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.
· What is omnichannel marketing in pharma?
· AI and pharma omnichannel
· Omnichannel marketing strategy
· The adoption ladder
· Customer journey planning
· Advanced omnichannel journeys
· Channel selection
· Benefits of omnichannel engagement
· Omnichannel case study
· Key challenge: implementation
· How to engage affiliates
· Modular content and omnichannel
· Omnichannel campaign planning
· Best practices
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.
AI offers tremendous opportunities for omnichannel marketing in healthcare. One excellent application is to match channels and content to different HCP preferences — identifying the most effective sequences of touchpoints when building customer journeys (see below). This works by using AI to analyse your messages and available channels and then determine which combinations work best for your customers.
For example, the result could be three short sequences that address different profiles:
• A remote detail about efficacy, then an in-person meeting on safety, followed by an email explaining the mode of action
• A webinar on efficacy, a remote detail on safety, a video reinforcing the efficacy message
• An approved email on safety, a webinar on safety, an in-person visit explaining efficacy
The capabilities of AI to determine the most effective customer journeys are a huge boost for companies seeking to personalise their HCP engagements. For omnichannel customer journey planning, these systems will quickly become invaluable. However, analytics is just one use of AI in pharma omnichannel marketing. You can also apply it to make your whole content supply chain more efficient and effective.
When generative AI broke into public consciousness in 2023 with the launch of OpenAI’s ChatGPT, the potential for content creation was clear to pharma marketers. And many healthcare companies are now working to leverage AI technologies in their supply chain.
The reason for this interest? The ability to build content much faster. The speed of generative AI is highly significant in pharma omnichannel for the simple reason that providing more personalised HCP experiences requires more content. Scaling up content production has been a challenge, especially when trying to meet the different requirements of multiple customer profiles. But now AI provides a potential solution.
AI and pharma omnichannel are a great match because applying machine learning makes content much easier to create. AI systems can generate texts, images and even video with just a few prompts. The potential is obvious, and the results will be revolutionary. However, it needs to be done in the right way. And what is acceptable in other industries cannot be applied to healthcare.
While AI produces remarkable results, it is crucial to remember that it is not infallible. AI can generate content that seems plausible but is incorrect — a problem variously termed hallucination or confabulation. This is unacceptable in the regulated healthcare sector, where companies have a duty always to provide accurate information. HCP or patient content must be 100 percent correct every time.
So, how do you leverage AI’s potential to generate content quickly and enable personalised omnichannel communication while avoiding delivering incorrect or misleading information?
Anthill is currently working with healthcare companies to implement generative AI in pharma omnichannel around a simple division: before and after MLR. In this way, you can work with generative AI technologies when developing content and then — following MLR — apply different AI technologies to assemble the pre-approved content. This approach benefits greatly from the application of modular content (see below), which is designed to be assembled and reassembled in different configurations.
This approach ensures that only approved content can ever be delivered to HCPs — while enabling you to apply AI in pharma omnichannel marketing safely and leverage the technology’s potential for more personalised HCP engagements.
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Would you visit multiple channels if you saw the same message everywhere? Too often, this is an everyday reality for HCPs. The still-dominant multichannel approach places roughly the same content in different channels. It is not uncommon for HCPs to receive an email, click the CTA, and be taken to webpage that mostly repeats what they just read on the email. But things are changing. Now forward-thinking marketers take a more customer-centric view — and are aware that a different approach is needed.
This is 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 — encouraging exploration. Each time an HCP engages, the content they experience is related to what came before and what comes next.
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.
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.
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.
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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Your omnichannel strategy benefits from deeply understanding the different characteristics of pharma channels. As discussed, omnichannel in pharma means sequencing channels and content to best meet customer needs (see above: What is omnichannel?). Like any aspect of pharma marketing, this orchestration can be done well or poorly.
You select channels to meet specific objectives. Any channel can be excellent in some situations and yet work poorly elsewhere. Therefore, it is essential to understand what benefits each provides. That way, you can choose the right tool for the right job.
Some basic categorisation can be helpful to speed this planning process. One simple set of criteria that we use at Anthill is ‘reach, depth and interactivity’. Certain channels are better at reaching large numbers of people. Some provide more interactivity and therefore can increase engagement. Other channels enable people to explore a topic in depth. Knowing these characteristics enables you to plan more effective omnichannel customer journeys.
While it might seem obvious, channels were rarely programmed in this way in the past. The first thought for ‘reach’ was often increased face-to-face contact rather than other more suitable options. Likewise, ‘interactivity’ is often assumed to equal mobile apps or websites, instead of channels like peer-to-peer, MSLs, or the sales force — where the possibilities for interaction are often highest.
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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.
Deliver a better experience by connecting channels & content
Track HCP interactions to improve marketing and services
Make better use of content by directly providing it to HCPs
Build communications around customer needs
Create tailored customer journeys for specific profiles
Deliver the right message to the right person in the right way
Learn how a clear framework enabled a leading pharma company's affiliates to implement an omnichannel HCP engagement strategy
The challenge with omnichannel marketing in pharma is less with strategy, not technology, but more implementation. With an experienced pharma omnichannel agency, 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. A pharma digital agency with omnichannel expertise will understand this and take a holistic view — partnering with you from the initial strategy development all the way to affiliate engagement.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Define the audiences and their specific requirements
Specify the goal and the steps to achieve it
Describe the actions that people can take, i.e. give consent
Set KPIs tied to the objectives and the specific channels
Sequence the content for each customer journey
Match communication flows with optimal channels
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
Many pharma and MedTech companies are now switching from multichannel to omnichannel marketing. They want to work more strategically. And they want to activate their content. The good news is that you can start now. Most companies seek to land and expand: first getting a viable omnichannel strategy in place and then refining their approach by e.g. increasing relevancy with customer profiling or speeding asset creation with modular content.
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
Anthill Agency is a specialist in pharma omnichannel. We provide services in strategy, technology and content that enable life science companies to implement HCP omnichannel engagement globally