Pharma’s communication with HCPs can be an odd phenomenon. Strategically, it is a mission of bringing value to physicians; on a tactical level, it’s a complicated game of smart, creative approaches. The pandemic situation worldwide pushed ever more life sciences marketers and brand managers to emphasize engagement via digital channels. However, the fear of “digital oversaturation” (i.e. HCPs getting spammed and fed up) stimulated smarter takes on making communication more intensive at each touchpoint. In this article, we discuss 2 variants of an interesting approach to reinforcing brand messages – based on Veeva Approved Email fragments.
Turning up the volume on remote communication in pharma
The spring of 2020 may become a material for chapter in marketing books for future generations. Because of COVID-19, pharma marketing experienced a more violent disruption than ever before, as F2F rep calls suddenly stopped being an option. In a survey by PM360, 63% respondents confirmed rep access was “near zero at this time”. The rapid, hectic rethinking of entire marketing cycles, with the obligatory shift towards every other channel except in-person calls is starting to bear fruit right now.
Until recently, many an organization, especially regional affiliates, used to consider digital channels of communication as supplementary to the “true” F2F eDetailing. Now these are no longer the experiments for the digitally advanced – the “alternative” channels have gained their moment in the spotlight in everyone’s strategy.
These include, among others:
- remote eDetailing sessions
- rep-triggered email
- mass mailing campaigns
- web (sites, portals, landing pages)
Of these, of course, email has become the general favorite – understandably so: name an HCP who does not have a mailbox. However, exactly this channel was where anxieties and questions have started to arise. As early as April 2020, experts already warned that inconsiderate and abundant use of email would desensitize HCPs – with more and more emails even from famous and trusted brands landing in spam, and doctors unsubscribing en masse.
This is where the already digitally savvy managers saved the day for many a campaign – instead of playing the old game of who shouts louder, they started experimenting with approaches more empathic to the physician – emphasizing value and providing fewer but more intensive touchpoints.
By May, about 60-70% HCPs still wanted to continue the dialogue with pharma even in times of the coronavirus – so it’s definitely worth it to study how exactly life sciences managed to maintain attention.
Personalization: a horizon, an asymptote… a necessity
In mathematics, asymptote is that imaginary straight line on the graph denoting a value to which the main trend is getting closer and closer without ever reaching it completely. Even if it seems the graph has crossed that line, you only zoom in to find there’s still some way towards it. In a way, this is what personalization is to marketing; the more of it brands provide, the higher and more refined the audiences’ expectations and standards. It’s a horizon to follow indefinitely, chasing the sunshine of customers’ attention.
Putting aside the philosophical question of whether 100% personalization will ever be achieved, “chasing the sun” is definitely a necessity. Marketers in numerous pharma companies are now adopting omnichannel customer journeys and rigorous database analytics, raising the plank for everyone. Approaches to personalizing the engagement for physicians vary and multiply.
Just one of these, involves studying the psychology of the target HCPs and establishing a segmentation based on their preferences and “archetypes”. An example of this approach has been provided by McKinsey and Across Health even before the pandemic.
According to this classification, there are 4 major types of HCPs insofar as they interact with pharma:
- “Independent” types – do not value their communication with pharma all that much; prefer evidence-based materials
- “Transactionals” – value samples from reps, think a lot about costs and are patient-centric
- “Knowledge seekers” – early adopters, interested in educational (CME) materials
- “Relationship seekers” – the social types who value interaction with reps and the medical community
This is one of the possible psychological type classifications, and as all of them has clear implications as to what represents value to each type – the same value that will help engage them in an omnichannel dialog.
