Multichannel Marketing Easy to Brag About, but Difficult to Do
By John Mack

“Multichannel pharma marketing [see PMN glossary definition: MCM] is conceptually relatively simple to understand, but incredibly difficult in practice,” says Len Starnes, former Head of Digital Marketing & Sales, General Medicine at Bayer Schering Pharma. “That said, multichannel is not a transient phenomenon, it’s here to stay,” according to Starnes, who is a candidate for this year’s Pharmaguy Social Media Pioneer Award.

Len is well-known for his LinkedIn surveys, such as a 2009 survey that asked “Will doctors’ social networks radically change pharma marketing & sales?” Thirty-one percent of respondents to that survey thought this would happen within 2 years (by 2011) and 38% said within 5 years (2014). For more on that, read “Socially Challenged Pharma” (PMN Reprint#84-03; pdf). I think it hasn’t happened yet, but multichannel marketing (MCM) to physicians these days must surely include social media “channels” and even more importantly mobile.

But given the “incredible difficulty” of implementing MCM, Starnes is hosting another survey on LinkedIn (here), which asks “Will pharma marketing become de facto multichannel marketing in future?” The results to date are shown in the chart below.

There seems to be overwhelming sentiment that MCM will be de facto for pharma within 5 years.

Starnes’ survey also has generated a good number of comments, some of which I include below. My own opinion, however, has to do with the difficulty of implementation vs. the ease with which pharma marketers talk about MCM, which used to be called “Customer Relationship Marketing (CRM).”

MCM is the New CRM
I’ve attended many pharma marketing conferences in the past that focused on “CRM.” These days, however, I don’t see any CRM presentations included in conference agendas, whereas there are conferences dedicated to “Multichannel Marketing.” More often than not, these conferences actually focus on digital marketing. The upcoming Pharma Marketing Show (Europe) is a good example. It’s description includes this observation:

“The pharmaceutical marketing sector is fast moving with new marketing techniques developing to meet the wider challenges of the industry. Over recent years, pharma has learnt what emerging technologies such as online and mobile can offer to a marketing campaign.”

There are some very interesting presentations on the agenda; even a couple that address the “difficult” part of MCM: data collection and management (propeller head stuff) such as:

  • Managing and analysing vast amounts of data
  • How can pharma utilise data to enhance strategic marketing?
  • Using big data to integrate multiple sourced customer information and improve quality of customer engagement

Bring in the Propeller Heads
In my mind, pharma marketers are “old school”, meaning they believe marketing is more of an art than a science (see, for example, “Are Marketers Artists or Mathematicians?“).

When I talk to my nephew who sells digital media advertising, it’s all about numbers and esoteric measurement terminology, which is way over my head. These numbers, I bet, cause many pharma marketers’ eyes to glaze over. But for MCM to be successful, more pharma marketers must become “propeller heads” or hire, enable, and listen to them, IMHO.

OK, enough about my opinion. Here’s a sampling of what experts are saying in relation to Len Starnes’ LinkedIn survey:

Sales Are Nowhere to be Seen
Christopher Wade said: Len – good question! It’s not surprising that the consensus is that MCM will become the norm – in terms of aspiration if not actual reality – over the next few years, but I suspect that like other tech-dependent initiatives it will remain the preserve of the few if it sits in the same marketing organisations that exist today. My opinion is that one of the key points on which pharma trips time and again is that sales are nowhere to be seen. Marketing’s role as understanding the product / customer / need space and formulating tactics is no less important, but the group that has the information, resources and experience in executing complex activities is the sales force, or more specifically the SFE / SFO group. I would hope that marketing has access to a level of analyst support that helps them to identify key segments and understand their behaviour and preferences, but implementing is where sales excels – they just need to realise that their competence spans more than the rep/territory model.

MCM Requires Two-way Dialogue
Robert Nauman said: Excellent discussion. Thanks for asking the question. I honestly have to say no. My rational is born from the assumption that good Multi-channel marketing requires some interaction on the part of the other party. We all suggest it is the marketing paradigm that has to change here. I am growing skeptical in my belief that will occur anytime soon on the patient or the HCP side, can industry create a real two way dialogue. And given the recent US case with GSK and there $3Billion whistleblower settlement, My opinion is that other entities (not supported by pharma dollars) will be producing the content that meets the needs of healthcare consumers and professionals today. And pharma marketing will not be paying for that content creation. I believe that if truly tested, pharma produced content scores very poorly to content produced via other healthcare entities. In terms of the multi-channels, it adds a level of complexity that in the silo’d world of pharma marketing today, may not be operational. The grow of mobile and video’s use in that channel is tremendous. And in developing nations, SMS messaging is making great strides in improving health care yet the industry is not leading in either of these approaches. It is sad, but I believe this is pushing marketers into similar roles that we see in the medical device industry today. Very few marketing dollars, very little innovation.

