Pharma marketing guide

Self-detailing in pharma: meaning, strategy, and best practices

What you will learn

What is self-detailing? What benefits does It bring? Where does it fit in the pharma marketing mix? This guide describes what self-service detailing means, its advantages, and then goes further — providing the essential use cases and offering practical advice for a smooth implementation. So, if you’re thinking of automating more of your HCP engagement, start here. And do get in touch to learn about our work in this area — we have some very compelling results to share with you.

Sections:

What is self-detailing?
How automated detailing works
Why self-detailing is needed
Impact on content ROI
Use in market segmentation
Role in new HCP engagement preferences
Ensuring MLR approval
Connecting HCPs to the service
Benefits of self-led detailing
Case study
Major use cases
Role in omnichannel marketing
Best practices
Implementation

How to provide an on-demand and interactive eDetailing experience with self-service detailing
Self-service detailing provides an on-demand and interactive eDetailing experience

What is the meaning of self-detailing?

Self-service detailing is an automated eDetailing presentation. Specifically, self-detailing means a digital solution enabling HCPs to get product information on demand anytime. In this way, pharma self-led solutions allow you to cost-effectively extend marketing reach and increase contact frequency — while improving access to the medical and product content that healthcare professionals (HCPs) need. It is known in pharma marketing by many names, including: self-detailing, self-service detailing, self-guided detailing, automated detailing, self-led detailing, chatbot detailing, and on-demand detailing.

Importantly, self-detailing is not simply a website repository of eDetailing content. Instead, it aims to replicate the full eDetailing experience as much as possible — especially the ‘guided’ aspect provided by reps as they involve HCPs in the material. The ‘content guide’ in self-detailing is achieved by embedding a digital brand assistant or ‘chatbot’ into the solution. The chatbot leads HCPs through the content — replicating many of the actions that a rep makes — in a fully-compliant way. It assesses what HCPs require and quickly directs them to the content they seek. The chatbot also encourages interaction. It enables HCPs to make sense of the information, checks that the content was understood, and highlights other relevant topics to explore.  

In other words, the digital brand assistant / chatbot heightens the customer experience by making engagements more personal. HCPs are not expected to find and sort information themselves as they do when using a standard website. Rather, they are helped and guided at every step.

However, on-demand detailing is not a 'rep replacement'. People don’t have a relationship with a self-detailer. They have relationships with other people. And there are clear limitations on the nature of these engagements (see below: compliance). But it does make digital engagement more like in-person meetings and improves HCP access to information in a cost-effective and scalable way. Consequently, self-detailing solutions are increasingly established as a crucial touchpoint on the HCP customer journey.

Too long, didn't read?

Get a PDF of this content sent to your email inbox to review later.

Send PDF

How self-service detailing works

Automated detailing uses a ‘choose your own adventure’ structure of branching pathways through the detailing content. All possible interactions and connections between content elements are worked out in advance. From the customer's point of view, HCPs are continually presented with choices. This approach provides freedom to review the content in the way that best meets their preferences but in a controlled manner. For example, they could choose to explore the correct dosing regimen for your product and then be presented with the option to watch a video from a key opinion leader (KOL) to confirm the information or provide more details. Or they could choose just to get the facts and move on to another topic. What’s important is to keep HCPs in the driving seat, which improves engagement.

The underlying story structure is the most important part of a self-led detailer project and must be carefully considered. For example, you must balance the need to provide HCPs with freedom without overwhelming them with choices. A self-detailer should work differently than a standard website menu that enables access to all pages at all times. Instead, it needs to enable the right choice at the right moment. Each new step must proceed logically from where they are in the story. And this should be done as efficiently as possible. You want HCPs to find their way to content without too many clicks. Careful planning is required.

A good self-detailer will also track and remember what content the HCP has reviewed. This 'memory' enables the system to direct returning visitors to fresh content quickly. A solution that requires starting at zero every time is frustrating, but you also want to provide HCPs with an overview of what is available. An agency experienced with pharma self-service solutions will enable you to get the balance right and deliver a solution that keeps HCPs coming back for more.

While we don't share details of our work with clients, we can tell you that these structured interactions are popular with HCPs. The solutions currently operating on the market show that HCP engagement time is longer with a self-service detailer on average than a traditional rep meeting. And when HCPs later meet a rep or MSL, the meeting quality is better because HCPs ask more-informed questions and therefore get more relevant information.

