler. He/she hands over a voucher downloaded from the site for a free book How to manage your child's asthma, authored by a leading asthma specialist in the UK. The book comes with an invitation to join a 'brand-sponsored' online mothers' community with content written by a leading NHS consultant.
Customer: I am now better equipped to have a meaningful conversation about treatment options and what they mean to my child. I receive regular updates from the site about new clinical breakthroughs in asthma and have access to a free sponsored helpline.

Through creative online 'listening advertising' rather than 'display advertising' the corporate brand has created a link that this mother values.


Measuring success
In an ideal world we would all measure the success of our campaign against the gold standard of return on investment (RoI). Access to data in the digital space is unparalleled; we can measure everything and this breadth of metrics can be daunting, and so the key to measuring success is focus. The business objectives act as a filter to identify:
• Which behaviours are most important (what do we want the consumer to do and how will he/she interact with us?)
• Which attitudes we are trying to shift (how is our marketing impacting on the way people think and feel about our products and brand, what impact do specific behavioural patterns have on these attitudes?)
• What conversations we are trying to influence or start with people.

Measuring success is about creating a shortlist of key metrics that ties directly back to the marketing goals.

Advertisers are desperately trying to connect with consumers in the online space, but the opportunity to 'click' the deal is being missed. Despite clever attempts at contextual and behavioural advertising, consumers are not responding to online ads as predicted, if at all. They may see them inadvertently, not see them, or completely block them from their browsers. All the while, digital media are advancing with greater speed, putting brands under more pressure if they want to stay in the game.

Marketers want innovation, larger-sized units, rich media, experiential ads and behavioural targeting, but few are willing to invest in creating those experiences. It's time to change this and deliver richer content-led experiences based on a better understanding of the consumer.

The Author
June Dawson is managing director of Digitas Health

To comment on this article, email

5th February 2010


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