Content impact: Pharmaceutical organisations are continuing to invest in content to meet rising HCP expectations and increase marketing relevance with omnichannel product launch strategies. These investments improve HCP engagement, though managing costs is an issue. Budgets are fixed while customer expectations continue to rise. To keep costs under control, companies are rethinking their supply chain with content excellence programmes and implementing modular content to speed production. Marketers are also seeking to ensure that every asset justifies the investment.
The need to demonstrate content ROI is why companies are increasingly asking: what exactly do HCPs want from pharma content? To help, this Insight provides a kind of checklist of four factors — value, trust, preference, and accessibility — that you can apply to your content investments. For each, we’ve described the opportunities and also provided some practical actions that you can take.
Addressing any factor will positively impact HCP engagement. Apply them all, and you will likely exceed HCP expectations. To learn more about shaping your content to improve effectiveness, please get in touch.
HCP content demands are increasing while pharma budgets are finite
Therefore all content investments must provide value
Understanding what HCPs want from pharma content is essential
Value: “Content I need”
Practical help: HCPs’ overriding concern is the care of their patients. And because good clinical outcomes result from their expertise, it is medical knowledge that enables HCPs to improve patient outcomes that is most valued. And this preference is increasing, with more HCPs expressing an interest in scientific data, medical information and education.1
Unmet need: Yet there are issues with how HCPs perceive pharma company content. A 2018 study found that while HCPs rated journal, medical association and government websites essential in supporting clinical practice, only one-third thought that pharmaceutical companies' educational and product websites offered the same value.2 Recent data suggest that, from HCPs’ point-of-view, the most effective pharma digital channels are currently virtual webinars with KOLs, virtual training in new therapies, and virtual speaker programmes.1 This suggests an opportunity to increase the medical content in other channels, such as websites, eDetailing and rep-triggered email.
Driving access: Specific details on particular products are vital. Still, HCPs increasingly want pharma to look at the world in the same holistic way they do — and balance brand communication with information on disease diagnosis, treatment and management. And with access declining — 80% of HCPs met with reps in 2008, yet only 44% were rep-accessible by 20173 — providing more of what doctors want can only improve the situation. HCPs are open to hearing about product developments, but they increasingly expect that these engagements will follow medical communication. In other words, access is earned.
Launch strategy: This ‘medical first’ approach is important for all stages of a product’s lifecycle, particularly for pharma product launches. Most companies focus on the first six months because the trajectory achieved at launch is likely maintained in the following years. Initial poor performance tends to continue in the future. That is why carefully designing your HCP engagements to meet expectations — moving from medical to product — is so important. You must prepare the ground, making the pre-launch phase vital.
HCP priorities: When planning your HCP engagement strategy, know that both medical and brand information is required — but understand that HCPs tend to prioritise medical content initially. New scientific research, patient management techniques, conference presentations and other unbranded content open the door to product conversations.
‘Medical first’ marketing flows: Design HCP engagement strategies to work with HCP preferences for medical communication to precede brand marketing. Structure communication flows — especially around product launches — to earn access.
Understand the market: Treat medical communication the same way you would a product launch. Understand where there are unmet needs and design and position your ‘information product’ accordingly.
Trust: “Content I can rely on”
Building trust: A way of understanding the 'medical-to-brand' communication flow is building relationships with HCPs by demonstrating value. In other words, you strengthen trust. Importantly, ‘trust’ shouldn’t be understood as only the scientific accuracy of data — which has always been fundamental to pharma and the MedTech businesses. Instead, it is the more human meaning, i.e. someone reliable who is always there to help with good advice and information. In this way, we can differentiate between trust in product data and trust earned by offering clear and valuable content.
Pharma content marketing: This approach is known as content marketing — non-branded communication about a topic area. In practical terms, it means educational content that answers a question, solves a problem, or enables someone to take action. Because this kind of content is broader in scope than specific product information, you can reach a much bigger audience. There will be a percentage of HCPs focused on new therapies. But far more wanting information on the disease, its diagnosis, treatment options, and patient management. And once trust is established by demonstrating value, HCPs are more willing to listen.
Medical / Commercial collaboration: The opportunities to increase reach by meeting HCP preferences for disease area content provide an incentive to align Medical and Commercial organisations. Right now, these divisions usually work separately, and therefore HCPs don't receive one cohesive experience. Adding content marketing to HCP engagement strategies is an opportunity to collaborate, as the two divisions provide complimentary skillsets.
