Pharma marketing guide

Omnichannel in pharma: meaning, strategy and best practice

What you will learn

What does omnichannel marketing in pharma mean? What are the benefits? How is it different to multichannel marketing in pharma? This guide answers the basic questions and then goes further — providing the core strategy together with practical tips for achieving excellence and delivering a remarkable experience to healthcare professionals (HCPs). So, if you’re just starting out with omnichannel or looking to get more value from your existing setup — keep reading. And do get in touch to hear more about our work.

Sections:

· What is omnichannel marketing in pharma?
· Omnichannel marketing strategy
· The adoption ladder
· Customer journey planning
· Advanced omnichannel journeys
· Benefits of omnichannel engagement
· Omnichannel case study
· Key challenge: implementation
· How to engage affiliates
· Modular content and omnichannel
· Omnichannel campaign planning
· Best practices

Example of pharma omnichannel content displayed on laptop, tablet and mobile
Omnichannel provides a far better customer experience

What is pharma omnichannel? 

To understand the meaning of omnichannel engagement in pharma, contrasting it with multichannel can be helpful. Multichannel simply means having more than one channel — multiple channels. For example, many pharma companies started their digital journey with eDetailing, later adding brand websites, webinars, and other media. Because these channels were created gradually, they tend to live independently — often repeating much of the same information. And they were designed with the expectation that HCPs would find and sort information themselves.

Omnichannel is different. It is not a series of independent channels like multichannel but one ecosystem. Channels are connected and designed to work together. Content in one channel will relate to content in another. That means you no longer have to repeat the same information everywhere. Instead, you can move people through your ecosystem by designing an experience or content journey. In other words, omnichannel enables you to work in a customer-centric way — orchestrating and sequencing content to meet specific people's needs.

For example, in a pharma omnichannel marketing strategy, an HCP may receive an approved email with information relevant to their specific interests in a disease area. They then click a CTA that takes them to a website with more detailed information. Later the HCP is invited to a remote detailing session to discuss what they have learned. During this meeting, the rep invites the HCP to a webinar that presents the latest scientific data on the topic. The communication, therefore, begins by accounting for the individual's needs and builds over time.

This way of working is very different to multichannel, though confusion over the meaning of omnichannel marketing in pharma still occurs. And the two terms are often used interchangeably. People may say "multichannel" but mean "omnichannel". Someone with a job title that includes the word multichannel may be practising sophisticated omnichannel communications. This tells us that the industry is in a period of transformation: companies are moving from multichannel marketing to omnichannel strategies.

Difference between multichannel and omnichannel in pharma
The difference between multichannel and omnichannel marketing in pharma

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Omnichannel marketing strategy

Would you visit multiple channels if it was the same message everywhere? Imagine that you are an HCP who received an email, clicked on a link, which took you to a webpage that repeated what you had just read on the email. In the past, this might have been considered a good result from a company's point of view. They achieved an interaction and repeated the key messages. But, from your viewpoint as the HCP, the experience was useless. You received no benefit and just had your time wasted. How would you feel? Disappointed? Perhaps annoyed? You are unlikely to want more communications from the company. You might even block them.

This illustrates why omnichannel marketing is replacing multichannel marketing in pharma. Omnichannel simply provides a far better customer experience. It does this by putting the customer at the centre of the strategy. You start by considering people's needs and then orchestrate channels and content to deliver what they require. In other words, you curate an experience. So it isn't the same message everywhere, but rather a story that builds and unfolds. Each time an HCP engages in any channel, the content they experience is related to what came before and what comes next.

Quote: would you visit multiple channels if it was the same message everywhere?

The adoption ladder

A popular way of structuring an omnichannel marketing strategy is to use an ‘adoption ladder’. This visualises a customer’s awareness of the topic or issue you want to address, e.g. prescribing your product. It consists of three stages that you need people to move through: awareness, belief, and support. Each person’s position on the adoption ladder tells you what communication they need. For example, someone who has little or no awareness of your product requires more basic, introductory information than someone more experienced with it.

While simple, the adoption ladder is an excellent foundation for omnichannel marketing in pharma. It helps companies switch from one-size-fits-all marketing to a customer-centric approach that is more relevant. And it is scalable. You can work with a basic version that improves overall customer experience. Or you can increase the sophistication. For example, you could use the adoption ladder for specific topics (i.e. drug efficacy or safety) in addition to a readiness to prescribe. Or you could leverage your CRM data to create specific omnichannel experiences or marketing flows to satisfy the needs of different people.