Self-detailer story-flow example in pharma
Example of a self-detailer story-flow

Why self-detailing is needed

On-demand detailing improves your HCP marketing reach and contact frequency. Because it doesn't rely upon a rep to be physically present, there are no restrictions on how many HCPs can engage or how often they each visit the solution. In this way, a self-detailer can dramatically improve ROI on your content investments.

This matters because (as all pharma marketers know) relying solely on in-person meetings significantly limits engagement opportunities. For example, a rep will usually see an HCP every three or four months. Between these visits, they will likely receive some marketing emails, rep-triggered approved email, or see some advertising. But there will often be little deep engagement with your product — until the next time someone from the field force visits.  

How to enable continuous HCP engagement with self-detailing
Self-service detailing enables continued HCP engagement between rep visits.

Pharma content ROI

The limited frequency of HCP contact is also an issue because it constrains the ROI of your content investments. Despite many months of preparation, pharma sales empowerment tools such as an eDetailer are often only shown to HCPs for just a few minutes at each visit. And, commonly, some content is never seen by an HCP due to the limited time available. Given how much is invested in developing digital tools for reps, it is necessary to increase the ROI on this content — extending its use — while also improving the experience for HCPs.  

As pharma sales empowerment tools like eDetailers often contain the best content created for your product, it makes sense — from a commercial and clinical point of view — to enable HCPs to experience it fully. Consequently, there is a huge opportunity to get more value from your existing eDetailing content by making it more accessible. And self-detailing is an excellent way to achieve this.

How to enable HCP to explore your content with self-detailing
Self-detailing solutions enable HCP to explore your content thoroughly.

Fast market segmentation

Another important use of a pharma self-detailer is to quickly identify HCP needs. Many companies are now switching to customer-centric omnichannel marketing, which matches content to specific HCP requirements to improve relevance and increase their value to customers. This is an excellent strategy but requires knowing what individual HCPs want. While a lot of data is available in pharma, it isn't always granular enough. Often, you see broad market trends rather than an individual’s specific needs. To get this more actionable data, omnichannel campaigns track engagements over time and then categorise HCPs into different profiles. That works well, but it can take a while to refine the data.

Self-detailing can speed up this process because it is a cost-effective way to reach many HCPs. While this is true of other channels, such as email, there is one crucial difference. On-demand detailing provides a lot of content in one go but with a clear overview. HCPs choose the topics to explore — navigating to specific sections of your self-detailer — which reveals what most interests them. In other words, their actions tell you what they need rather than how they react to specific messages. And, if your self-detailing content delivers a mix of videos, texts and images, you can also discover an individual HCP’s preferred formats. Further, because there is no rep mediation, there is no possibility that HCPs are led to particular topics or formats. Instead, the data you get is a good reflection of an HCP’s interests and preferences.

A well-designed self-detailer, in which data capture is carefully considered, can tell you as much as multiple marketing cycles. This 'speed segmentation' is important in all stages of a product's lifecycle but vital for omnichannel product launches, in which the first few months are critical. Including a self-detailing solution in your launch plans speeds up the path to more effective marketing. And if you have a solution in place early, you are in a great position to launch your product in the right way from day one. A pre-marketing self-detailer should tell you precisely what information HCPs need to advance their understanding and in what formats it should be delivered.  

Examples of research questions that on-demand detailing can answer:

• How can HCPs be profiled for more efficient communication?
• Are there any misperceptions about your brands?
• What is the key trigger for an HCP to consider your brands?
• Do HCPs consider patient preference?
• Which message drives further content exploration?
• How can you rank messages in terms of engagement?

How to generate insights with self-detailing
Self-guided detailing quickly generates precise customer insights

New HCP engagement preferences

Using pharma virtual engagement tools like a pharma self-detailer enables you to meet changing HCP preferences. Covid demonstrated the efficacy of these systems to marketers and — perhaps more importantly — to medical professionals too. Despite concerns that HCPs accustomed to in-person meetings wouldn’t appreciate the change, there were few problems. People took to virtual engagements quickly.

In fact, covid may have revealed a preference for more flexible interactions that was always latently there but never applied at scale before. While it's hard to predict the future, the broad acceptance of pharma virtual engagement tools like self-service detailers will likely continue now that they have become established. This change provides increased flexibility for those HCPs which whom pharma is already in contact and will likely expand the total accessible market too. HCPs preferring to keep a slight ‘distance’ may be more willing to engage virtually than they were via in-person meetings. This factor becomes increasingly important if HCP access continues to decline. Done right, self-detailing respects the boundaries many HCPs set while enabling them better access to the information they need.