Compatible skills: Medical have the information and can frequently shape it to meet HCP expectations, but they need help integrating this content into the overall customer engagement strategy. For example, Medical often don't know how to connect channels to build HCP omnichannel experiences. This is where Commercial provides essential expertise. Aligning the two functions can provide content that HCPs need and trust — while ensuring that the content is presented engagingly.
Unbranded content: Increase reach and build trust by supplementing brand communications with unbranded pharma content marketing. Assess your HCP engagement plans and determine whether the balance between branded and non-commercial content will meet HCP expectations.
Medical / Commercial projects: Treat content marketing as an opportunity to build cross-functional teams. Combine Medical’s expertise in developing non-branded content with Marketing’s skills in content delivery across channels and performance tracking.
Co-create content: Further increase trust by co-creating content with key opinion leaders. This provides opportunities for deeper engagement with HCPs and improves content by incorporating clinical expertise — ensuring that it solves real problems and enables HCPs to take action.
Preference: “Content I like”
Format preferences: HCPs will initially consider whether content is useful and if it comes from a trusted source. Then they will decide whether or not to engage depending on the format. In truth, you can have brilliant content that provides tremendous value, but it goes unnoticed unless delivered in a way that people like. While it might seem a little strange to think that 'content I like' is a factor in clinical settings, it pays to remember that HCPs are people. And like us all, they have limited attention spans, want people to get the point quickly, and have their own likes and dislikes. Accounting for these human factors improves the reach and impact of your HCP engagements.
Short-form: One trend seen across all sectors is the popularity of short-form content, e.g. materials that take less than 15-minutes to consume. Further, some HCPs point to content length and insufficient reading time as pain points with pharma content.1 Therefore, consider the time factor when building your content library and balance longer-engagement assets with 'bite-sized' content. This helps you respond to preferences for shorter content and allows you to engage in ‘mini-moments’ of a doctor’s day. A library of concise 'topic refreshers', 'Cliff Notes' summaries, and short videos increases your engagement opportunities.
Long-form: While content length can be a pain point for HCPs, it’s worth bearing in mind that many people still prefer longer content. And there may be a renaissance for ‘deep dive’ content that delivers a lot of value in one go. For example, the average time spent on short-form specialist TikTok’s service peaked at 40 minutes per day in 2021, while longer-form YouTube maintained 45 minutes of daily engagement.4 Likewise, the top-10 podcasts actually got 14% longer in 2021.5 And many popular shows run for two hours or more. Balancing short and long-form content in your HCP engagement gets the advantages of both.
Mixed media: HCPs have different learning preferences, just as we all do. Some people like webinars, some favour one-to-one meetings, others prefer written articles or informational graphics, and many of us enjoy conversational formats such as podcasts. By mixing media, you increase your overall engagement opportunities for the simple reason that people consume more of what they like and less of what they don't. Tap into these preferences to boost engagement by planning a mix of written communications, videos and graphics.
Variation: It's important to remember that preferences for particular content formats are just that — preferences. Like everyone else, HCPs might favour one format over another, but it's not exclusive. We all have our individual 'media diet', but it's rare for this to consist of just one thing. There are moments for novel reading, social media, television, radio, video games, magazines, podcasts, and newspapers. And we swap between them to keep things interesting. Therefore it pays to account for this need for variation by having a range of media and formats.
Customer experience: Providing content that people like sounds obvious, but it doesn't always get the consideration it deserves. There are understandable reasons for this, such as the desire to avoid further complexity in already complex content supply chains. And established pharma marketing practices sometimes lead to ‘default’ choices that are more automatic than they should be. Nevertheless, it's always worth stepping back and asking whether your content is enjoyable. This might not be quite as important as delivering what they need — but it's close.
Topic clusters: For each topic, try to balance long-form assets with short-form content in different media. For example, an eDetailing presentation can be supported with multiple short-form elements such as 2-minute videos and PDF ‘cheat sheets’ that address aspects of the topic in different ways.
Media mixes: Review your content library to check that there is a good mix of media formats. Budgets are limited, so think in terms of broad categories — achieving a blend of written communication, video or animations, and graphical assets.
Specialise: Rather than trying to realise every opportunity in digital marketing, focusing on a few assets-types can work wonders. For example, an outstanding podcast series — developed with key opinion leaders and promoted effectively — can have a major impact and provide lasting value to your brand.
Accessibility: “Content delivered how I want”
Accessibility: The requirement for pharma marketing assets to be accessible might sound obvious, but there are issues connecting people to content resulting from changes in how HCPs want to engage, e.g. shifting from in-person to virtual engagement.
On-demand: As in many sectors, there is a trend for customers to review digital content before getting into discussion with the field force. In other words, HCPs expect in-person brand communication to follow digital engagements. For pharma, this is a major change. Instead of reps handling the whole 'awareness-to-decision' process themselves, they increasingly operate later on the adoption ladder — with digital channels doing more work in the early stages. Therefore, ensuring HCPs can access content means having sufficient on-demand channels. It also suggests taking more of a content marketing approach, which lends itself to on-demand strategies.
Context appropriate: When planning HCP engagement, best practice is to prepare a variety of different content formats. We all have content format preferences, which change depending on the situation. Multiple formats also enable you to meet these different contexts. One factor is ‘time-to-consume’. Another consideration is ‘place’, with certain formats lending themselves to particular situations. For example, an eBook obviously won't be consumed when someone is commuting by car but a podcast interview works well. Once you have a range of formats, you can plan activities for different moments in a doctor’s day.
Point-of-care: It pays to give special consideration to clinical settings. It is in the moments that HCPs are working directly with patients that your product information is most valuable. If you can get these situations right, your communications will have a major impact. In other words, customer-centric strategies should account for how doctors spend most of their day — and not just the brief moments when they are not meeting patients. Ensuring people can easily find the right information at the point of care is challenging. But achieving it adds great value to your brands, helps HCPs when they need it most, and ensures that patients get the best possible treatment.
Great website content: Your web presence is still an excellent way to ensure on-demand access to up-to-date content. When optimised for search (SEO), your website content is findable, and you can easily track HCP engagement interactions to ensure that it delivers value.
Globally updated content: One issue that many companies have is a need for more consistency in website content and the difficulty in keeping pages updated across markets due to a highly complex mix of web solutions. To really provide value to HCPs, unify your global web presence on a single system, which brings efficiency and makes content updates much easier.
Contextual marketing: When connecting HCPs to your content, imagine yourself in their place. For example, virtual conferences can't just be an in-person congress run online. People won't sit for hours staring at a screen. It has to be done differently, e.g. ‘short-form’.
Point-of-care audit: Differentiate between content designed for review during patient consultations and broader educational materials provided for other settings. The content should follow the context. For point-of-care, make life simpler for HCPs with easily findable information that quickly gets to the point — providing just what HCPs need to know at that moment.
Content that drives HCP engagement
The introduction of digital technologies encourages a tendency to treat communication as a form of logistics, i.e. more attention is paid to digital infrastructure than the messages conveyed and experiences provided. As a result, it's easy to lose sight of the audience and their needs. Digital technologies open new HCP engagement opportunities, but it is the content that keeps people clicking ‘learn more’ — not the existence of the button.
To realise a return on investment, you need to provide what HCPs value in a way they trust and like. And then use technology to deliver it appropriately at the right moments. To learn more about unifying your content and technology, please get in touch.
Omnichannel: apply omnichannel product launch communication techniques for more relevant and effective communications. Learn more Content excellence: learn how we partner with pharma companies to implement fast and flexible content creation systems. Learn more Case study: learn how a leading pharma company implemented omnichannel across their organisation. Read now
1. Physician COVID-19 Response Biopharma Survey, May 2020, BGC 2. The Evolving Role of Websites for Healthcare Professionals, Aug 2018, EPG Health 3. Want Better Access to Physicians? Understand What’s Top of Mind. Pratap Khedkar and Malcolm Sturgis, 2016, AccessMonitorTM 4. Why time spent with TikTok is on the decline, eMarketer / Inside Intelligence, March 2022 5. Are Podcasts Getting too Long?, Medium, Frank Racioppi, Aug 2022
As pharma marketing becomes ever more digital, the way that we create content is changing. In the past, everyone focused on individual assets. Now, forward-thinking companies work with ‘design systems' to unlock digital technology's scalability.