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pharmaceutical digital marketing


To pharmaceutical marketeers or product managers long used to the staid old world of offline HCP engagement practices, having access to a digital toolkit for the first time can seem like much more than a breath of fresh air. While many tread cautiously into the digital world to carefully navigate the minefield of regulatory and compliance norms, a large cohort of pharma industry insiders feel unshackled and empowered. The ensuing “power rush” among pharmaceutical marketeers comes with acute risks of overkill, not entirely dissimilar to how the head of a newly nuclear armed state might choose to embark on a spate of military adventurism. It is imperative that pharmaceutical teams that are adding digital options to their marketing toolkit for the first time are aware of these risks and use their new “arsenal” of tools responsibly and sustainably.

I recently signed up to the newly launched digital HCP portal of a large global generic drugs player. To being with, I was rather surprised to be inducted into an “HCP-only” portal despite not being an HCP myself. In the first 30 days, thereafter, I was bombarded with an incessant stream of emails inviting me to watch webinars, read articles or watch video lectures. Each webinar invitation came with at least 3 follow-up reminder emails, despite the fact that I had not registered for the webinar. Virtually every week, I received emails inviting me to sample a new “must try” tool or feature that had been added to the portal. Emails from the same company were sent under no less than 4 different sender names, each sounding more gimmicky than the other which made me feel like I was a guinea pig in an endless stream of “A/B testing” efforts by the company’s email marketing team.

After receiving over 60 emails in a span of just 30 days, I was left with no choice but to unsubscribe from the company’s mailing list to avoid clogging by inbox. I am almost certain that my sentiments were shared by several HCPs who had signed up for the portal with high expectations of it being a useful learning resource but, in the end, discovered that it was simply too intrusive to justify its utility.

This experience illustrates how first-time adopters of digital HCP marketing in the pharmaceutical world risk starting off on the wrong foot, alienating their target audience and squandering the opportunity to harness the enormous power of digital channels in driving HCP engagement. Following are 3 pitfalls to avoid for new adopters of digital HCP marketing in the pharmaceutical industry:

Pitfall #1. Being intrusive and commodifying your digital assets

It pays to remind ourselves that, for years, HCPs have had medical sales reps barging into their officers or chambers during clinic hours to make that quick sales pitch and leave behind a product brochure or two. As competition among pharmaceutical companies has intensified, these sales calls have become more frequent. While many sales reps take great pains to deliver real value to HCPs on every sales call, a large number of them simply pay a visit to their HCPs with the express objective of getting face time to remind them that they exist. As a result, many HCPs express some degree of “MR fatigue” and prefer to be left alone to focus on their patients.

Going digital was meant to help address this very problem as it allows a pharma company to “get in front” of the doctor without having to barge into the doctor’s office, often to the doctor’s inconvenience and, often, consternation of both the doctor and the patient. Delivering product education or clinical information digitally allows the HCP to engage with the pharma sponsor on their terms at a time that is convenient to them. But it is important not to abuse this by thinking that, because the HCP is engaging digitally, that this provides the pharma sponsor with the license to deliver content at will, with unlimited frequency in order to maximize the probability of engagement. Most of us can relate to the fact that seeing a flood of emails in our inbox or posts in our news-feeds from the same sponsor can is outright annoying at worst and, at best, leads to apathy over time, manifesting in lower open-rates, click rates and engagement.

Key takeaway: Avoid the pitfalls of “push content marketing” overkill by developing a content delivery calendar or schedule that leaves enough time between successive campaigns and helps the HCP to appreciate each message or piece of content when it is delivered.

Pitfall #2. Experimenting too much with your core audience

In their zeal to “A/B test” their way to the optimal content format and style, too many rookie digital marketeers end up experimenting on their audience too blatantly for this to go unnoticed by the recipient. Email campaigns with the same content are packaged differently with different sender names, subject headings and calls-to-action. Often the subject lines are too gimmicky with phrases like “Do not miss out. Join Now!” or “You are only one click away!”; such tactics might work in the world of online retailing but it tends to backfire when delivering serious educational content to clinicians because it detracts from the very credibility and seriousness that a pharmaceutical company needs to establish in order to win and retain the trust of HCPs. Experimenting with too many formats, colors and messaging styles also dilutes brand equity.

Key takeaway: Do not get sucked into the trap of “endless A/B testing” with your core audience. Experimentation should be subtle and conducted within clearly defined boundaries defined by communication policies and brand guidelines.

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Pitfall #3. Following a “one-size-fits-all” content delivery approach

The pharmaceutical industry has always segmented their HCP target audience on the basis of objectively defined and quantifiable attributes like specialty, level of qualification and seniority / years of experience. This was natural because in a purely offline world, you could not gather the information to do much better than that — clearly, having an MR having an HCP fill out a psychometric questionnaire during a sales call was not really a viable option!

Enter digital. Apart from its obvious benefits in terms of enhancing access and coverage, digital has made it possible to actually understand the human being behind the HCP’s professional credentials. By understanding what the HCP is clicking on, reading and commenting on, we can finally begin to cobble together an understanding of their interests and preferences. This is powerful because it provides the basis for much-needed behavioral segmentation of HCPs rather than just demographic profiling.

Pharmaceutical marketeers should use the power of digital content delivery to understand the behaviors and preferences of their target HCPs and deliver content to them that they actually care about. To go back to the example I cited at the beginning of this article, if the pharma company whose portal I signed up to had followed what types of emails I open and which ones I avoid, they could have avoided flooding my inbox with irrelevant emails that only served to alienate me in the end. If a particular content format does not work with an audience, there is no point persisting with it — a savvy digital marketeer must track what type of content is getting engagement and double-down on the winning formats, instead.

Key takeaway: Avoid “spamming” your target HCPs with content that they don’t care for just because there is no marginal cost to delivering all your digital content to all HCPs. Recognize that all HCPs within a demographic segment are not made equal and that, behind each set of credentials likes a unique person with individual preferences and interests. Track who engages with what type of content and tailor your content delivery to these observed behaviors and interests.

If you are a pharmaceutical marketeer and want to learn more about how to harness the power of digital responsibly to maximize its potential, Medisetter Doctor Network is happy to share its expertise and insights with you and your colleagues. Send us a message here on LinkedIn or drop us an email at help@medisetter.com to learn more about our upcoming workshops on Digital Marketing Best Practices for the Pharmaceutical Industry.

About the Author:

Anirban Lahiri is the Founder and CEO of Medisetter Doctor Network.

Medisetter Doctor Network is a builder of clinician networks which focuses on upskilling medical doctors and students in developing countries through a networked and interactive learning environment.

The Medisetter ecosystem offers medical doctors a one-stop-shop destination to share clinical cases and information, participate in seminars and workshops, stay abreast of the latest medical news, discoveries and drug updates and build their professional brands.

Medisetter provides digital doctor engagement, scientific-detailing, brand-building and market research solutions to pharmaceutical, and medical device companies. 


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