Omnichannel marketing for pharma

There has been a lot of debate recently around pharma and its pursuit of multi-channel or omni-channel marketing. Given widespread recognition that pharma lags behind a number of market sectors in its use digital marketing, is this debate useful or redundant?

Starting with commonly used definitions, ‘multichannel’ is considered the use of more than one channel for transaction or delivery. Often one channel is digital and the other physical (in high street retailing this is usually stores and an ecommerce website – in pharma this is a brand website and e-Detailing); ‘omnichannel’ is defined as the use of all channels available for service, distribution and transaction as a unified experience. Given the breadth of channel availability for marketing, it is not necessary to distinguish multichannel and omnichannel. Forget the semantics, the choice is which combination of channels is best to deliver client objectives and results.

Look at how other market sectors embrace omnichannel and use it as inspiration for big and small thinking: (1) Big thinking in terms of how to push the boundaries when market disruption is needed and (2) small thinking in terms of how to improve the basics; never do anything in isolation and work from the premise ‘that is a great idea now what are the three things we can do to make it work even harder?’

Below are five great examples of how the retail sector is employing omnichannel, together with ideas for how pharma could adopt its use:

1. Utilise social media channels to engage personally with customers

Retail: No longer a one-way street, retailers let customers create conversations and develop their brand. Social media has created an influential marketing channel, building brand goodwill and providing an insight into the ‘voice of the customer’.

Pharma food for thought: Every big pharma company has at least some presence on social platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. Roche recently released a series of YouTube videos called ‘Drawn to Science’ that explain key technologies involved in its drug research. Eli Lilly has tackled public policy and other issues on the LillyPad blog and the maker of Cialis has spread the LillyPad message via other platforms such as YouTube and Twitter. More recently, the LillyPad effort expanded with a Twitter handle that focuses on interacting with journalists on the microblogging platform. Novartis, which makes the oral multiple sclerosis (MS) drug Gilenya, has created a website for the MS community called ‘MS and: Our Story’ and shares content from the site via Twitter.

Effectively meeting the challenge of social media requires more than incorporating a few new ideas, it requires a radical shift in perspective. Rather than asking what you have to say, it is better to answer questions such as, what will get this brand talked about? What can we create of value? How can we get people to participate?

2. Embrace customer product reviews

Retail: Apps like ShopSavvy and RedLaser allow the new connected consumer to browse products in physical stores while reading reviews and making purchases (if prices are lower) on their mobile devices. Some retailers are starting to address the potential impact of mobile phone use whilst in-store and turning it to their advantage. For example, plans to include extensive consumer-generated product reviews and buying guides on its new domain, acknowledging the customer trend toward trusting other buyers more than advertisers and brand messaging.

Pharma food for thought: Leaving aside patient omnichannel for a moment, there have being a number of recent developments in terms of understanding the key HCP and patient digital opinion leaders in both open and closed communities as well as emerging best practice strategies to identify, engage and activate key stakeholders.

3. Integrate physical and online presence

Retail: Developing creative and engaging personalised technology for use in conjunction with tech-savvy sales staff in stores helps to reduce the likelihood of consumers turning to competitors.

Neiman Marcus in the US is currently testing an iPhone app designed for this purpose in four of its stores. The app has two parallel interfaces for customers and sales staff, providing consumers with alerts of upcoming events, new product arrivals, QR code scanning, and the ability to learn which of their favourite associates are in the store. Simultaneously, in-store sensors alert staff when customers enter the store, and provide a purchase history (and even a Facebook picture for easy recognition) to ensure that they offer a faultless service.

Pharma food for thought: The task of developing engaging personalised technology to address low levels of health literacy is critical. Communicating complex health information across channels, demographics and psychographics is as challenging as ever. As collaboration and coordination become part of the new health marketplace, pharma brands have to clearly and credibly demonstrate how they are partners in care. As discussed in a recent pharmaphorum article by Tyler Durbin, the answer isn’t more information when patients are already bombarded with packets of discharge paperwork, lists of medications and a stack of new prescriptions after a diagnosis or treatment. Rather, the answer is, by thoughtful design, to use the myriad of technologies to reach more people who are not health literate but who can learn through more intuitive interfaces, competitions, or interactive platforms that encourage learning about, and management of, their health. As Durbin suggests in his final thoughts, health literacy is far more than just being able to read the label of a medicine bottle. It is about knowing where to go for health information and then understanding and making use of that information, adhering to a treatment plan, and proactively managing health and wellness. Pharma needs to think how it can add value at every juncture of the patient journey: from symptoms, to diagnosis, to treatment, to adherence.

