10 steps to an effective multichannel strategy


Everyone is consuming information through a variety of channels. With an overwhelming amount of data available, effective approaches are about reaching the right people with the right message in the format they prefer. Julian Tompkins and Lee Wales offer their expert tips on implementing a successful communication strategy.



Julian Tompkins & Lee Wales

Healthcare professionals are busier, and under more pressure, than ever, with more information at their fingertips than they could digest. The same applies to many patients, who often balance complex lives and hard-to-manage conditions. There is rarely a shortage of information available about diseases, treatment options and guidelines, but receiving it in a timely, convenient, and accessible, way remains a key challenge.

For some time pharma companies have been building the infrastructures necessary to enable them to meet this communication challenge for their audiences on a global scale. But, despite large-scale investments, there are still significant hurdles. Conducting extensive market research, developing the vision, implementing the strategy and having the ability to recognise, if not tell, a compelling story, are some of the more vital elements in the intensifying battle for customer attention. Even with these in place, there can still be a considerable gap between the reality and promise of good multichannel implementation. The following guidelines have been compiled to help close that gap.

1. It's not all about digital. Five years ago there was much talk about digital replacing face-to-face engagement with healthcare professionals. Digital channels do give the ability to track and tie all communications together, and add a cost-effective means of communication, particularly with physicians, who have limited time for face-to-face interaction with sales reps. Far from being replaced, however, the field force is evolving to play an increasingly important role in orchestrating the delivery and implementation of messages to healthcare professionals. With so many channels for personal and non-personal interaction in play, the field force is well placed for fine-tuning that critical knowledge to ensure that stakeholders are communicated with in the way that is most convenient and relevant to them. It may be by phone call, text, video, website, post, email, or many other ways. It's not about digital or non-digital so much as understanding what the customer needs and how technology can be used, within the boundaries of compliance, to enhance their overall satisfaction.

2. Integration of channels. The focus is increasingly on tying messages and communication activities together to create a seamless user experience. Customer relationship management (CRM) systems, for example, track and record what happens on a channel and then use that to trigger action on another. The key is to make all channels part of an integrated whole. E-reps, for example, are a low-cost way of reaching out to a broader base of customers. But it is how their calls are used that is critical. Is it cold-calling with one-dimensional messages or part of a multichannel approach where a conversation with a sales rep is followed up with a phone call from an e-rep on specific questions that arose in that conversation? The same is true of all other channels as sophisticated integrated messages can deliver significantly greater value than that derived from each of the constituent parts.

3. Being led by the customer journey. Finding the right use of traditional, remote and digital channels is achieved, in part, by mapping out each customer's journey in terms of their touchpoints with the company, together with their communication preferences. Prioritising which touchpoints the company will invest in, and with which customers, is key to successful implementation. Few have the resources to invest in monitoring and managing all of them so it is important to evaluate which channels will be most effective to meet their objectives and then prioritise.

4. Importance of customer segmentation. Segmentation based on data from qualitative and quantitative research gives a good idea of the types of customer involved, the content required and the types of strategies to be deployed. When it comes to implementation it's more about thinking how to bring in different sources of data to augment those segments on a more granular level and to thereby make communications more personal and relevant. Then you need to be able to track and act upon that data.

5. Emergence of different communicators. As the industry's understanding of its stakeholders' communication needs becomes more sophisticated, the range of communicators continues to evolve. There is a clear understanding that it is less about reciting key messages and more about how the various channels work together and how customers can be best served. Several kinds of industry communicators have emerged in recent years, all with different roles and skill sets to fulfil different customer needs. Medical science liaisons will be used if the central issue is about the science; a key account manager if it is about discussing positions on local formularies. Increasingly, customer service executives who are non-product related are finding a role in directing healthcare professionals to valuable educational content to support their patients.

6. Data strategies are essential. With so much ability to track and record, these days, a data strategy is required to bring everything together in a meaningful and consistent way. At the very least the data must be linked. If you have a portal connected to the CRM system and can see for any particular doctor what they've downloaded or the webinars for which they have registered, you have actionable information that can be used when the appropriate communicators liaise with them. If data remains in silos it is almost worthless because everything is about integration and smooth transitioning between channels.

7. Use appropriate metrics. Traditional metrics, such as number of contacts or calls, give a very limited picture in a multichannel world. We need to look at analytics in a more nuanced way to get to the heart of what you are trying to understand, such as the number of people who converted to your product, how and why. Some companies have overhauled how the sales force is incentivised to get a more holistic measure of their performance. Such an exercise requires significant organisational change to overcome internal hurdles.

8. No 'one size fits all'. There will be different strategies for different products depending on the type of product and the key customers involved. But the central question remains the same: how can the value we offer be enhanced for any of a range of customers? For newer drugs it is the data and how you present that in the most compelling way that is most important. Older products, meanwhile, may require more focus on customer service than product awareness.

9. Role of outsourcing. Traditionally, outsourcing has been a flexible way of bringing in the right personnel to fill short-term needs. In a multichannel world, there are many new kinds of opportunities to bring in external expertise as companies continue to experiment with how resources can be deployed best. Outsourcing can be used, for example, to upskill and improve internal field forces as well as try out more advanced strategies in particular territories, the learnings of which can then be rolled out regionally and internationally. Similarly, digital expertise to better integrate the channels can be bought in for a specific campaign, learned from, and then deployed more widely via internal resources.

10. Never forget the importance of content. A channel is just that: a channel. People try to compare the effectiveness of an email campaign, say, with a website, but that misses the key element  the impact of the content. If people are faced with a basic cut-and-paste email from a central mailing list versus seeing a knowledgeable sales rep, they are going to go with the rep. But a targeted email that covers relevant topics in a pleasing format to read or watch is a different story. Implementing the right channels is important but must not detract from ensuring impactful content is sent through those channels. Pharma is not just competing against other pharma companies, but against all the online and offline communications and content out there also wanting their audience's attention. A campaign has to have an impact or it is in serious danger of getting lost. Multichannel communication, when implemented correctly, enables content to amplify its impact significantly.

About the authors:

Julian Tompkins is Regional President at Ashfield. He has more than 30 years' experience in the pharmaceutical industry, and manages contract sales, nursing and contact centre operations across Europe, South America, Asia and Canada.

Lee Wales is Strategy Director at Ashfield. He is a strategic lead within the digital and creative team, working with clients to provide strategic solutions to support their multichannel communication plans. Lee has over seven years' experience in digital consultancy and strategic planning in healthcare, bringing innovative ideas and creative thinking to create healthcare marketing and education programmes that make a difference, are measurable and aligned to business KPIs.

Ashfield partners with more than 300 pharmaceutical and biotech companies, helping them to reach out to experts, prescribers and patients, and has more than 3.5 million interactions with healthcare professionals and patients around the globe every year.

For more information about multichannel communication strategy and implementation, contact Julian Tompkins at julian.tompkins@ashfieldhealthcare.com or Lee Wales at lee.wales@ashfieldhealthcare.com.

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10 steps to a successful patient support programme

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Linda Banks

4 March, 2016