#1: Omnichannel engagement is the key to creating personalized customer experiences and relevancy, but it remains something of a holy grail within the pharmaceutical industry. Across several sessions at this year’s Reuters Pharma Marketing USA, leading marketers discussed why it’s been such an uphill struggle and shared possible solutions.

Traditionally, pharmaceutical companies have been siloed to a degree that would be unthinkable in most other industries. A lack of crosstalk between vertical functions such as sales and marketing has led to disjointed, unsatisfying customer experiences. HCPs are often inundated with information that is duplicative, inconsistent (in content or tone) across channels, or inadequate for their needs (based on a one-size-fits-all approach or crude segmentation). A true omnichannel approach requires a deep understanding of customer needs and channel preferences, and the use of those insights to tailor all content to individual HCPs, with orchestrated delivery and engagement across channels.

In recent times, “next best action” strategies (in which artificial intelligence [AI] and machine learning are used to anticipate the actions, needs, and wants of customers based on their profiles and their prior behavior) have emerged as pharma marketing’s antidote of choice for the hitherto poor HCP experience. Despite being, arguably, the most promising way to create personalized experiences and enhance HCP engagement, operationalizing these strategies remains challenging.

  • Organization-wide governance that works to break down silos and drive a data-driven culture is important. Omnichannel engagement and implementation of “next best action” strategies rely on the organization and integration of large volumes of data. The important role of senior leaders in actively championing a new way of working and the organizational and cultural shifts necessary to create a strongly data-driven culture cannot be overemphasized.
  • Avoiding the temptation to do too much, too quickly is key to success. Bharti Rai, who leads the US insights and data analytics function at Novartis, recommends first tying data-driven decision-making to very specific business use cases, with KPIs that are measurable.
  • Upskilling of commercial teams is as important as growing the analytics function in a company. The successful embrace of data-driven decision-making requires sales and marketing teams to make substantial contributions to the insight generation process. Not only is it important that the right questions are asked to mine the data, teams also need to be sufficiently trained to understand the insights generated and integrate them into their programs. Madhavi Ramakrishna (Global VP, Pharma Commercial Data Analytics & Insights, GSK) described a variety of approaches that GSK is using to bring cross-functional teams up to speed, including formal learning, social learning programs, and secondments.

#2: As marketers, we’re instinctively drawn to “shiny new objects,” but the relentless pursuit of innovative tactics and novel channels risks creating fragmented customer experiences.

While each of the panelists and speakers at the meeting clearly had their own thoughts as to which novel tactics and channels are most exciting (everything from rep-generated text messages to expanded video content), a common refrain was the need to ensure that new tactics or channels are not disconnected from the rest of the customer experience, as this is antithetical to an effective, seamless omnichannel approach.

“The opportunity here is not to think of it at the level of tactics, but to really shift to thinking about an end-to-end approach, identify what are the main points along the journey that are relevant, and start creating the right content through the right channels that really have an impact.”
– Chatrick Paul, SVP, Head of US Oncology Business Unit, AstraZeneca

According to Abbott’s Gizem Ozbay, “If you don’t provide a best-in-class experience on the fundamentals and then you’re trying to give them [the customer] the shiny new object that’s completely disconnected, you’re not even going to get the recognition for it.” She suggested that much of the effort that’s put into new channels be redirected to improve approaches to existing channels, through better integration of data and insights.

#3: Content is still king, but pharmaceutical companies now need to shift their content creation engines into top gear to deliver dynamic, relevant content to HCPs at different stages in their journey.

True omnichannel engagement calls for an understanding of the type of content that HCPs need and (importantly) how that changes over time, so that a steady stream of relevant and value-added content can be delivered to them incrementally throughout their customer journeys. This hyper-personalized approach requires a much higher volume of content than traditional approaches. It also requires greater agility to ensure delivery of content that is relevant to physicians now, rather than content that was relevant 6 months ago. To make this happen, companies will need to improve the efficiency of their internal content creation and review processes and work with agency vendors who can fully support them in this accelerated approach. Also required, and an additional key element of the value-add, is content better suited to HCPs’ desire for greater scientific engagement. This is necessary both for use by reps to enhance the value of detailing and for dissemination across other channels. 

#4: Far from displacing the field force, the pharmaceutical industry’s move towards data-driven decision-making reaffirms the critical position of sales reps and MSLs at the heart of the organization.

Despite the long-standing shrinkage of the US sales force, diminished access to physicians, and the pandemic-driven acceleration in non-personal digital approaches, a recurring theme of this meeting was the enduring importance of reps to the data-driven future of the industry. Growing excitement over the potential of AI has been tempered by a realization that most sales- and marketing-led capabilities will only reap the benefits of advanced analytics if there is also significant human input. Though data collection and processing will remain highly automated, the more sophisticated capabilities (such as AI-enhanced customer journey design and next-best action strategies for marketing) require the expertise and insights of multiple stakeholders, most notably the field force.

The value of their input into personalized engagement strategies was illustrated by the findings of a pilot study presented by Sanofi’s Anastasiya Kolyasnikova. Following a series of clinician interviews, various approaches to developing HCP persona-specific content were tested for the ability to increase engagement and improve satisfaction scores. A semantic personalization approach that used machine algorithm-performed semantic cluster analysis of the interview records to generate persona-specific tones of voice, achieved only modest improvements in click rate. However, an alternative personalization approach in which reps helped to develop tailored customer journeys, based on their deep knowledge of the HCPs, was effective at increasing engagement, improving HCP satisfaction, and even leading to more customer touchpoints.

In the emerging omnichannel landscape, the field force will not only survive, but thrive – as the “face” of the company for many HCPs and even a preferred channel for some. According to Takeda’s Samer Ansari, the new data capabilities will enable reps to become “superheroes in the field,” by empowering them with greater insights, increasing their relevancy, and helping to elevate their relationship with HCPs.

“At the end of the day, it’s still about connections and relationships, and our field reps are critical in all of that. They are the ones that own the relationship and create that trust…when it comes to engaging with our customers. We can always have other experiences (send more emails, have slick websites), but it’s how do we channel all of our data and digital thinking and capabilities to elevate that relationship experience with the rep.”
– Samer Ansari, Head of Digital & IT, Global Oncology Business Unit, Takeda