4. Implement innovative in-store technology

Retail: Innovations that personalise the shopping experience keep customers from turning to competitors along the purchasing journey. In-store technology that enables consumers to interact with products creates unique shopping experiences, thus encouraging customers to shop while fostering brand loyalty. For example, shoppers frustrated by the lack of standard clothes sizing will soon benefit from Me-Ality walk-in body-scanning stations, developed by Canadian firm, Unique Solutions Design. Now implemented in some retail outlets in the US, the scanning technology is used to generate a unique bar code containing the shopper’s detailed measurement data and a customised shopping guide. The technology aims to transform the in-store shopping experience for consumers, creating a unique list of product recommendations.

Pharma food for thought: This frustration with the normal way of doing things is driving both new product/service development and more down-to-earth channel communications in pharma.

In June came the news that scientists have made big progress on a ‘bionic pancreas’ to free some people with diabetes from the daily ordeal of managing their disease. A wearable, experimental device passed a real-world test, constantly monitoring blood sugar and automatically giving insulin or a sugar-boosting drug as needed. The device improves blood-sugar control more than standard monitors and insulin pumps did when tested for five days on 20 adults and 32 teenagers. Unlike other artificial pancreases in development that just correct high blood sugar, this one also manages sugar levels when they are too low, mimicking what a natural pancreas does.

5. Create local e-commerce ‘landscapes’

Retail: Personalised emails, recommendations and promotions allow retailers to maximise every opportunity to communicate with customers and relevant ads enhance the customer’s overall online experience. Retailers are starting to combine the social and the local to personalise the shopping experience on mobile, allowing customers to interact with local e-commerce ‘landscapes’.

For example, Foursquare melds social interaction (friends’ locations) with commercial discounts and promotions from neighbourhood merchants to reach their customers and visitors. Lastly, and increasingly importantly, mobile enables all-personalisation elements (both on-site and in-store) and delivers them to customers who are out and about or relaxing at home.

Pharma food for thought: The combination of mobile, personalisation, promotions and localised communications is the vision for pharma multichannel marketing. The ideal is to create the following enhanced and integrated experience:

Initial Contact: (1) Physicians are provided with materials that are relevant and/or customised; (2) physicians are able to choose the channel through which they interact with the company;

Follow Up: Further interest in specific products can be satisfied quickly through appropriate preferred channel (e.g. face-to-face meetings, virtual methods, or the internet with company sales reps or medical science liaison, interaction with national or local peers);

Prescription and Sales: Physicians correctly diagnose patients and prescribe appropriate products after extensive education and making informed decisions;

Feedback: (1) Physicians give feedback to companies to provide better service and materials so that they can be more effective at their jobs and improve accuracy in prescriptions; (2) multiple channels that are most convenient for the physician.

Hopefully this quick peek into retail omnichannel marketing has engendered ideas about the possibilities for pharma. Sometimes it is just a matter of joining the dots.


About the author:

Robert Harrison is head of client engagement & delivery EU at Razorfish Healthware.

A strategic marketer with significant global, route-to-market and digital experience, he has a strong track record of building high performing brands, driving sales and profitability and developing strong multi-functional teams. He has demonstrable project management skills and the ability to lead multiple complex projects at the same time. He has a real passion for using consumer insight to inspire brand development, customer experience and engaging multi-channel communications.

On the client side, he built a global brand for a Japanese food conglomerate from nothing to make it a major player in the US and European FMCG market, resulting in $120 million yearly sales over a six-year period.

This proven track record in brand building, product innovation and effective marketing communications, together with a ‘roll up the sleeves and get things done’ attitude, has continued agency side over the last 20 years, where his creative vision and intuitive customer insight across various senior management and account planning roles has helped many retail, financial services and manufacturing clients realise their business, brand and communication goals.

Have your say: Does an omnichannel approach have a place in pharma companies’ development?