HCP engagement

Your guide to approved email

A key channel

Despite the ever-increasing number of digital channels available to pharma marketers, approved email or rep-triggered email remains central to many companies’ healthcare professional (HCP) engagement strategies. Great email communication in pharma is now often seen as essential, both to drive campaigns and nurture one-to-one relationships through highly personalized communication.

Approved email’s value was further demonstrated during the COVID pandemic, by enabling companies to sustain essential links with medical professionals in an easy way – maintaining both a flow of information and providing a means for HCPs to contact and engage with the industry. In fact, approved email was considered one of the most impactful channels, together with live webinars and live remote detailing.¹

This guide provides an overview on how to use approved email to drive pharmaceutical marketing campaigns and extend and deepen engagements with HCPs. A highly versatile channel, approved email brings numerous options to pharma marketers and customer engagement teams and is well regarded by most HCPs.³ Yet it needs to be done right. If you execute correctly on the ‘trinity’ of pharmaceutical marketing – strategy, content, and technology – approved email can deliver astonishing results.

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What is approved email?

‘Approved email’ is pre-approved email content that is made available to company representatives to use in their communication HCPs. It is also known as ‘Rep-triggered email’ or simply rep email. Approved email is sent to an individual customer (one-to-one) and therefore different from marketing email, which is sent to a list of many recipients (one-to-many).

Approved email content is usually provided to reps via a company’s CRM system or specific solutions like Veeva CRM Approved Email that enables reps to quickly create emails from prepared content. In this way, approved email not only saves reps’ time but also helps ensure that their email communication is compliant and on-brand.

Approved email content can be as simple as templates for confirming face-to-face appointments or information on forthcoming webinars and congresses. It can also deliver scientific and brand communications like clinical papers or links to product webpages or videos. Approved email is also valuable for companies seeking to build HCP customer journeys by providing an easy way of linking HCPs with existing channels and content.

Common approved email process explained
Common approved email process

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Benefits of approved email

To understand the specific benefits of approved email, it’s important to first see how it is different to standard email campaigns. Rep email is special because it is sent by someone specific – a company representative or medical science liaison (MSL) – who has a relationship with the recipient. This is key. Because approved email comes from a known or trusted source, it is far more likely to be opened by HCPs.

What percentage of emails are opened by doctors

Approved email also has another important advantage, again coming from the fact that these are emails sent by reps or MSLs. Depending on your specific system and setup, users can select emails – or specific content elements – to send to HCPs. Because reps should know their customers best, they can choose and tailor content that they believe will appeal to specific HCPs. It isn’t an email for everyone but rather a communication created for specific, individual people.

This process of selection and tailoring immediately increases the relevance of the emails. And, with the right analytics, this relevance will only increase. Every opened or unopened email provides data that can be added to the customer profile, enabling reps to continually refine their engagements. By applying this combination of data and their personal customer knowledge, reps can match email content to an HCP’s interest in a disease area, specific treatment topics, or even the kinds of content that they prefer – whether videos, clinical papers, or live interactions like webinars.

Another major benefit of approved email is its flexibility. It can be used in pharmaceutical marketing activities in many ways. It can invite HCPs to a remote detailing session. It can prepare them for that meeting, making it clear what they will learn. It can follow up on meetings, recapping on the topics discussed and answering questions that arose during the session by linking to topic-specific web pages.

The fact that approved email goes direct to HCPs – coupled with its simplicity and cost-effectiveness – makes it an excellent choice to highlight information in ‘on demand’ channels like websites or self-service detailing systems. It works especially well as the ‘glue’ to connect channels. Increasingly companies are seeking to create customer journeys in which HCPs move through a sequence of channels and content, according to an overall adoption ladder strategy.

With the right strategy, content, and systems, approved email can empower reps and MSLs to create personal journeys for their HCP contacts – delivering the reality of the omnichannel marketing approach that pharma has been seeking to introduce for many years.

Graphic of building customer journeys
Building customer journeys

High engagement
Get better engagement results with HCPs preferring information from known and trusted senders

Reinforce messaging
Follow up face-to-face and remote detailing sessions and enable HCPs to further explore your content

Contact frequency
Empower reps and MSLs to maintain regular contact with HCPs and access hard-to-reach-customers

Brand consistency
Help customer-facing staff stay 'on brand' with prepared content and templates

Customer experience
Deliver relevant and personalised information from a trusted source in a timely manner

Gather insights
Track open rates and other engagement metrics to understand needs and tailor future interactions

A simple, but still important, benefit of approved email is that it saves reps and MSLs time. They are likely already having to write numerous emails to invite HCPs to online events or arrange detailing sessions. The ability to quickly select from prepared content makes email creation go much faster. And it enables reps to feel confident because the content is prepared, approved and provided in a professional format. By freeing up time, approved email enables reps and MSLs to focus on their customers: planning engagements and tailoring content to meet individual HCP needs.

