Pharma omnichannel marketing has been described as “multichannel done right”, and it is tempting to dismiss it as the latest among a crop of interesting buzzwords. In essence, however, omnichannel marketing is the modern execution of a classic principle of marketing communications: to reach out to customers through the touchpoints most relevant to the target market, seamlessly delivering a simple, consistent, insight-driven message. While pharma multichannel marketing aims to engage consumers through a wide range of methods, omnichannel simply aspires to make it easy for stakeholders to interact with firms. The distinction between omnichannel and multichannel is the focus on adopting the mind-set of true customer-centricity rather than a focus on the technology that is used.
Everything revolves around the customer
Awareness of customer needs is only the beginning, with pharma under increased pressure to anticipate the needs of its stakeholders. This requires detailed analysis of customer data to predict customer demand before it occurs. The objective is to make the customer experience as effortless as possible. Marketers need to identify the channels with which customers struggle to engage, and find ways to remove the obstacles. For instance, a 2016 survey by Bain and Company on the European healthcare landscape reported that physicians in Germany, Italy, France, and the UK have the most difficulty meeting one need: access to scientific education.
Traditionally, this need was met by face-to-face meetings with pharma sales representatives, but the survey showed that, increasingly, fewer physicians are turning to sales reps for information. European clinicians prefer academic journals and medical conferences, which are perceived to be unbiased sources of information. Specifically, physicians value comparative studies, real-world evidence, and “less marketing.” European pharma companies must therefore explore how to make unbiased information accessible on a variety of channels that physicians perceive to be credible.
Consistency is key
Ensuring seamless customer experiences entails the maintenance of coherent elements across all channels. To start with, marketers need to craft a compelling story based on an important insight about the target stakeholder’s behaviour. All content, whether shared on social media or communicated during a face-to-face meeting, must tell a single story. This story must then be told using a consistent set of visual elements (such as a particular colour or typography) and standard language or vocabulary. Marketers need to keep engagements interactive, encouraging the customer to try other channels when they can. However, should the customer decide to stick with only one or two preferred channels, he or she should still be able to have the full customer experience.
Many companies are still operating multiple touchpoints as if these are in competition with each other. In fact, omnichannel means that traditional avenues and digital channels must work together.
Building new capabilities
The pharma omnichannel marketing strategy is complex. It requires marketers to understand large amounts of customer information and constantly recalibrate creative communication methods based on this analysis. Modern customer needs are forcing companies to be increasingly data-driven. To be successful at customer engagement, marketing professionals in the healthcare and life sciences industry must acquire new skills and learn to utilise new tools. Technology is fundamentally changing marketing practices in industries besides healthcare, and this is happening at a staggering pace. To keep creating value for physicians, payers, and patients, pharma marketing specialists must find a way to be adept omnichannel marketers as well.
Beyond a marketing objective
Shifting to omnichannel is not the sole responsibility of marketing. A change in paradigm is required from everyone in the healthcare industry. Marketers lead the way in terms of engaging the customer, but the alignment of marketing and other company functions may determine how effective pharma omnichannel marketing efforts will be. An example of this is the importance of the relationship between marketing and medical affairs. The former is focused on driving growth, while the latter emphasises maintaining scientific objectivity. Marketing must obtain buy-in from medical affairs by ensuring that brand messaging is backed by science. On the other hand, the medical affairs team must make reliable medical information available and strive to understand the commercial forces that shape the industry. Establishing regular communication between the two departments is essential. It is also important to encourage both groups to share knowledge with each other and emphasise their shared goal, which is to help stakeholders deliver or achieve better health outcomes.
Fixing the fragmentation
Pharma companies are still discovering how to transform into customer-centric businesses. For years, the industry used a product-centric and sales-led model. But the changing customer landscape is shedding light on gaps in the system. Marketing is in the midst of a disruption in other industries, and this disruption is also seeping into pharma. In the heavily-regulated world of healthcare, there is an added challenge of complying with the high demands of multiple stakeholders. True pharma omnichannel marketing success may be abstract at this stage, but in the process of achieving it, pharma can innovate in ways that have not yet been explored within the industry.