90% of HCPs in Germany want to maintain or increase virtual interactions
Source: Doctors' changing Expectations of Pharma are Here to Stay, BCG report, 2021

Ensuring self-detailing compliance

Regulatory approval won't be an issue if an experienced agency creates your self-guided detailer. In fact, at Anthill Agency, we've experienced some of the fastest regulatory approvals for these solutions. This is because companies often create a self-detailer after they have developed other sales materials, such as an eDetailer. This was because self-detailing technology was new, and companies often had eDetailing content in place. While this might change in the future (there's no reason you cannot start with a self-service detailer), you will likely adapt existing content. If so, approval is very straightforward because most of the MLR review has already been done.

Still, there are potential compliance issues due to a self-detailer’s embedded digital brand assistant / chatbot, though these are easily avoided if the solution is implemented correctly. For chatbot dialogue, there are two options: open and closed. An 'open dialogue' means an HCP can write anything in the chat form field. That offers excellent opportunities for data capture, but it poses a potential compliance issue if an HCP uses it to report a potential contraindication or side effect.  

That's why we recommend the second option – the 'closed dialogue' – which means you continually present HCPs with pre-defined options (see above: how self-detailing works). Because all dialogues are prepared in advance, they can be reviewed and approved by MLR. This way, we safeguard against pharmacovigilance events triggered by what an HCP might write in an open text field. In other words, HCPs can still 'choose their own adventure' through your self-detailing content, but they can’t type in their own questions or make statements. This structured approach provides a great user experience — and ensures plenty of freedom for HCPs to explore— while ensuring full compliance.

You can also save time on self-detailing approval by visualising all the dialogue flows. Visualisation enables colleagues in MLR to quickly get an overview of how the system works and easily review the different sections. We also recommend getting MLR onboard early and briefing them on the project. That way, you can set their minds at ease and incorporate feedback early.

A lady typing on her laptop
Case study

How to extend reach with self-guided eDetailing

Learn how a major global pharma company increased customer reach while reducing cost-per-contact

Read the case study

Connecting HCPs to your self-guided detailer

As with any on-demand channel, promotion is crucial. Unless HCPs are aware of the system, it will exist 'out there', providing no value to anyone. You can connect HCPs in multiple ways. The most common approach is via email, either marketing emails or approved email. But any direct channel with HCPs works well. This could be the rep making HCPs aware of the service during their dialogues or via a text message, which is an essential channel in some markets. You can also encourage use by linking from your brand websites or main web hub. And medical conferences also are an excellent way to connect HCPs with the service.

For 'unknown HCPs', i.e. those who have not given marketing permissions, the self-detailer can be promoted via your advertising channels or social media. In fact, great automated detailing can be a stepping stone to a closer relationship. By demonstrating value with superb content, HCPs are more willing to engage. For example, you can use your pharma self-service detailer to promote a KOL webinar (or vice versa), which can lead to a discussion with an MSL or a remote detailing session.  

Once HCPs engage with your on-demand detailer, all interactions are monitored by your CRM system. Nothing is lost. That means you can gather more insights to further improve the relevancy and quality of your communications. Or these interactions could trigger specific marketing actions. For example, you can enable your reps and MSLs to review how each HCP interacted with the content so that they can plan their next engagement. You can also specify marketing automations informed by each HCP’s actions. For example, customers showing interest in product efficacy could receive an email providing additional content. Or you can prompt HCPs to explore a different topic once they have completed a section.

Self-detailing customer journey flow
Example of a self-detailing customer journey flow

Benefits of self-detailing in pharma marketing

On-demand detailing provides the opportunity to increase reach and contact frequency in a very cost-efficient way. It also allows forward-thinking pharma companies to improve their HCP customer experience by integrating self-detailing with other channels. You can design customer marketing automations, empower reps and MSLs with better customer insights, and demonstrate your value. HCPs have been asking for more on-demand information, and self-service detailing provides this in a way that is engaging and personalised to their needs.  

Cost-efficiency: reuse existing content for a pharma marketing channel that detailers long-term value at a very low cost.

Reach: access far more HCPs than was economically viable with in-person or remote rep detailing sessions alone.

Contact frequency: increase engagement opportunities, with no limits to how often HCPs can engage with the solution.