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Veeva CRM Approved Email

Anthill, Veeva, Biogen and MSD webinar explain how to realize the full potential of approved email – everything from empowering reps and MSLs to driving your broader multichannel marketing strategy

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Approved email best practice

There’s little doubt that approved email is highly effective, but it still needs to be done correctly to get all the benefits. To help you get the most from what it offers, we’ve outlined some of the strategic opportunities with approved email and potential use cases. And then we’ve provided some tips which, while being simple, are essential to get right – often making the difference between an opened or unopened email.

HCP survey of Approved email best practices

Strategy and planning

The great thing about approved email is its flexibility. It can be applied to different engagement strategies and in many ways. You might, for example, want to use approved email in a customer journey oromnichannel strategy, linking different channels together to provide personalized experiences for HCPs. Or you might decide to immediately activate the field force, using approved email to empower reps and MSLs to communicate, and then build out a broader omnichannel approach later. What’s important is that the strategy is defined and clear measurements are in place to track progress

Pre-engagement

Confirm call or visit

Agree the topic for a call of visit

Invite to events

Post-engagement

Share requested materials

Direct HCP to other channels

Next step in customer journey

Touchpoint

Respond to information requests

Arrange meeting

Provide new updates

Earn access

Build relationships with hard-to-reach customers




Pre-engagement

  • Confirm call or visit
  • Agree the topic for a call or visit
  • Invite to events

Post-engagement

  • Share requested materials
  • Direct HCP to content/channels
  • Next step in customer journey

Touchpoint

  • Respond to information requests
  • Arrange meeting
  • Provide new updates

Earn access

  • Build relationships with hard-to-reach customers

With the overall strategy determined, it is a good idea to think holistically about the whole process. While approved email is easy to implement, every aspect of the process needs to be considered and planned. The precise nature of this process will depend on your strategy. An objective of building relationships with hard-to-reach HCPs will require a somewhat different process to providing a high-quality post-engagement experience. But most approved email projects will need to address similar factors – determining what should be done with content creation, deployment, field force training and approved email’s use in the field.

One key strategic issue is contact frequency. It’s a good idea to set rules on how often reps can send approved emails in a specified period to ensure that they are not over-communicating and are always adding value.

Graphic of steps in Approved email planning
Approved email planning

Key decision: rep configuration options

A major strategic decision will be ‘rep configuration’ or the level of personalisation that the rep will be able to add to their approved emails. There are many options and solutions for this. To see what’s possible, it’s important to understand the basic structure of approved email. There are essentially three major content categories: what is automatically generated and always in place (the template), what can be selected by the rep within the approved email (fragments), and then what can be added by the rep from outside the approved email system (assets).

Key elements in Approved email: template, fragments, assets
Elements of approved email

At one end of the scale, a rep or MSL can simply choose which approved email to send (the topic) and get it addressed properly to the recipient (Dear Dr Jones). Then there is the option to provide more configuration options, such as enabling reps to select from pre-defined words or phrases, via dropdown menus, to add more personalisation. The next step along the scale would be to enable reps to choose ‘fragments’ or ‘assets’ that can enable the rep to personalise the content further by selecting, for example, specific graphics, documents or videos to include that they think an HCP would appreciate. It is also possible to allow free text fields, where reps can type their own messages.

Pre-defined configuration examples in Approved Email
Pre-defined configuration examples


There are many options. It is therefore important to be clear, from the outset, on what you will enable and how you will balance the increased personalization that comes from more rep freedom of action with the need for consistency and compliance. To decide, it’s a good idea to imagine that you are the one sending the message – what would you like to be able to configure to make the message feel more natural? 

If you’re new to approved email, it’s always a good idea to keep things simple – at least to start with. Providing too many options to affiliates and reps can overwhelm and confuse. It’s perfectly fine just to start with templates for simple actions (downland clinical papers) and moments (invite to detailing sessions). The specified level of configuration and content tailoring can always change over time. Depending on the technical solution, it should be possible to increase rep freedom-of-action as they become familiar with the approach, or in response to data.

Choosing an approved email platform

The good news is that there many excellent approved email solutions. Leading systems include: Veeva Approved email, Salesforce Marketing Cloud, OCE from IQVIA. While there are differences between these systems, all will enable an excellent rep-triggered email solution.

Veeva Approved Email, for example, has useful ‘quick start’ templates and a ‘drag-and-drop’ editor for building responsive HTML emails. And Veeva Approved Email also offers real-time metrics that provide insights for brand teams about email content and message effectiveness.

Girl work on the tablet doing Veeva CRM Approved Email

Effective approved email content

Approved emails are more effective than standard corporate emails,² having the advantage of coming from a known and trusted source (the rep or MSL). Approved email also benefits from the potential for greater personalization, with customer-facing staff applying their individual knowledge to select materials that will have high relevance to specific HCPs. Going beyond these inherent advantages – and making your approved emails stand out – requires optimizing your written content, delivering the right design, and ensuring that your emails are optimized for many platforms.

Graphics of HCP interest in email content
HCP interest in email content³


If you get the basics right, your approved email channel will deliver. One thing to beware of, however, is to ensure that you never let go of its fundamental value: personalised communication from a trusted source. It can sometimes happen that companies lose sight of this and start to treat approved email as a broadcast tool. This is understandable but should be resisted. You will not only likely experience lower open rates,² but also devalue the rep or MSL in the eyes of an HCP. There is an important role for marketing (promotional) email, just as there is for approved email. But it’s best not to confuse the two.

Great approved email copywriting

Good writing is often the difference between an opened and unopened approved email. You can have the perfect strategy, the best technical solution, and amazing visual content but without careful copywriting you won’t get the benefit. If you don’t pay attention to subject lines, emails will go unread. Without relevant messages, approved email content will get ‘skimmed and binned’. And without clear call-to-actions (CTAs), HCPs will be disengaged.

Write clear subject lines: Tell the reader what to expect. HCPs will likely be skimming subject lines to decide which to open. Make sure the value of every approved email is clear by being specific about the content upfront. 

Write short subject lines: Use as few words as possible: ‘Meeting confirmation’, ‘Portal access’, ‘New clinical study’. Remember that HCPs will likely be scanning subject lines to decide what to open. Make every word count. 

Personalize your email content: If you just write ‘Dear doctor’, the readers will rightly think that it’s intended for everyone and not specifically for them. Make sure to use the recipient’s name. 

Explain the relevance: Always ’lead with the need’, quickly explaining why it matters and how you are helping. By the end of your introduction, your customer should know why your message is relevant to them and what you’re asking them to do.  

Be respectful: Try to use phrases in rep-triggered emails such as “Thanks for your time”, “Our next meeting”, “Your availability” – that express that you are writing to an specific person and recognising that you are asking for someone’s time and attention.

Write in the second person: Use ‘you’ rather than general pronouns such as ‘people’ because the tone becomes warmer and customers respond more positively to copy that feels relevant to them.

Have a clear call-to-action: It should be obvious to the reader what step they should take next. Preferably every approved email should have one clear call to action: ‘click here’ to visit a website or ‘download’ to access a clinical paper. 

Write for mobile: Create content for the smallest screen – a phone. That means less than 70 characters for a subject line, but aim for25-35. Also, put your attention-grabbing content at the top, where it will be visible with no scrolling. 

Keep the word count low: HCPs prefer brevity. So, deliver your message quickly – using as few words as possible between the salutation and sign off – showing that you respect HCPs’ time. 

Use the sender’s name
: Getting an email from an actual person is a key benefit of approved email. For best effect, use a person’s name in the ‘from’ line, as well as in the signature of the email message.

Design excellence for approved email

Approved email works best when the copywriting and design are developed in tandem and entirely focused on the actual HCP experience. What applies to rep email copywriting – brevity and mobile-friendliness – applies equally to the design of your approved email templates and rep-configurable content. The design must address the realities of approved email: there are only a few seconds to get your message across, people often don’t have the patience to scroll past long banners on mobile (no matter how beautiful the images), and yet it needs to make an impact while correctly projecting the brand.

Design for busy people: If HCPs completely skip the email body copy, they should be able to understand the main points by reading the subject line, headline, and call-to-action buttons. All three should match and create a story with a clear message and further steps.  

Make the CTA visible: Ensure that the call-to-action is placed ‘above the fold’, meaning that is high up in the email – without requiring the user to scroll down to see it.  

Create the right image-to-text balance:
An email with lots of images takes time to load. Also, be aware that spam filters can catch emails with too many images. A ratio of 60% text to 40% images should be OK, though 80% to 20% is safer. 

Think low res: Your approved emails need to work in many situations, not just in optimal conditions. Where internet connectivity is low, images can render frustratingly slowly. So, keep the resolutions low.

Don’t rely solely on images to tell the story: Be aware that some email recipients turn off their images by default. If you have important numbers or statistics included in the images, duplicate them in the text format as well.

Make it mobile-friendly: Format your content for small screens. Forms should be large and easily clickable without the need to pinch and zoom. Ensure that buttons are big enough too. The minimum standard is 44x44 pixels with 10 pixels of surrounding space. Be generous. 

Relate emails to landing pages: The landing page design and content should be aligned with the email to avoid confusing people. Also, ensure that the messages and topics highlighted in the email are properly covered on the landing page – it has to offer much more than the email. 

Create mobile templates:
The best option is to create email templates in systems that have mobile optimisation by default and look good on both phones and tablets.  

Use A/B testing: Email is a great medium for A/B testing because it’s cost-effective to do multiple versions. Often, you’ll be surprised at what works best. And try to test not only the email but also landing pages, if you can.

Quality assurance for approved email

Beyond the actual content, there is the technical element that you need to get right. Where approved email differs from channels like eDetailing is that you don’t know the device or system on which it will appear. It’s a fragmented ecosystem. Your email will need to display correctly on smart phones of different kinds and screen sizes, multiple types of tablets, laptops, desktops, and smartwatches. These will need to display content properly indifferent operating systems, different email clients (Outlook, Google Mail), many of which won’t have been updated to the latest version.

This makes quality assurance just as important as the content. Perhaps more so. No matter how attention-grabbing your copywriting or how arresting your imagery, if the approved email fails to display properly, all that effort is wasted. And there will be an email right above in the HCP’s inbox that will display properly.

At the very least you should know which devices and systems to focus on. A ‘mobile first’ strategy is a good idea because the constraints are high, but many approved emails are likely read on a desktop in a doctor’s office, perhaps using software that is outdated. Getting that use case right is the minimum requirement. 

There are also factors like ensuring that your emails don’t get caught in spam filters – in which case HCPs will never see them. And for a really professional process, it’s a good idea to pay attention to accessibility too. Correct ‘alt tags’ on images enable people with reduced vision to hear what is being described in the images when they use assisted technology. And enough contrast should be ensured in buttons and other key graphics for people that are colour blind. In the healthcare industry, these details matter.

  • Operating systems: Microsoft Windows,Apple macOS, Google Android, Apple iOS, Linux (multiple versions of all)

  • Spam: ensuring that nothing in the email will flag the content as ‘spam’

  • Accessibility: adding ‘alt tags’ to imagery and ensuring contrast in imagery for people with reduced vision

  • Email client or reader: Outlook, Gmail, Apple Mail, Yahoo! Mail, OutlookMobile etc (multiple versions of all)

  • Device screen sizes: desktop, laptop, mobile, smartwatches etc

  • Link validating: testing all links in the email

Quality assurance factors

What do you want Anthill to help with?

Approved email is now an essential channel in pharmaceutical marketing. And one that HCPs appreciate – if their time is respected with clear, high-quality content that’s delivered with the right frequency and in the right format. It can work brilliantly if customer teams are provided with the right kind of content and understand and support the strategy. Companies that get it right – delivering a quality HCP experience that rewards attention – are operating with competitive advantage.

  • Provide my approved email strategy

  • Advice on the right technology

  • Plan and implement the consent and permissions setup

  • Create the perfect template

  • Write, design, upload and test approved email content

  • Fix my existing approved email content

  • Engage and ampower affiliates to act

  • Connect my approved email to other channels

Anthill

Approved email excellence

Work with an experienced partner that understands the strategy, technology, content, and human factors to get the most out of this key channel.

Approved email services

References

1.    Reuter’s report – Beyond COVID-19: Life sciences reimagined 
2.    Veeva white paper – Guide to Digital HCP Engagement
3.    Decision Resource Group – Taking the Pulse® Europe 2018. Survey of 1,429 primary and specialty care physicians