Update your strategy as you update your technology – and discover a new world of personalized engagement

Morten Hjelmsoe


In our digital focus month, Morten Hjelmsoe highlights how it’s time that our thinking around pharmaceutical marketing catches up with our technology.

It’s a sad fact that many healthcare providers see little value in our communications. We increasingly struggle to get the access, time and attention needed to convey the knowledge necessary for educated decisions on best treatment.

As the impact of our expensive face-to-face sales efforts fade, it’s of course interesting to focus on how to increase sales force efficacy and get more “bang for the buck”. For many, “going digital” is seen as a way to decrease costs, both by reducing printed material and by substituting some of the expensive face-to-face calls with cheaper multi-channel encounters.

But beware. If you don’t tread carefully, “going digital” can be a dangerous path. It’s dangerous because simply adding technology without changing strategy will accelerate us further into trouble, amplifying the worst aspects of what we’re already doing without getting the benefits that technology offers.

The objective isn’t going digital. Our object should be to become more relevant for individual customers by switching from a ‘push’ to a ‘pull’ strategy.

A problem of relevance

‘Push’ is what we’ve been doing for years. It’s the mass communication of messages. And it’s fundamentally about dealing with people as groups rather than individuals. In effect, that means providing the same message for everyone and delivering it in the same way at roughly the same time.

I like to think of push marketing as acting like train drivers. We have a destination in mind for medical professionals and so we build our tracks to transport them there. There are some stops along the way (campaigns) and so we just need to make sure that everyone visits all the stops and our job is done. We arrive at each waypoint on time, stay for a short period, and then move on – all according to a strict timetable.

The problem with this is that customers are all individuals. They each have their own particular set of knowledge, interests and needs. Sometimes they’ll know a lot about a topic, so don’t need a lot of information to understand it. Sometimes they have a low level of knowledge and will need to stay on this topic for longer. Sometimes they’ll want information that simply isn’t on the route.

The result? We’re not only leaving too many customers at the stations, we’re pushing them to go places they have no interest in being.


“We increasingly struggle to get the access, time and attention needed to convey the knowledge necessary for educated decisions on best treatment.”


More of the same: a digital push

If you agree that there’s an underlying problem – that healthcare professionals feel over-exposed to non-relevant messages – then the efficiency that technology brings can only make it worse. More contacts made more easily? A digital push is like trying to treat side effects by increasing the dose. How can that work?

Just adding technology isn’t the answer.

The personal approach: a digital pull

Instead of forcing technology into a push strategy, we should take the opportunity that it actually offers. And that’s to fundamentally change what we’re doing by adopting a pull strategy.

Where push talks to groups, pull is communication that speaks to individuals. In effect, it means that we can stop acting like train drivers and start being chauffeurs – taking each medical professional precisely where he or she wants to go.

We already have the technology that allows doctors to choose which information they are interested in. During a discussion with a company representative for example, medical professionals can actively pull the information they want, which ensures they don’t talk past each other.


“A digital push is like trying to treat side effects by increasing the dose. How can that work?”


Technology also allows us to record each medical professional’s particular interests as they interact with the systems. That way we can return later to provide more relevant information on a topic that they’ve already expressed interest in. And it continues this way – continually developing a better customer understanding that powers the provision of high value and very relevant information.

Legacy thinking

This personalized pull communication wasn’t possible in a paper world. We simply couldn’t keep track of what each physician needed to know. Thousands of doctors, each wanting slightly different pieces of information? No way! There would be one printed detail aid and that would have to work for everyone. And that’s how it’s been until information technology advanced enough. Now everything’s changed. Or can change.

It often takes time for our thinking to catch up with technology. Usually we start out trying to get technology to do what we were doing before. So a fax, with its paper-to-digital-to-paper steps, seems funny in an age of digital-to-digital email. Sometimes though we get stuck in our earlier thinking.


“Digital marketing needs to be wary of such legacy thinking.”


The keyboard that I’m using to write this is the QWERTY format. It’s found everywhere. And there’s no good reason for it. It only exists because mechanical typewriters needed this layout to prevent the keys from sticking. There are much better, more efficient ways to do it. But because everyone is now invested in it, it’s not going away any time soon.

Digital marketing needs to be wary of such legacy thinking. We’ve found the right way to do it – pull communication – but we still need to escape the ‘paper thinking’ that steers us back into push marketing and away from personalized communication.

Going digital isn’t an objective. The objective is to change customer behaviour. And to get there we’ll need to change our behaviour too.


About the author:

Morten Hjelmsoe is an expert and visionary within technology-enabled pull communication and recognized as a leading figure in pharmaceutical sales and marketing today. Advising several blue chip corporations, Morten continues to expand the potential of both new technology and its application. Morten Hjelmsoe is the Founder and CEO in the world’s leading closed loop marketing company, Agnitio, and one of the largest creative digital agencies, Anthill.

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