HCP preferences: enable HCPs who avoid meeting reps to access the product and medical information they need.

Access: demonstrate value with your self-detailing content to encourage HCPs to develop a deeper relationship.

Omnichannel: add self-detailing to omnichannel customer journeys for more engaging customer experiences.

Relevance: empower reps with a better understanding of HCPs' needs to plan more relevant engagements.  

Automation: set marketing automations, e.g. email content, in response to HCP interactions with your pharma self-detailer.

Self-detailing use cases

The overriding use case for self-detailing is to reach more HCPs, more often, at less cost. However, there are many ways to apply the solution to meet specific marketing objectives. Self-service detailing is remarkably flexible and can be combined easily with other channels. So, you can integrate it into your existing marketing flows or devise new objectives. And the overriding benefits of reach and cost-effectiveness make self-led detailing one channel where you can experiment — so let your imagination run!  

Market segmentation: Use on-demand detailing to identify individual HCP information needs and communication preferences rapidly. This data is a good reflection of customer requirements because they are not encouraged down any specific path. Then apply this data to your omnichannel marketing — delivering what HCPs want in their preferred content formats.

Product launches: Maximise reach and contact frequency when it matters most. HCPs' interest in products is highest at launch, so enable them to learn all the benefits quickly and empower reps with the data to follow up effectively. By making an impact in the first six months, you can establish a launch trajectory that pays off in the years to come.  

Key account strategy: Focus the field force on priority targets while leveraging self-detailing’s low cost to engage HCPs that were not previously economically viable. The interactive nature of a self-detailer delivers a good customer experience, which you can raise further by deploying other pharma virtual engagement channels, such as remote detailing.  

Remote geographies: Overcome the challenges of meeting HCPs in remote geographical areas or where weather conditions prevent frequent contact. And if you combine your on-demand solution with remote detailing and approved email, your field force can deliver a quality virtual engagement experience anywhere and anytime.  

HCP access: Enable HCPs to engage in a low-commitment channel. Self-detailing provides HCPs with an interactive experience without requiring direct contact. In this way, on-demand detailing enables you to respond to many HCPs’ preferences to ‘keep a distance’ and expand your total addressable market. And by demonstrating your value, you encourage people to consider an in-person or remote detailing session later.

Medical communication: Provide the medical discussions that HCPs prize in a scalable way. Companies are often limited in the number of MSL engagements they can offer, but there are no limits with self-detailing. Medical content is just as transferrable to a self-detailer as brand marketing materials, and it is a great way to demonstrate your value to the medical community.  

Limited field force: Overcome marketing budget restrictions. While self-service detailing plays a key role for ‘big pharma’ in increasing reach, it can be crucial for smaller organisations. Companies with products that have major market potential but not quite enough to justify an extensive global sales force can build smaller field teams equipped with pharma virtual engagement tools. For example, combining self-detailing with remote engagement is an efficient way to engage HCPs. Add other digital channels, such as approved email and webinars, and you can deliver a competitive level of service cost-effectively.

Example of self-detailing in pharma
Self-detailing in pharma marketing example

Role in omnichannel marketing

Self-led detailing fits very well in modern pharma omnichannel marketing strategies. It occupies a unique place in the pharma channel ecosystem, being more engaging than a standard website yet with far more reach than in-person or remote HCP meetings. As such, self-detailing provides you with a lot of flexibility — enabling the creation of very different kinds of omnichannel customer journeys.

For example, your overall pharma omnichannel strategy could be a classic marketing funnel. This initially applies channels such as advertising or search engine optimised (SEO) content to engage large numbers of people and then move them into higher-value rep engagement once you have demonstrated your company's value. Self-service detailing, being both scalable and personalised, can provide a springboard to this kind of relationship building because it occupies a midpoint between impersonal channels and real human conversation. So, while it is a ‘big jump’ for an HCP to go from reviewing a website to getting into a discussion with a rep, moving from a website to interacting with a self-detailer and then meeting someone from the field force is a more natural and smoother transition.  

You can also use self-guided detailing early in a customer journey to improve content relevance. As explained above, it is a cost-effective way to reach many HCPs and determine their specific interests on a topic. This way, an HCP's interactions can set them on the right path through your content by quickly assigning them to the right profile. It can also determine the kind of content formats that they receive. For example, suppose their self-detailer interactions make it clear that video content is preferred. In that case, this can be prioritised in future engagements — via automated email content delivery or even personalised video messages from reps and MSLs.

