As pharmaceutical marketers, we’ve inundated our audience with so many messages in the past two decades that they’re beginning to put up barriers and trying to shut out all the ‘noise, noise, NOISE!’ In 2008, 80% of physicians were considered accessible to pharmaceutical sales representatives, seeing at least 70% of reps that contacted them. By mid-2017, pharma sales rep access was down to 46%1. In fact, one 2016 study found that physicians typically experience about one sales representative request per working hour2. Pharmaceutical companies are doing a lot of talking when listening is the key to building productive relationships. And, here, digital marketing’s ability to generate dialogue in an on-demand fashion can serve as a life-line. It is time to recognize that noise doesn’t sell products – communication does – and digital marketing is a key that should be used to open doors that have been locked in recent years.
One-Way NPP is a Thing of the Past
Ultimately, if the goal is to increase prescription numbers, pharmaceutical marketing plans should be designed to deliver valuable content to both patients and HCPs—and to foster pharma sales rep access. It is a strategy that has been proven to work. With less access to physicians in their offices, pharmaceutical companies are increasing their spend on digital tactics like email, native advertisements, website promotion, and social media advertising to get their messages to hard-to-reach targets and to provide value once again.
However, the recent increases in digital tactics in pharmaceutical media plans may not be enough: in his 2017 study summary, Malcolm Sturgis of ZS Associates notes that pharma marketers would do well to identify the individual needs and preferences of doctors and to deliver tailored marketing messages. Ideally these messages should address a physician’s individual needs – from the information they require, to their preferred method of contact, and everything in between.
In the past, leads could be developed with brand awareness tactics like print advertisements since it was pretty likely that the ad impression would be followed up with a rep visit; pharmaceutical companies could get away with promoting the brand from the top of the sales funnel. Currently, developing leads by nurturing the bottom of the sales funnel with top-of-the-sales-funnel tactics is an inefficient use of resources. The tactic misses opportunities to capture leads and instead distributes promotional messages that aren’t likely to receive a sufficient follow-up.
Different times require different tactics.
Dialogue in Non-Personal Promotion
The first brand experience physicians have should have with a brand should be one where value is offered at a time when influencers are seeking such value. For example, if a physician reading Endocrine Today sees an advertisement for a webinar discussing a treatment implications of new statin research, they’ll have a clinical and professional reason to provide their contact information to access the webinar. This provides an opportunity to move many otherwise-inaccessible targets to the digital space where their contact information can be captured, and where a relationship can be built.
This isn’t exactly new thinking; it’s the way B2B marketers have been thinking—and working—for a decade.
At bfw, we’ve migrated this practice from non-healthcare clients to healthcare and had success generating webinar attendance through print advertisements, and we’re confident that this tactic will create the conversions we’re looking for. Why? Because it provides value. And providing value is different from a distributing a promotional message.
A Multi-Channel Way Forward
Physicians requiring personalized communication can be drawn closer with “news you can use” through a larger number of channels than ever before. As of 2019, this information can be disseminated in many more ways than personal communication thanks to digital platforms that allow marketers to reach their audience on their own terms.
If physicians want content emailed to them, they can subscribe to your mailing list. If email is not preferred, then they can follow a social media channel that is created for the brand and promoted on branded communication. Chat bots on the page can automatically open for new page visitors and ask them if they would like to contact a sales representative. Similarly, branded advertisements can feature phone numbers that HCPs can use to receive brand updates via text, to call a home office rep, or to request a sales visit. Targets who want an immediate in-person visit can request a visit by clicking links in emails which take them to a URL where they can submit their contact information. Then the correct sales representative will receive a text notification of the target’s request with the help of CRM database integration.
Marketers can take advantage of these diverse channels by seeking feedback with every piece of distributed content. And digital content allows the easy capturing of this information. Routine use of “Subscribe to our Newsletter” calls-to-action, omnipresent social media opt-in reminders, embedded forms that elicit feedback, push notification offerings, contact phone numbers, and “Contact a Sales Representative” buttons are tools that convert targets into leads.
Escalating Content Production to Lead Generation
Once your lead pool is large enough, employ key opinion leaders to Tweet about their brand experiences. (In case you doubt the power of Twitter, dial up CNN, Fox News or MSNBC. Time how long it takes for a Twitter feed to hit the screen.)
Place print advertisements with superiority claims. Sponsor DocAlerts on Epocrates©. Send out emails offering sponsored lunches. Generate the buzz about your product that has been put at the beginning of the sales cycle in recent years. There should now be familiar channels of communication between the brand and the physician through which contacts can acquire brand materials or request a visit.
This strategy also builds off of itself via search engine ranking strength. If a website is regularly updated with content over a period of months and years, search engines begin to see that site as an authority for topics that are regularly included in such content. They will ‘rank’ a site higher for topics that are important to its brand and attract their audiences without making the first move.
And never overlook the importance of cadence. The key is to inform and engage without inundating your influencers. A great internal test of this is to take a look at your own inbox—if you’re seeing the same series of emails from the same marketers with such frequency that you’re now ignoring them, you understand firsthand how too much messaging in too short a period can have the opposite effect on your audience.
Tailor the Strategy to Your Audience
Organizing a pharmaceutical marketing plan in this way may not be necessary for all targets since certain specialties offer greater pharma sales rep access than others. For example, oncologists have been found to be the least accessible specialty for pharmaceutical sales representatives,2 but are often twice as likely to open email messages about clinical practice information1. For such targets, incorporating a moderate to high level of non-personal promotion makes sense.
The key to leveraging this sort of multi-channel strategy to is a tight, integrated data system that is constantly updated. At any point of the relationship, a question could lead to a request for an in-person visit. For that to happen, all of the digital resources offering the opportunity to schedule an in-person visit should be linked to your CRM database so that interaction can be captured and followed up with by the right sales representative. In the end, if it does come to cold-calling, your representative will be equipped with data that can help them succeed.
Healthcare marketers need to be more creative than ever with their non-personal promotional tactics to generate pharma sales rep access. One thing is certain – there is no shortage of tactics at our disposal—and there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all solution. Give us a call and find out how we can bring our experience in healthcare advertising to make your marketing plan a success.