Perspectives on a Post-pandemic World

An interview with Mark Bard, Co-Founder of The DHC Group and Justin Grossman, CEO/Managing Partner, meltmedia.

In response to last week’s DHC Virtual Summit with Novartis, Mark Bard, Co-founder/Managing Partner, DHC, talked one-on-one with Justin Grossman about how the COVID pandemic will change the world of digital healthcare marketing. Here are some highlights from their discussion.

Bard:  I don’t think anyone would argue that 2020 will go down in history as a turning point in the world of digital marketing. Your agency has been around for 20 years now, focused on digital work. I’d like to hear what you think about the true impact of this digital cataclysm.

Grossman: You’re right. Since meltmedia was formed in 2000, our work has been exclusively electronic. We refer to ourselves as “born digital.” And even for us, with all our experience, 2020 held some surprises and created situations we had never seen. But our philosophy has always been customer-centric and that served us well during this time.

The first thing I would say about this historic moment is that it’s been a real-time litmus test to show how truly digital everyone has become. Any weak points in an organization’s digital plan became glaringly obvious very fast. While every organization is on a different spectrum of their digital maturity and need for transformation, I think it’s safe to say that we’ve all had to do some soul-searching and resource shifting.

Bard:  We’re six months into this new reality. Are there things that you think have shifted and won’t go back to “normal”?

Grossman: As you heard during the virtual summit, the concept of Digital First is now trending up. While this concept isn’t new, it has become imperative to be digital first or digital ready for all tactics from the start. However, many companies realized pretty fast their processes and technology infrastructure didn’t support this mentality. Here are some areas where expectations didn’t meet reality.

  • Content flow is not built to support digital first (for example, traditionally, the sales aid is the core piece that gets approved then everything else follows). The old approach necessitates the extra steps of generating derivative copy for digital and getting it approved, thus creating a gap in getting digital content pieces to market first. The content development process needs to shift to digital formats first.
  • Regulatory hurdles persist, making it difficult to approve digital content. If emails are going out in multiple channels (for example, rep-triggered, third-party, or mass-sent headquarter emails), the review team needs to make it easy to submit and approve all three of these at once. Regulatory timelines should be adhered to and the process should be simplified. Many times there are too many missed deadlines or changes create additional, unexpected rounds of review and delay.
  • Tech infrastructure and time to market needs to improve. Getting from PRC approval to production deployment can still take too long. Digital pieces should be coded and ready to go, not waiting on approval before work even begins. Testing and review cycles should be automated and allow for quick workflow to move items to production. Use automated tools to ensure the right versions are being pushed to production and remain in production ensuring regulatory compliance.

We know that the market was already trending toward digital first. COVID simply accelerated this process dramatically. We don’t believe this will reverse, so companies need to adapt and resolve their issues going forward.

Bard: What changes are you seeing in HCP behaviors?

Grossman: There’s no doubt HCP interactions have changed significantly. Like digital-first, “no see” was already becoming an issue before the pandemic. Our reality check definitely indicates this change is permanent. That doesn’t mean the complete absence of personal contact, but it is time to rethink these interactions. Here are some thoughts we have observed:

  • Digital Sales Aids or IVAs before COVID showed slow adoption rates, as sales reps continued to demonstrate a preference to use a printed sales aid or other material for their HCP visits. Companies will have to change the mindset of their sales organizations in order to move forward.
  • Now, in this digital first or digital only world, we have to reconsider how all sales tools are used and especially how they support virtual meetings. Sales and marketing need to work more closely together in the development of all detailing tools to ensure the sales aids are organized in a way natural conversation unfolds.
  • Emerging content trends will drive engagement by structuring content around powerful scenarios: probing dialogue, patient use cases or treatment challenges, and data-driven insights that incite specific behaviors or actions.
  • Aligned with what Dr. Gautam Gulati talked about during the virtual summit, the innovative mindset needs to “create small acts of meaning.” Likewise, this has to be supported with new technology features that facilitate “micro-interactions.” Relationships will likely evolve to a lot of little interactions with HCPs — access questions, dosing questions, managing adverse events, and similar topics that are much more situational. In these quick interactions, your sales team will be creating a sort of “service hub” that brings value to the HCP.
  • To further facilitate this service hub model, organizations will have to be better integrated and act more in the style of how SaaS companies service their customers. The process to find and onboard a new customer needs to be automated and the support system must provide immediate answers or directions as individual questions arise. Then, if additional assistance is needed, the online tools can direct customers to human support personnel.

Bard: There’s another phrase we’ve been hearing frequently and it came up in a couple of the virtual summit presentations. It’s the concept of “OmniChannel.” What do you think this means and why is it important?

Grossman: The most successful organizations have always employed go-to-market strategies that encompassed multiple delivery channels. However, they segregated tactical implementation into segments. Often, the digital team was a separate entity that operated more in isolation. Under an OmniChannel approach, this doesn’t happen. Instead, the entire strategy is developed with integrated and interrelated collaboration occurring across every channel.

With COVID, we learned very quickly how mature certain OmniChannel strategies were. Unfortunately, in many cases, some of the processes and tech infrastructures were not as far along as expected. We saw three levels of maturity:

  1. Channel Optimization – An organization is able to effectively execute and measure a specific channel. The process and tech for that specific channel are well defined and the team is able to evolve the tactics within that channel. Channel-specific metrics are reviewed and sometimes shared into a greater business plan or visualization tool. There is some awareness and ability to tie a specific channel to a specific audience segment (like HCPs).
  2. Cross-Channel Collaboration – Some, but not all, channels have cross-channel collaboration for certain tactics. For example, Rep Triggered eMail leads to personalized content on a website, or paid media converts to a customized web page for a customer segment. These are typically “one-off” use cases that have been integrated between channels as the assumption is this tactic will be very impactful and of high value. There is continued evolution as you review metrics specific to the tactics. There is some awareness and ability to tie these tactics to specific audience segments.
  3. OmniChannel Orchestration – The majority of channels (web, email, CRM, paid media, etc.) are connected into a greater Customer Data Infrastructure that is able to consume all behavior and events from each of the channels. Automation between channels for specific use cases is able to be quickly deployed, reviewed and optimized. Attribution per HCP or audience segments is able to occur across channels, where applicable. Visualization of key data and tactics flows into a centralized dashboard.  In the most sophisticated scenarios, orchestrated journeys can be built from data analysis or machine learning.

Before COVID, most organizations thought they were further down the path but soon realized that the processes and tech infrastructure were not fully set up to make a true dynamic OmniChannel experience a reality. We expect to see this take precedence over the next 2 years.

Bard: Any final thoughts?

Grossman: What was true when meltmedia started 20 years ago remains true today. Technology is going to keep changing and we have to change along with it. The critical things to consider during our recovery from the COVID disruption are strategy and communication. If you aren’t planning ahead and talking to each other, you’re going to get left behind by those who are. We know there will be constant change and some uncertainty ahead. But if we embrace change and concentrate on building ways to adapt, creative new opportunities will open and that will be exciting to see.