The adoption ladder of structuring omnichannel marketing
An adoption ladder is a simple way of structuring omnichannel marketing in pharma

Customer journey planning

Omnichannel marketing is a digital ecosystem of connected channels (see above: What is omnichannel?). This enables you to work in new ways. By changing from siloed multichannel content to an omnichannel strategy, you can act like a travel agent — activating your ecosystem by designing specific pathways or 'customer journeys'.

A customer journey is the customer's digital path — via touchpoints and CTAs — through the ecosystem. In other words, it requires sequencing channels and content. People start at one point and then move forwards through a series of interactions with your company or brand. If you use an adoption ladder, you know the major stops people must travel through to arrive at the destination. Customer journey planning takes this framework and details the itinerary.

Even simple customer journeys can provide experiences of real value. Each touchpoint builds on the last, enabling HCPs to develop their knowledge on a topic. That makes it effective. It is also engaging because you can present information in different ways by mixing channels and enabling HCPs to experience multiple content formats.

Omnichannel customer journey planning to engage with HCP
Orchestrate channels and content to unfold on HCP experience

Advanced customer journeys

You can make customer journeys more precise by segmenting the audience. For example, you can design marketing flows to account for different people's existing relationships with the company, knowledge levels, personal needs, requirements, and preferences.

An excellent first step is to distinguish between 'known' HCPs (people with an established record of engagement with your company) and 'unknown' (those with no previous contact). The customer journey for HCPs who are not yet engaged with the company will differ from those with established relationships. Firstly, it will be longer because more steps are required for people to reach your core product content. That makes it less efficient. Secondly, each extra required 'click' increases the risk of the conversation ending prematurely. Conversely, the more 'known' customers you have, the more efficient and effective customer journeys you can create.

Difference between unknown and known customer journey
Established relationships produce more efficient customer journeys

Using customer profiles

Marketing efficiency rises further as customer understanding deepens. Beyond the broadest segmentation of known and unknown, with good data, you can create customer journeys for specific profiles — based on people's knowledge levels and interests in a particular topic. For example, someone with a good foundation in a disease area will receive a different communication from someone entirely new to the subject. This improved relevancy makes your marketing more efficient and increases its value to HCPs.

With the right messages going to the right person, you can further increase personalisation by accounting for people's preferences in terms of channels, content formats, frequency of contact, and other factors. For example, one customer profile could include a preference for approved email and video content. Another profile might indicate a preference for face-to-face meetings or remote detailing. So while the messages could be the same, their delivery is personalised to match individual requirements.

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Visualisation on personalised communication for different customer profiles
Customer profiles enable personalised communication

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Benefits of omnichannel engagement in pharma

Pharma and medical device companies are switching to omnichannel because it provides clear advantages over multichannel 'siloed' communication — both for companies and for HCPs. Companies get more effective and efficient marketing. And they can build a continually improving system by applying improved customer insights to their marketing and customer journey planning. Medical professionals get a far better experience. Content is more relevant to their needs, delivered in a timely manner, and is more engaging — making better use of the potential of digital technology.

HCP engagement: Unlike multichannel marketing, where roughly the same content is repeated across channels, omnichannel marketing provides an experience. The content evolves as HCPs progress. That provides keeps people clicking to learn more. And, if you design customer journeys according to specific profiles, you increase relevancy and, therefore, its value.

Customer understanding: Omnichannel marketing provides a single customer view across channels. Each time an HCP engages, their actions tell you something about their interests, knowledge levels and preferences. As you apply these data to build more relevant communications, you start a virtuous circle of continual improvement: more targeted customer journeys produce better data that enable further refinement.

Efficiency: Multichannel 'siloed' content requires HCPs to find, sort and search information themselves. People need to be highly motivated to do this work. Mostly it won't happen, and much content is unused. This is why providing HCPs with a curated experience is more effective. By making it easy for people, more of your content gets seen and can have an impact, providing a return on investment.

Customer-centricity: Many pharma companies are seeking to put customer needs at the centre of their engagement strategies. Omnichannel customer journeys provide a practical way to make this happen. While revolutionary in scope and impact, you can implement it in an evolutionary way — starting with simple customer journeys that leverage existing content. Then you can increase sophistication with more targeted communications as familiarity increases and data improves.

Effectiveness: Omnichannel enables you to achieve your marketing objectives. You don't just put information 'out there' and hope for the best. Instead, you work strategically — providing the right content, to the right person, in the right order. Omnichannel provides the strategic framework for this process and the means to achieve it.

Relevancy: Omnichannel provides the opportunity for more targeted communication. You can design customer journeys that meet specific needs by matching marketing flows to customer profiles. This approach also benefits HCPs who increasingly expect more personalised content and curated experiences.

