Pharma marketing has had its unique challenges, with regulatory issues constraining the messaging and the means of communication. Specifically, when it came to connecting to Healthcare Professionals (HCPs), there were other challenges, the most critical one being, finding the time and place to connect with the HCPs at their convenience.
While all of these have been in place and relevant for long, there are changes that have happened over the last few years, and especially across the last 18 months or so, through the pandemic period. This article discusses some of these paradigm shifts that we have seen in the recent times, when it comes to pharma marketing.
Some of the key developments of change are as under:
- One of the typical methods for pharma companies to reach HCPs was via their field force of marketing representatives (MRs). Busy HCPs always had quite little time for such MRs, even ordinarily. This situation got worse through the initial months of lockdown, when HCPs were meeting the fewest of people; and the habit has persisted even after lockdown period has gone, and clinics and hospitals have resumed operations. Thus, there is a need for pharma marketing to figure reasonable alternatives and options to the traditional MR visits.
- Another way for pharma companies to connect with HCPs was via medical events, where the pharma companies would take up booths or speaker slots to get an opportunity to engage with HCPs. Right through the last 18 months, larger events have almost not happened at all. While, slowly, some of these are resuming, chances are that the scale of events and frequency of these, may not match up to the pre-pandemic times. Therefore, pharma marketing needs to figure alternative ways to reach HCPs.
• Like other professionals and consumers, even HCPs had gradually been increasing their extent of digital consumption, both for personal and professional purposes. Sitting at home for long durations in the lockdown period, and with the continuing need to stay in touch with the profession as well as patients and hospitals, accelerated the increased digital consumption habits for doctors. This included the inputs that they started getting in respect to new pharma products and related details on those. With the result that digital is a critical part of their content consumption now, pharma marketing has to take this into account, and find a way to connect with HCPs, using digital means.
• Whether it is traditional media or digital media, the fundamental restrictions based on regulatory framework for pharma marketing still apply. It means that certain type of marketing content can only be shown to HCPs and not to the patients directly. That being the case, what have emerged as useful means to connect back to the HCPs, is by means of dedicated communities for HCPs. These are gated online communities, where HCPs are verified before being given access. Through content partnerships and other means, pharma marketing is able to reach HCPs via such online communities.
• Sensing the need for continuing medical education needs of HCPs on the one hand, and the need to have them familiarised with their products, some progressive pharma companies are also setting up their own dedicated communities for HCPs, where they are trying to provide a lot of useful knowledge and information that an HCP would need. That is one way of connecting to HCPs, who come for their own needs, but, in the process, the pharma company is also able to put out its own relevant communications.
• Like any other consumer of content, the HCP is also flooded with a whole host of digital communication, and for something to interest him/her, it needs to be relevant, personalised and timely. This is where marketing automation and other martech approaches come in. These ensure that only the most relevant communication gets to the HCP, who values the same then, and also engages with the pharma marketing, basis the same.
• Pharma companies will need to significantly transform their marketing efforts, using digital-first CRM, investing in high-quality data management, and considering the field force of MRs as a supporting system, and not the starting point.
• From an HCP’s point of view, pharma marketing needs to offer a consistent omnichannel experience to the HCP, and which again demands a high level of dependence on digital technology to achieve the same.
Pharma marketing is evolving and is getting more and more impacted by the use of data and technology on the one hand, as also adapting means that are more closely associated to FMCG marketing, on the other. The need of the hour for pharma companies is to be agile, continue to learn and adapt, be open to use technical means and stay ahead in a competitive market.