1995 is acknowledged as the year the internet first became commercialised. Since then, electronic communication strategies have been deployed by numerous industries and millions of companies. So digital marketing is not new.
With pharmaceutical companies cautious and risk-averse however, digital marketing has never been wholeheartedly embraced by the industry as a viable way to achieve objectives. This has clearly been changing over the past 12-18 months.
With the traditional rep model – and its costs – under review like never before, many pharma companies are tentatively looking at digital, particularly email marketing to HCPs as an effective means of engaging, detailing and even servicing. Of course central to the effectiveness of such a strategy is the willingness of HCPs to firstly opt-in to receive eDMs from pharma companies and to then react or respond in the desired way.
What we know with absolute certainty is that digital has changed the way medicine is administered by HCPs. In a Tick Yes survey conducted in September 2014 of a sample of 1,000 Australians, 88.6% said they researched their symptoms online before visiting a doctor. Not surprisingly, 94.2% said the credibility of that medical information was moderately to extremely important.
So HCPs are being confronted with better informed patients every day thanks to the internet. Naturally, better informed does not mean correctly informed. That’s why the personal interaction patients have with HCPs is crucial and will never be replaced by a website.
So what does this mean for pharma companies? Logically, as your HCP customers’ world has changed, so too the strategies for marketing to them should evolve as well. Reps still play a vital role of course, but email marketing in particular can reinforce key information that has been or is about to be delivered by the rep.
While that sounds all well and good, it’s at about this stage of conversations with pharma marketers that the objections start coming out: Why would HCPs opt-in to get emails from lots of pharma companies? I get 100’s of emails a day; no-one would read our eDM. It would just be seen as spam. We have nothing new to say.
They’re all valid points. My contention is that most pharma organisations look at direct electronic communications around the wrong way. Instead of looking at digital as new and risky, look at it as a way to better reach and inform time-poor professionals at a time convenient for them. Instead of worrying about spam, look at creating content that is unique, engaging and useful for your audience. Instead of worrying about getting opt-in, focus on giving HCPs meaningful reasons to do so. You don’t worry about how many other pharma reps are knocking on the doors of the doctors you’re targeting, so why worry about other eDMs they may be receiving.
As with your treatments, it all comes down to quality. Put together a confusing eDetailer, deploy a mediocre sales team, have no engaging story to tell and your efforts will fail. The same applies with email marketing. Don’t make the mistake of magnifying the objections to the extent that it seems all too hard and the risks are too great. Then there’s the other strategy killer: only talking about what’s important to you. I don’t care that your rep from south-eastern Queensland has been with you for 25 years; what can you give me that will help me to better care for my patients? If this sounds like a rookie mistake why do so many organisations keep making it?
Just over a decade ago we created an opt-in email database of GPs for a major pharma company and then proceeded to communicate very successfully with the GPs using eDMs targeted to their interests and needs. So this is not a new strategy.
Email marketing to HCPs can be effective and is worthwhile but you need to think of it as marketing strategy first and a digital marketing strategy second. As with all things, the best results await the people who do it best.
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