Engagement

Deliver a better experience by connecting channels & content

Customer understanding

Track HCP interactions to improve marketing and services

Efficiency

Make better use of content by directly providing it to HCPs

Customer-centricity

Build communications around customer needs

Relevancy

Create tailored customer journeys for specific profiles

Effectiveness

Deliver the right message to the right person in the right way

Benefits of omnichannel marketing in pharma
Doctor is checking his phone at work
Case study

How to implement HCP omnichannel engagement across markets

Learn how a clear framework enabled a leading pharma company's affiliates to implement an omnichannel HCP engagement strategy

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Key challenge: implementation

The challenge with omnichannel marketing in pharma is less with strategy, not technology, but more implementation. You can develop a strategy to achieve your aims and deliver an excellent experience for HCPs. Technology will achieve what you want it to with the right expertise. However, this is not enough. We also need to account for what Anthill calls the human factor. This is an appreciation that any new technology or initiative needs to be implemented with careful consideration of people's beliefs, knowledge and skills.

In pharma and MedTech, everything flows through the affiliates. Your strategies reach HCPs via the actions of colleagues in local markets. And yet, in most cases, people will not be familiar with omnichannel marketing.

Omnichannel is a new way of working. You cannot, therefore, devise an omnichannel strategy at an HQ or international brand team level and expect affiliates to know what to do. In such cases, what often happens is that affiliates receive the global marketing strategy and then attempt to implement it by doing what they did before. This is understandable. But the result is multichannel marketing, not omnichannel engagement (see above: meaning of omnichannel). To successfully introduce omnichannel in pharma, it is essential to bridge the gap between strategy and implementation — building affiliate belief in the strategy and providing practical tools that enable people to enact it.

Visualisation of omnichannel implementation in pharma
Support affiliates to design & implement local omnichannel plans

How to engage affiliates

Effective omnichannel implementation requires that global teams engage more closely with local markets. Rather than just a single kick-off meeting, it is a good idea for global teams to work together with affiliates on implementation plans. This approach works because it is practical and focused on each affiliate's local customer needs. In this way, local markets understand that omnichannel marketing is customer-centric and, therefore, about engaging more successfully with their local HCP contacts. It also enables affiliates to take a more strategic role — designing customer journeys — rather than just building localised versions of channels.

You can provide further support to affiliates through digital marketing skill development. For example, training that builds people's understanding of channels, their characteristics, and how they are best combined is useful and welcomed. It enables people to consider how channels might inform customer journey planning. For example, certain channels are better at 'reach' while others provide more interactivity or enable in-depth information exploration. While it might seem obvious, not everyone will know. And strengthening digital marketing competencies will build confidence, better-equipping affiliates to enact your omnichannel strategies.

It can also be helpful to provide a 'framework' for local planning. This visualises the overall marketing flow, clarifying how the strategy works. Such frameworks help affiliates build communications around the customer — matching objectives, KPIs, content and channels to different customer profiles. In this way, a framework provides guidance by highlighting important considerations without being overly prescriptive. For affiliates new to omnichannel, such frameworks reassure that people are doing 'the right thing' while providing a 'common language' that makes it easier to communicate success and learn from other markets.

Omnichannel engagement in pharma can only work if affiliates are on-board. The global marketing and brand teams can create sophisticated omnichannel strategies but, if local markets don't understand what they should do or have the skills to enact these strategies, they are unlikely to reach HCPs. The answer is to engage affiliates and work with them to create local plans while providing tools and training to support their initiatives. A little can go a long way. And keeping things straightforward is usually a good idea. One or two simple customer journeys can generate excellent results, increase the use of your core content, and build affiliate confidence and competencies that pay off for years to come.

Framework for affiliate omnichannel planning
Example of a common framework for affiliate omnichannel planning in pharma
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Modular content and omnichannel

You can start working with omnichannel immediately, leveraging your existing content. First, a review of your assets will clarify what is available. Then a strategy can be applied using a simple adoption ladder (see above: omnichannel strategy) that sequences your content into distinct customer journeys. Finally, you can engage affiliates and start testing the approach. It really can be that simple. In many cases, companies have the content required to begin right now. There is, however, a new approach that makes it much easier: modular content.

Currently, most companies create content for each channel. They build content for an eDetailer. And then for a website. And also for approved email. And then again for other channels such as self-detailing systems. While content from one channel can get repurposed for use in another, this process isn't as easy as it should be. Adaptations are often needed, and multiple LMR reviews are required. The process isn't very efficient and, consequently, is often slow. These issues have hampered many companies' efforts to fully embrace omnichannel marketing.

Modular content is different. It isn't designed specifically for one channel but rather for use in any channel. For example, exactly the same mode-of-action illustration enlivens your eDetailing presentations, approved emails and brand websites. This approach is a very different way of working. Content is created once, approved once, and can be used in as many channels as you require. That makes the process much faster. And with a content management system like Anthill Activator, it just takes seconds to pull content elements into or channel or swap it out for something else.