Self-detailing integration with Approved Email, eDetailing and webinars
Self-detailing integrates well into omnichannel customer journeys

Best practices in self-detailing

Implementing a pharma self-service marketing solution is not difficult if you partner with an experienced agency. The development process is straightforward and can happen quickly if you have a store of content to draw upon. And if not, your product FAQ will likely cover most of the topics. Therefore, best practices in self-detailing development are less about avoiding missteps and more about unlocking opportunities to optimise your solution, integrate with your marketing activities, and increase the value your solution provides HCPs.

Promote effectively: Being an on-demand channel, a pharma self-detailer is not 'findable'. Without promotion, HCPs will be unaware of the service. So, if one best practice applies to every solution, it is the need to connect self-detailing to your digital ecosystem and campaigns. Doctors need to be informed about the service and its benefits. (Tip: in our experience, ‘convenience’ is an excellent message to use when communicating the service).

Great copywriting: Most of an HCP’s experience will come from interacting with your digital brand assistant. Therefore it is vital to find the right tone of voice. A good copywriter experienced with on-demand detailing will create a script that uses functional language that still sounds approachable and service-minded. They will also be able to phase profiling questions without being intrusive — demonstrating how any information provided improves the HCP’s experience.

Set trigger topics: Because all interactions can be monitored, it's possible to set up the system to react to certain pre-defined trigger words — automatically providing content to HCPs that express an interest in the topic. This content could be clinical studies, graphics, videos or any material that provides more in-depth information.  

Land and expand: It’s entirely possible to build your solution, have it tested in a pilot, updated in one or two iterations, and then launch internationally in three months. In other words, you can quickly deploy the technology and start gathering data. You will rapidly learn what content HCPs seek and what gaps need to be filled. Then you can expand the self-detailer’s use — more setting trigger topics, integrating the solution into your omnichannel customer journeys, and devising additional tactics.  

A/B testing: This is notoriously difficult with regular face-to-face detailing meetings. There is usually just one set of eDetailing materials, and it is hard to know precisely how it is conveyed by the rep or MSL — making comparisons hard. The structured content of self-detailing, however, does allow for comparison testing. Conversations can be written in different ways and trialled to determine which is more effective. You can also offer different services to understand what is most valuable for HCPs.  

Build experiences: As a purely digital solution, self-guided detailing integrates well with other channels. That makes it highly useful in customer-centric omnichannel marketing. And its interactive nature makes it an effective stepping stone from ‘passive’ channels like marketing emails or websites to more engaging detailing sessions. In other words, you can use automated detailing in customer journeys that gradually increase interaction and engagement as HCPs progress forwards.  

Self-service detailing implementation

As always in pharma marketing, a clear plan and good agency project management result in a speedy, trouble-free implementation. It is essential to have clear goals and precisely specified customer needs to develop the 'decision tree' framework — which is the foundation of the customer experience you will provide. Everything will flow from this framework, so getting it right ensures that the project moves smoothly through the different stages of content creation, technical development, and launch.

At Anthill, we stress what we call the human factor, which is an appreciation that every digital solution needs to take into account the people it comes in contact with — both internally and externally. For self-detailing projects, we recommend that time is taken to carefully explain the solution to affiliates and especially the field force. Without this, there is a chance that the solution is misunderstood as a threat and not fully implemented. Self-detailing isn’t a replacement for existing rep contacts but a way to increase contact frequency — and enable your pharma field force to have great conversations with better-informed HCPs.  

Self-detailing project implementation example
Self-led detailing project implementation flow example

How can we help?

Self-detailing in pharma is rapidly gaining popularity because it solves a specific problem: how to improve reach and contact frequency without exponential budget increases. It also meets growing HCP preferences for more virtual interaction with pharma. Consequently, companies implementing on-demand detailing systems are enjoying significant commercial advantages. They can reach more HCPs efficiently, improve ROI on their content assets, and deepen relationships with HCPs by using self-detailing in customer-centric omnichannel marketing.

  • Provide my self-guided detailing strategy and content framework

  • Adapt my existing marketing content for use in a self-detailing solution

  • Write the scripted chatbot conversations for easy MLR approval

  • Design and build a self-detailer and integrate with my marketing platforms

  • Connect to other channels for increased customer experience

  • Engage and empower affiliates to implement the solution locally

A doctor typing on his laptop
Anthill

Extend your marketing reach

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

Start the conversation