In terms of content, the present-day pharma company can offer quite a lot, actually. DRG Digital once compiled a list of what information HCPs are most engaged with in EHR and other resources:
- Patient education materials
- Patient support program info
- Product dosing information
- Treatment guidelines
To these, it is easy to add:
- Clinical trial data
- News from the area
- CME materials
- Patient profiles
- KOL insights
Putting together HCP types and the content varieties, marketers are coming up with materials most likely to engage – thus serving as a vehicle to transmit the key message. For example, in this case, the mapping would be quite straightforward:
The tactics then works like this: providing the type of content the HCP finds most valuable and diluting it with the messaging that the company needs to make them aware of. For example, an HCP mostly interested in a cost-efficient treatment option can be engaged with a calculator, accompanied with information on prescription. Without this information, they would require a second step to consider prescribing the product – namely, searching for that information online. Making that step easier helps stimulate the dialogue.
When one message boosts the other
What’s important here is that each interaction presents real value for the HCP. Instead of engaging the physician at one touchpoint to capture their attention and then hoping to “push the agenda” on the next one, the two are combined whenever possible within one interaction – e.g. one email.
While this was more or less what field reps were trying to achieve in F2F calls, in remote engagement this becomes more important. A rep’s own experience and empathic skills allow them to sense when to say this or that, but with things like remote calls, emails and web, without “seeing the eyes”, maintaining attention is trickier. No matter how great your previous email performed, there is always the chance (however small in the best case) that the next one will go unopened because the subject line did not engage enough.
And this is where the “digital oversaturation” starts to matter. With many a marketer freaking out at the start of national lockdowns, customers experienced a storm of messaging – and pharmas recognized the dangers. With email, this is especially easily trackable – after a tipping point, the open rate starts falling down and unsubscribes get more frequent.
The good thing is that the solution was found quite fast – being twofold:
- more value
- think intensive, not extensive engagement
This is, in many situations, perceived as a matter of common respect to the HCP audience. A characteristic quote from an expert (in an interview to pharmaphorum) goes:
It’s time for the pharma industry to treat physicians as professionals, not as marketing targets. HCPs don’t prescribe something because someone says it’s a nice product. They want the good of their patient and offer them the most appropriate treatment. We need to have real discussions and move toward ‘augmented representatives’, who can use authorised sources on the internet or elsewhere to inform physicians and deliver better customer experience.
Florent Edouard, SVP, Global Head of Commercial Excellence, Grünenthal group
How difficult is it to implement this, though? Practices vary, and in many cases, this boils down to content. One does not simply launch the production of hundreds of, say, email templates to engage anyone in any possible combination of circumstances along the omnichannel journey.
Enter the new approaches to content creation.
“Smart content development” approaches
According to statistics, as many as 58% of pharmas spent over $50 million on content annually – and only 13% of marketers in pharma/biotech thought they were efficient in leveraging content. This was several years ago, and now the situation is starting to improve gradually for some players (although measurable impact is now only noticeable individually for each enterprise or affiliate).
The tactics that helps improve are somewhat alike. Instead of “feeding the beast” and struggling to get the budgeting for ever more, pharmas are adopting smarter material development approaches based on content reuse.
This means that instead of having to create a lot of similar (but a bit different) content items – email templates, CLM presentations, etc. – marketers first work to single out the “recurrent”, reusable elements in them. For example, telling the doctor about the results of a recent clinical outcome in digital content typically means the lines of code (and designs, and layout, and concept) that should look the same in different emails. However, traditionally, they were developed separately by different agencies, creating duplicates and making the company essentially pay for the same thing twice.
In the new approaches, these fragments are developed once to be reused across as many content items as possible. This is especially easy to illustrate with email templates: a fragment represents an entire block that can be inserted into an email template anywhere between the header and footer whenever needed.
What are Email fragments and how they work
As of now, there are two practical implementations of this strategy when it comes to email, and we at Viseven are now experiencing a surge of interest from different customers to both of them. The difference boils down to when exactly the predeveloped fragments are added to the template:
- In the office at the final production stage. This is also called Modular content, and the flow is like that: initially, email modules and templates are developed. The “dirty” work of coding and testing is done when there is time enough, and when the right moment comes to unleash the content to the market – the office (marketers, in-house teams) use a content authoring tool to simply combine these blocks into whatever final form they want. In a recent case, it took a company only 3 days to produce and approve fully functional emails for urgent communication.