The consequences for omnichannel marketing in pharma are enormous. Modular content speeds up the whole process and makes life easier for all stakeholders. For colleagues in LMR, this simplifies approval processes and eases their workload. In Marketing, costs and time-to-market are reduced, even as the number of channels increases. The result? You can create more targeted customer journeys (see above: advanced customer journeys) and provide more personalised and relevant experiences that HCPs value.

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How to apply modular content to make omnichannel easier
Modular content can be applied to any channel, making omnichannel much easier

Omnichannel campaign planning

Much of omnichannel marketing planning will be entirely familiar for marketers. Audience groups still need to be identified, objectives clarified, calls to action created, and KPIs defined. All of this is standard practice. The difference will come later when planning what the engagement will consist of (the content) and how it will be delivered (the channels).

Rather than just a list of key messages, omnichannel customer journey planning will call for the communication to be sequenced into logical flows to take account of different people's situations (see above: customer journey planning). For example, you might create a message flow for 'unknown HCPs' (those with no previous engagement with the company) and a different flow for 'known HCPs'. This first group might receive information highlighting the company's expertise in a specific disease area, gaining trust to provide consent for a deeper engagement. The second 'known' group can go directly to the product information.

These message flows will then be applied to the digital ecosystem so that the message and channels connect and form a customer journey. Here it is important to ask: where do we want the customer to go, and how do we get them there? Mapping the touchpoints is essential, and it is a good idea to visualise the process, which makes it clear to everyone in the marketing team.

Target groups

Define the audiences and their specific requirements

Objectives

Specify the goal and the steps to achieve it

Call-to-action

Describe the actions that people can take, i.e. give consent

KPIs

Set KPIs tied to the objectives and the specific channels

Message flows

Sequence the content for each customer journey

Digital ecosystem

Match communication flows with optimal channels

Overall project stages for omnichannel in pharma
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Omnichannel becomes easy with Activator

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Best practices

How you enact omnichannel will depend greatly on where you are on your digital journey and the ambitions of your company. Omnichannel customer engagement can be highly sophisticated, with very targeted communications that precisely meet different kinds of customer needs. It can also be more simple. Most of the critical success below therefore apply to any ambition level, while others are more relevant for advanced forms of omnichannel marketing.

  • Provide an experience: mix channels and content formats to better engage audiences and keep them moving forward to learn what’s next

  • Mix formats: keep thing fresh: a patient case on a new topic, a quiz that communicates something factual, an article that explains new data

  • Micro content: break down complex messages into short, micro-moment chunks of information that physicians can review quickly

  • Channel timing: secure insights on the moments when physicians are most receptive to messages to optimise content delivery

  • Refine by audience: even a simple ‘known’ and ‘unknown’ segmentation will increase marketing efficiency and content relevancy

  • Personalise: account for people's preferences in terms of topic, channels, content formats, contact frequency and other factors

  • Use a framework: visualise your omnichannel customer journey strategy to clarify precisely how HCPs will experience your content

  • KPIs: have a clear goal for omnichannel engagement to ensure that you achieve your target and deliver the right customer experience

  • Gain permissions: achieve long term benefits (more efficient, shorter customer journeys) by working to increase the ‘known’ customers

  • Engage local markets: work with affiliates to develop local omnichannel plans designed around the needs of their customers

  • Support affiliates: set local markets up for success. Provide the tools and training that build local competencies and expertise

  • Track performance: monitor content performance to identify issues and ensure that the goal for each customer journey is reached efficiently

  • Modular content: simplify approvals and make it easier to create content with content that can easily be repurposed across channels

  • Machine learning: apply new data processing technologies for dynamic analytics and modelling to enable smarter campaigns

What do you want Anthill to do?

Many pharma and MedTech companies are now switching from multichannel to omnichannel marketing. They want to activate their content. And they want to work more strategically — designing customer journeys that meet specific HCP information needs and respond to people's channel and format preferences. The good news is that you can create an omnichannel system that meets your objectives. You can start with your existing content and deliver a better customer experience. You can increase relevancy with customer profiling. You can make it easier with modular content. And empower affiliates to create local omnichannel plans and tactics. What’s your ambition?

  • Build the digital ecosystem and omnichannel experience for my key brands

  • Design the message flows that detail the content for HCP customer journeys

  • Adapt my existing content for use in omnichannel marketing

  • Design customer journeys that make better use of my ‘portal’ content

  • Engage affiliates and empower them to create local omnichannel strategies

  • Speed-up omnichannel production with modular content

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