MCM Requires Content with Value
Paul Simms said: Great question, Len. You’re good at these! Rob, hope you’re well (haven’t spoken in ages…) I wanted to respond to your point, which unfortunately saddened me. I see every industry in the world, with the exception of pharma, investing in ‘content’ as a way of engaging its audience – because it works.Yet pharma still seems reluctant to engage those who can speak in the doctor’s language (the medical affairs / liaison folks) fully as a communication device. These days we have simply moved from physician access to now worrying about payer access and soon it will be fretting over patient access. To me it feels like pharma continues to create the equivalent of a TV channel that plays only commercials – and that’s never going to create high engagement or trust. Stuck on the one blaring channel, night and day. Yes, you are right, pharma is starting from a difficult position and news like that from GSK doesn’t help. But are you resigning us all to eternal oblivion? To me the only way to dig ourselves out of this rut is to begin to produce content of value (let alone services of value) and to build those bridges. Otherwise pharma, and by default, healthcare will never reach its true potential. It is possible for GSK et al to produce content of value and to build trust that way. As for multichannel, I can’t believe we’re talking about it like it’s something revolutionary (yes I’m guilty of running events on the topic but that’s only because it’s what everyone tells me they want…). I’m personally astounded we’re even bothering to distinguish between the channel at all. Indeed it’s a gross manifestation of the focus on the medium rather than the message. As some have said, we should simply provide valuable wisdom in whatever convenient format our customers request, and use technology to adapt to multiple channels in a semi-automated fashion. Again, that’s what other industries do. Can you imagine FMCG or other B2C industries having a big debate about multichannel???

Len Starnes: Reflecting on the comments from both Rob and Paul I am fully convinced that pharma is capable of providing “content”, via whatever channel is necessary, and that HCPs want the industry to deliver it — but it must be on their terms. Using Paul’s TV analogy this would be a shift from airing commercials to running full-on documentaries. I state this having recently spoken to a leading doctors’ social network here in Germany, Esanum, who’s CEO confirmed that 80% of its 33,000 members want to access pharma “content” and engage with pharma peers (aka Medical Affairs, MLOs). This once again reconfirms my research with similar networks globally which indicates that the majority of community members welcome industry engagement of all types. What astounds me is that pharma largely continues to ignore these networks in its multichannel efforts — snail mail and email still appear to be brand managers’ favourites.

MCM Requires Resources and Experienced Marketers, Not Rookies
Sandra Muzinich: Len, thanks for instigating a great MCM debate! Mmm are we becoming tired of hearing all about the wonderful world of MCM but seeing very little of it in practice in Pharma? I have hung my hat on 10 years…many of my reasons already clearly articulated by previous comments. It is inevitable but it will take turning Pharma marketing and its entire business model on its head – that’s where it is getting stuck today…old familiar models, Sales in their DNA, product centric focus – maybe it’s safer to do what we’ve always done? As Jonathan R. already mentioned, the mind set needs to shift to long term strategies which outlast the current short term tenure of a brand manager in post – with resources and expertise to match. Now we have to think beyond tactics and we can no longer give this job to a rookie marketer who just happens to be an ex-Sales Rep. MCM is a completely new way of looking at the Pharma business model and a truly multidisciplinary undertaking. Who is responsible for managing that kind of change in a company? I am very excited for the companies who recognise this and have the insight and commitment to their customers to truly adapt – these will be the companies that thrive….it’s time to move on!

MCM Is Expensive
R. A. Bavasso: Defacto? Pharma has not even mastered single channel marketing, how will it master MCM? I think that vendors will be more proactive in promoting MCM strategies and tactics but in a multi-vendor per brand world, who will coordinate centralization? MCM, if done correctly, is expensive. Much more so than the single message, disjointed channel approach. I think part of the reluctance of Pharma to traverse MCM is the overwhelmingly cerebral undertaking it requires and the “not currently budgeted” costs to ensure success. All of us agree that MCM has a greater likelihood of success than traditional efforts but the long term timeframe required to realize those successes does not fit within the Pharma brand manager’s traditional short term horizon (average term of brand manager is 18 months). It took 13 years for Pharma to adopt CLM with any vigor. Count on another 10 – 15 years before you see true MCM adoption.

More comments here…

Issue: Vol. 11, No. 7
July 26, 2012
Word Count: n/a

Find other articles in related Topic Areas: