Today's leading pharma companies recognise that healthcare professionals (HCPs) now engage differently. The best-performing teams know that physicians, just like everyone else, educate themselves first through digital media. That is a basic marketing reality. It is true of consumers wanting to buy a TV, book a holiday or watch a movie (IMDB exists just for this reason). And it is true of patients who research their condition before seeing a doctor. 'Content first, discussion later' is how people engage.
While there are regular reports of HCPs being ever harder to reach, we find that access isn't so much declining but changing. Yes, in-person access is decreasing — or rather shifting to later in the customer journey. But digital channels are popular and in demand.
Yet rather than move towards the opportunity, many companies are still trying to defend against the threat. While it's valid to consider the rep's role in a digital world, the focus is too often on how digital media can augment the sales force. That misses the point. Instead, companies should take the opportunity and consider how the sales force can follow through on digital content. In other words, we'll only fully understand the 'future of the rep' once we stop thinking about reps — and concentrate on building exceptional digital experiences.
An unmet need
A 2022 study by DT Consulting shows the misalignment between ’what doctors want’ and what they get. Looking at over 4,000 interactions between HCPs and pharma companies, DT Consulting revealed a significant disconnect between the channels HCPs preferred and those used by pharma companies.
The study showed that pharma companies used face-to-face sales reps, medical reps and small, in-person, company-sponsored events to engage HCPs. But HCPs rated their preference for these channels much lower. Doctors wanted something different. According to the study, “HCPs preferred to engage through sales and medical reps’ emails, online (video) conferences with medical reps, live, company-sponsored online or virtual meetings and videos of recorded webcasts, webinars or congresses.” In other words, HCPs wanted digital interactions — not in-person meetings — to be the primary engagements with pharma.
What does this tell us? Pharma is out of step with its audience. Despite a clear HCP preference for digital channels, companies continue to prioritise in-person rep meetings.
A career-building opportunity
Pharma marketers are in a difficult position. Most know that a different approach is needed, but rep-driven engagement was highly successful until recently, and their entire marketing and sales organisation is built around it. These are large obstacles to change. And yet HCPs still want something different and will respond to those who provide it. That’s a large incentive to change. It isn’t easy, but careers are currently being built by marketers who see the opportunity and can navigate a path through established practices. So, what’s their secret?
Start with the strategy. This is one area where marketers are in full control. You determine how to engage HCPs. By switching strategy, you can get immediate results by better meeting HCP preferences — and encourage the entire organisation to change over time.
The content-first strategy
The traditional pharma marketing model positions rep engagement as the primary channel in all customer journey phases. Reps should generate awareness, build belief in the product, and provide ongoing support. Other channels obviously play a role in each stage, but the communications are built around in-person sales force interactions.
A content-first strategy is different. While it doesn't remove in-person rep meetings anywhere from the adoption ladder, it does make digital content the primary channel in the early stages. In other words, you respond to changing HCP preferences by 'remixing' your marketing. First, you turn up the volume on digital in the 'awareness' and 'consideration' phases. And then you increase the level of rep engagement as HCPs progress up the adoption ladder.
In this way, you meet HCP preferences without disrupting the organisation and make life easier for reps — using digital media to 'warm up' doctors for remote or in-person meetings later in the process.
The self-service revolution
A good example of content-first thinking in pharma is self-detailing. This is a new channel developed on a ‘self-service’ model that makes your content accessible 24/7. HCPs simply connect, login and start exploring — while being guided by an in-built digital brand assistant.
In this way, self-service detailing meets HCP preferences for on-demand information while retaining the interactivity and guided experience that’s possible with eDetailing. That makes it an excellent fit for the consideration stage in the marketing funnel. HCPs can educate themselves in their own time, with the option to move on to a remote or in-person rep session whenever they are ready.
In Anthill’s experience, self-detailing has proven highly popular with HCPs. In fact, we are seeing longer engagement with self-service solutions than even in-person meetings. And physicians will return multiple times for further exploration, boosting contact frequency.
If you need another reason to consider this channel, self-service detailing is now made even easier with just-launched Amplify. This no-code product from Anthill enables you to quickly create on-demand experiences. Learn more about Amplify.
You can now do a basic market segmentation by categorising HCPs according to their engagement preferences. Many doctors refuse to see reps. A few will only see reps and won’t engage digitally. Most are primarily digital but open to rep contacts.
The content-first model enables you to reach the majority of HCPs who are now ‘digital only’ or ‘primarily digital’. For efficiency, the sales force can then be directed towards the ‘rep only’ HCPs who prefer in-person meetings. In other words, you can cover the whole market by taking the opportunity to respond to HCP engagement preferences.
The cost-per-contact is far lower with digital channels than with the sales force. That makes digital appropriate for the top of the classic marketing funnel when you need to economically reach large numbers of HCPs. As a rule of thumb, a single rep visit costs approximately 300 USD. In-person meetings, therefore, are a high-cost but high-value channel. As such, they should be scheduled to occur when they have the most impact, i.e. in the later ‘conversion’, ‘loyalty’ and ‘advocacy’ stages of the marketing funnel.
You can further reduce costs by optimising your content supply chain to make digital assets cheaper and faster to produce. That is why leading pharma companies are now implementing content excellence programmes to update their procedures and introduce innovations such as modular content. The latest development — pioneered by Anthill — is to combine modular content with AI. This approach further speeds up content production by enabling natural, everyday language workflows.
As a result, companies that reengineered supply chains in these ways can build tactics in the volume required by content-first strategies while keeping costs tightly controlled.
How can we help?
Anthill is structured to enable pharma and MedTech companies to take full advantage of their digital marketing opportunities. We help brand teams devise marketing strategies that respond to how HCPs now want to engage. Our creative teams develop compelling content for all digital channels. And we also provide technical consulting on marketing platforms such as Veeva — and even develop products that boost those investments.