Many individuals consider “digital” a channel when it’s not – it is however, a capability that all communicators should have. Just about everyone in the US uses some sort of digital communication, with internet penetration around 80% of the population. When you also consider that, worldwide, 34% of people are either under 14 or over 65, you realize that almost all of the student and working population is online, together with a good proportion of older and younger people.
It might be social media, email, SMS messaging or a variety of other types of interaction, but digital is very important to most of us. But since digital is not one channel, it is important to find out what digital interactions are relevant for each customer and when.
Even our government is pushing the use of technology into the healthcare space. With the advent of HITECH (Health IT for Economic & Clinical Health Act), practices are now required to digitize their practice and prove they are “meaningfully using” certified electronic medical record/patient portal systems. All HCP’s will need to provide electronic patient access to their records by October 2014. Many large community oncology practices have been early adopters and are already on a patient portal to provide this service to their patients. Where you can support your HCP’s is by converting your ‘paper’ patient education and digitizing it so they can “meaningfully use” their patient portals by providing disease specific information to their patients.
Digital is moving into all areas. Even medical education is increasingly provided and sought online – pharma medical teams must be active here. The ‘self-made KOL’ is emerging through blogging, HCPs reach out to each other in online forums and networks – key partnerships can be developed in these places. Brand visibility, services, information and interaction are expected from your customers – all members of your brand team and your sales reps should have digital tools in their kit.
In the early 2000s, there was a lot of mediocre execution with regard to digital strategies. Companies and agencies alike had not developed best practice in pharma digital and many mistakes were made. Email was too often spam, websites became out-of-date and banners were irritating interruptions. Many tactics just didn’t work. However, we know a lot more now and if you are taking a more strategic approach to your customer, intending to interact with them at the right moment with the right content in the right format to engage them, at some point websites, email, and banners may indeed be the right interaction. You just need to execute well.
Beware of blanket advice from cross-industry digital experts. You sometimes hear for example that ‘ email is obsolete’ and this may be the case in some sectors, but it is often not so for physicians – studies show many still use and value email from colleagues and also email news from professional associations and pharmaceutical companies. The important thing, once again, is to understand what your customer wants and will engage with.
Digital Strategies for Brands and questions to consider: How do you take a strategic approach to embedding digital into your multichannel brand plan?
How can I put my customer truly at the center of my planning and consider all the interactions that will be effective and how to combine them into a seamless customer experience and long-term relationship?
Unfortunately, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer to this in pharma, there isn’t a piece of software you can plug variables in and out pops the ‘channel mix’. You have to gather all the insight you can and take your best guess at the channel mix for your customer, execute with excellence and be ready to change the mix and iterate, iterate, iterate. Over time you learn what works for your brand and your customers in the market in which you operate. That’s where great measurement and analytics come in – to help you ‘learn as you go’. But your first multichannel plan will have to be your best, most educated guess, drawing on all the knowledge and experience you can access.
Brands, in summary, should have a multichannel customer engagement plan – starting with a ‘channel agnostic’ planning process that evaluates all channels. However, companies should also be looking at strategies that support HCP’s challenges in this new technology environment. Companies that have a strategic approach to embedding digital expertise and processes across their brands and customer base will ultimately be ahead of the game.