While pharma brands have learned many valuable lessons during the COVID-19 pandemic, some painful realities of digital marketing still remain. In this challenging environment, marketers need to rise above the clutter by embracing data-driven marketing as the means to better target their audiences, provide an optimal customer experience, and drive crucial new patient start volumes as a result.

On average, pharmaceutical companies have increased their overall digital media spend more than 50% compared to pre-COVID-19 levels. This transition has been fueled, in part, by the learnings from the pandemic:

  • More than 40% of physicians indicated that they do not want to go back to the old model and intend to permanently restrict sales force access in favor of digital options.
  • Four in five consumers have shared their preference moving forward of digital channels for healthcare communications.

Rather than adopting a more measured approach, this transition has now led to an overload of digital messaging, where seemingly everyone is throwing investment against the wall to see what sticks. That has created a different problem: almost 60% of all doctors now feel that they have been recently spammed with digital messaging by at least one pharma company. We have created our own clutter.

Where do we go from here? It is obvious that our audiences crave quality experiences that fit their schedule. Cognizant of this, brand marketers need to capitalize on the best data and technology sources to adopt a digital strategy that is more meaningful to their audiences. Inability to do so will lead to wasted dollars and ineffectual messaging. Ultimately, a brand risks having its audiences turn away and look elsewhere as they navigate their unique information-gathering journey.

The Pain Points of Digital Clutter Are Pervasive

Both consumer (DTC) and healthcare professional (HCP) audiences are overwhelmed by the volume of messages and the proliferation of digital channels. This has happened organically as the opportunities for a brand to bring their message to audiences today are much more fragmented than even a few years ago. In the early days of digital, there was paid search, endemic advertising, and Brand.com (give or take a few smaller, emerging options).

Today, with the rollout of condition-specific websites, editorial content being published with lifestyle partners, and tailored programmatic media providing cherry-picked impressions to probabilistic viewers across the internet, we have seen incredible diversification of where dollars are spent. It is not uncommon in 2022 to see some of the campaigns we actively manage with more than 50+ partners at the time of launch. Additionally, deeper data breaks by ad type, creative unit, etc., can often raise the number of relevant data cuts to 100 or more.

With this rapid diversification of options, brands are not always certain about where the desired audience is consuming content, nor how best to reach them with the right messages. Additionally, challenges persist in helping to define what success looks like within these emerging channels and how to tie it back to both marketing objectives and successful business outcomes. With scores of partners and an even greater number of data breaks, paralysis via analysis can set in.

The sophistication of a brand’s marketing plan thereby could benefit from a more simplistic framework in which to define success before, during, and after a campaign. While the core principles of advanced campaign management framework are straightforward, the underlining foundation must be state-of-the-art. This requires access to best-in-class data and platforms that support enhanced targeting initiatives and measurement and optimization updating in near real-time with thresholds at or above the industry standards for statistical significance.

Sophisticated Marketing, Simplified

While our customers have raised their voice as to the burden of digital clutter, they are not the only ones who can be weighed down in this new normal. From the pre-planning process through the continuous optimization cycle, the resulting data acquired may feel like an encumbrance on brand marketers if there is no plan. However, execution of advanced campaign management can be simplified and will allow brands to cut through the clutter and rise above competition:

  • Plan and engage: designing marketing programs to access the right customers through preferred channels
  • Measure and optimize: ensuring the optimal audiences, channels, and messages to maximize engagement while understanding the business impact of your plan

Improving Engagement Through Tailored Messaging

Brand marketers can rise above the clutter by identifying areas of opportunities to reach their audiences more effectively. It starts with the fundamental recognition that the environment has changed, and that marketing strategies need to take advantage of audience-targeting capabilities designed to increase the odds of creating a meaningful experience for your desired audience.

For marketing to HCPs, it is critically important to understand who the stakeholders are that you want to reach with your messages, where it is most effective to reach them with the right content, and do so during a time when they are most likely to engage. The insights from large opt-in databases of networks of physician-IDs can enable marketers to understand these critical data points and how best to activate with this information in hand. Marketers can now develop a strategy that is cost-effective and allows tailored messaging where and when the information is most relevant to the HCPs and their practice. It is thereby critical to activate partners that can help execute your messaging strategy to target HCPs at an appropriate cadence when they require connecting with relevant content.

For marketing to the consumer, it is important to bring together a strategic mix of advanced analytics, media insights, and technology, allowing you to reach the right audience with increasing efficiency. Activation of targeting parameters is proven to be a cost-effective way to improve the propensity of reaching your intended audience and can be applied to many portions of a digital campaign including emerging areas such as advanced/connected or over-the-top streaming TV. While the benefits to the brand are obvious, don’t forget about the impact this can have on care: improving the accuracy of media in market will help patients as they educate themselves when ready and ultimately gain access to the care they need.

Improving Efficiencies and Outcomes Through Continuous Optimization

Depending on the size of the digital investment at a brand’s disposal, continuously optimizing a campaign is often a full-time job. The net goal of these efforts is to achieve material improvements in both the quality of the audience reached and the quantifiable lift in conversions. The aforementioned diversification of digital channels and assets can make these efforts more time consuming, but the benefit of weekly observation of these data points has a proven track record of improving cost efficiency in both a target reach and ultimately product conversion.

We noted above how critical a data-driven approach is to targeting. The measurement and optimization cycle is where we find not only the proof-points that our planning efforts are bearing fruit but also areas of opportunity for improvement to strengthen performance throughout the campaign. As you are establishing your framework, accessing real-world health data to establish patient- and physician-centric key performance indicators (KPIs) is critical in demonstrating campaign impact in a language that everyone can understand. If your targeting parameters are designed to deliver greater propensities of your desired audience, then platforms that observe these data points weekly are paramount to proving success.

Gone are the days of simple metrics such as clicks and opens. Instead, we need to look at more advanced metrics that are health centric in nature. Demonstrating a campaign’s ability to increase the number of patients on therapy and/or observing therapy trial and adoption by target list physicians has become the new table stakes. It is important to remember that this is an iterative process: what worked in Q1 may not work in Q3 and we owe it to our audiences to continuously evolve throughout the course of our campaign.

The Future of Digital Marketing

As digital marketing is evolving, the most successful brands will remember the oldest adage in sales and marketing: the customer is always right. With their preferences for digital clearly stated, the “ready, fire, aim” approach observed as many in the industry rushed to react just created a different kind of clutter. As the dust settles, the brands that rise to meet the needs of the customer will do so by activating a more intelligent and refined approach. This will require having the proper framework that is data-driven at its core and allow for the continuous evolution of a plan throughout the campaign lifecycle.

Choosing the right partners that can provide evidence-based insights across multiple audiences and digital tactics will be of the utmost importance. This will enable successful brands to advance more dynamic targeting of messages and tailoring of interactions with their audience while conducting frequent measurement and optimization touch points. The end result will be a more satisfactory experience for audiences, enhanced patient outcomes, and ultimately improved ROI.

  • Andrew Burkus

    Andrew Burkus is Senior Principal, Omnichannel Marketing at IQVIA. Within IQVIA’s Omnichannel Center of Excellence, Andrew is an expert in DTC and HCP promotional targeting, predictive modeling, and campaign measurement and optimization with over 12 years of health and wellness industry experience.


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