- By the end users in the CRM/CLM system. This is as ad hoc as it gets, and this is an option that Veeva CRM The templates are produced with “slots” for a fragment to be inserted, and the fragments are published in Veeva Vault by themselves (and approved each one by one). The field rep can then send an Approved Email, to with they “drop” the fragment with which they decide to engage the HCP, making a lightspeed decision on the spot.
For a practical case with the former of these variants, look at this case study. Here below, we will focus on the practices with Veeva. What you will read is a summary of several cases into just two that generalize the trends.
Practice 1. Going beyond eDetailing to provide more value
As a reaction to coronavirus-related restrictions, many companies adopted remote eDetailing practices to keep HCPs and reps in touch with one another. Remote Detailing, as a channel, typically gets supplemented with email activity – namely invitation and confirmation emails, as well as follow up Approved Email from reps. This spelled opportunity for the users of fragments.
A “standard” follow up email for a remote call typically thanks the doctor for taking the time to engage and provides a way to give feedback on the interaction. It is only natural, though, to include additional information that can interest the account.
Some organizations practiced profiling their account database according to preferences and psychological types, some left this to individual reps. Suppose we have three types of HCPs:
- those who value RWE and clinical trial data, and are interested in the scientific part of information about any product
- the patient-centric thinkers who peruse profiles and want examples of how the product will actually solve particular issues and complaints
- the HCPs with a strong sense of community, relying on guidelines and key opinion leaders.
A generic email template is first created:
Then, the fragments are developed as soon as the general need for them is identified. In each individual case, then, it takes minutes to complete the Approved Email with additional valuable information:
In this way, the field engagement tactics get more flexible, the HCPs receive more value from each interaction, the marketers can instruct reps on prioritizing fragments to give more emphasis on particular key messages, all the while content production itself gets rid of repetitive load and becomes more cost-efficient.
Practice 2. Having key message transported by transactional emails
In the previous case, it was one template, several fragments with different information/key messages. In this one, it’s reversed: one and the same fragment dedicated to driving home a particular message, is used across a number of email templates.
The particular key messages used in this case may vary; for the demonstration purposes, we can assume it is an upcoming virtual event. A fragment is developed to promote it, providing information and a link to register:
Then it can be inserted into the invisible vacant slot in different email templates:
In this way, the promotion of the event does not require an additional touchpoint with the HCP, instead relying on the engagement and interest sparked by the email that hosts the fragment. The overall touchpoints reduce, eliminating the oversaturation risk, but their intensity rises.
In both cases, the content was created and managed using eWizard content authoring solution by Viseven team – integrated with Veeva Suite and covering a broad range of functionalities useful for pharma content creation and management.
Pharma promotion in the post-COVID-19 world
COVID-19 may go away some day. The large push towards innovation that came with the quarantines will yield results that likely won’t. If one could summarize what is happening with pharmaceutical companies’ communication to HCPs now in 1 point, that would be
- fulfilling the promise.
While the industry has long promised – and to a considerable extent delivered – value-driven interaction, this was considered a long-term transformation that would take decades until the ideal would be reached. Under the present circumstances, though, this has become an imperative for here and now, ASAP. It is safe to assume that tomorrow’s HCP engagement will be exponentially increasing in personalization, infinitely attentive to the HCP’s needs and preferences – and much more efficient, flexible, with ROI expectations rising.
Email fragment and modular content practices are just some practical steps on this way – but also among the first to take. Viseven is currently experiencing a rising interest for these practices and approaches. Our professionals engaged in such projects will be glad to share the insights and experience with you – as well as demonstrate the platform that enables them. Do not hesitate to request more information and a free demo here.