Eliminating Wasted Investments—The Strategies to Optimize Your Spend

In the age of COVID, many pharma marketers may have to make due with working with less. In a survey of healthcare industry marketing teams conducted by Convergence Point Media in April 2020, 66% of respondents indicated that their marketing budget had been cut as a result of the pandemic; 27% said it was reduced by less than 25%; another 27% said the cuts were between 25% and 50%; and 12% said it decreased by over 50%. Only 12% said their budgets increased by at least 25%. So, when you have less to work with, how do you make sure each dollar you spend truly matters? To find out, PM360 asked 10 experts:

  • What are the best methods marketers can use to ensure they are optimizing their investments? Are there specific tools, services, or strategies they can use to feel more confident their budget is being allocated wisely?
  • What are the best metrics to determine if a specific campaign or overall media spend is delivering ROI? How might this differ based on the channel? Are there better ways to determine or calculate ROI than the methods familiar to most marketers?
  • How will the impact from the pandemic on 2020 revenue and advertising spend affect life sciences marketers’ budgets in 2021? Are there any channels or areas marketers may invest more in or less in as a result of how effective or ineffective their marketing efforts were in 2020 after they made adjustments due to COVID?
  • Are there any channels in 2021 that can be considered wasted investments that marketers should now avoid? Alternatively, are there any lesser known or used channels that marketers might want to consider using more in 2021?

Ned Russell

The first step in eliminating waste is defining what your business problem is. Too often, the conversation about eliminating waste starts with channels—channels are important, but those should come later in the conversation. The critical first step is to agree on what you’re trying to solve. You’d be surprised how much money turns up if this is your first step in setting your spending priorities.

Optimizing investment is really a question of relentlessly reviewing data and continuously testing. It’s hard work. Most life sciences marketers handicap themselves because they focus solely on traditional channels and hesitate to assign attribution, which is understandable because so many factors come into account. But if you can be clear-eyed and open-minded, the answers are apparent. For example, we worked on a successful biologic that had an outstanding patient services program—and we knew that our investment in that services program was more important to our client’s bottom-line than our television investment was. But many did not consider the services program a channel because it wasn’t traditional media. It’s archaic thinking.

Service as a Channel

Clearly the pandemic has accelerated change already in the works. Over 12 months ago, you could see that new channels designed to both communicate with and service patients were emerging in things such as Teladoc, One Medical, and Hims. These are examples of how healthcare is being delivered, and these types of services are here to stay, resetting patient expectations. The implication for eliminating waste comes in understanding that when “everything is media,” it’s possible to create your own channels. For instance, what if your packaging linked to a video about the benefits delivered over time by staying on therapy?

Eliminating waste starts via a modern communications strategy to get closer to their patients—saving money and driving better health outcomes in the process.

Eugene Lee

The principles of optimizing your investment are the same today as pre-pandemic. The best method is—and always has been—to look closely at the audiences you’re trying to reach, and only invest in those most important to your brand. Where it needs to be more specific now is around the level of granularity. Today, thanks to many significant advances in technology, we can get incredibly granular with our audience. For example, where we used to communicate to physicians based on specialty, we can now create subsegments, and even subsegments on those subsegments right down to the individual level—in a 100% privacy compliant way.

The next layer is how much to spend toward each individual, so you look closely and carefully as to the reasons you want to reach that person. When you merge that with proper creative messaging and communications, that too can create different granular dynamics with that audience. What are disease state considerations? How have they reacted to previous communication? Are they a loyalist to your brand or a competitor’s? What are my next best actions and what data do I have to consider on how that action will succeed?

Don’t Only Rely on Data

We are able to generate an incredible amount of data, and can make that data actionable in near real-time with tools such as machine learning and programmatic buying. And yet a strategic media planner’s mind is needed more than ever.

The process must be managed in an active, nimble way. Just because data says someone is a loyalist, you should be actively monitoring and managing the campaign to take into account that person may change to a competitive writer because of a new promotion, new indications, or just the non-linear thinking that is human nature. Strategists should be actively monitoring and adjusting.

Steve Peron

It amazes me how companies are willing to approve large budget online media campaigns, yet not answer the simple question: “Is it working?” The answer boils down to attribution tracking. When set up correctly, you will know the exact dollar amount of your ROI per channel. The most popular attribution tracking tools are Google Analytics and Adobe Analytics. Google Analytics is by far the most popular platform with 66% market share of the top 100,000 websites, according to Builtwith.com.

However, merely installing the baseline Google Analytics code on your website will not provide the full picture of your attribution. Additional coding is required via Google Tag Manager to set up events and goals from actions people are tracking on your website. For example, this could be when someone fills out a contact form or downloads your latest PDF medical research paper.

Tips for Website Tracking

Recently, Google came out with a newer version of their analytics platform called Google Analytics 4. It promotes better accuracy, cross-device and app tracking, and a new user interface. It’s great seeing Google evolve their products; however, this is a radical shift in experience to their current platform. I strongly suggest you do not upgrade your existing Google Analytics profile to Google Analytics 4 but rather create and install a parallel version of Google Analytics 4 on your website. If you choose to upgrade, your current tracking could break, and your teams would be scrambling to learn the new user interface.

Outside of Google Analytics, many media platform companies offer their own tracking pixels. It is highly recommended you install these tracking pixels, specifically the ones that track the website’s actual conversion (i.e., form submissions). In doing so, most media platforms will be able to offer view-through conversion tracking, which drives a better ROI with programmatic media campaigns.

Kathy Bryan

Consumer behaviors changed in 2020, with social media, connected TV, and ecommerce rapidly picking up adoption pace. Because of this ongoing evolution, life sciences marketers should pay close attention to changes within their audiences to make sure they’re still engaging across the right platforms. The measurement of marketing, however, has not changed. Regardless of shifts that happened in 2020, especially with regard to media consumption, campaign optimization methods should always be focused on doing more of what works and less of what doesn’t work.

Channels Worth Paying Attention To

As noted previously, digital channels—especially social media and connected TV—gained significant traction in 2020. But it is important to keep in mind that no media should ever be considered a wasted investment if it is the right media to target a specific audience segment. In terms of lesser-known channels, social media is becoming more and more fragmented with niche platforms gaining audiences who want to engage regarding niche topics. Even within each individual platform, enhanced on-site functionalities have created a multitude of ways users can choose to engage.

For example, while Facebook has been long known for its wall or timeline, it has dramatically enhanced its one-to-one messaging, Facebook Groups, and Facebook Live. Instagram, on the other hand, expanded its features to include longer format videos with the release of IGTV. What is abundantly clear from the implementations of enhanced social platform features and the debut of more interest-based social sites is that there is not a one-size-fits all marketing solution. No matter what audience marketers are targeting, it is vital to mine and analyze first-party data to thoroughly understand the demographics of key segments, online habits, channel preferences, and other interests. As a result, regular research of niche media opportunities is strongly encouraged.

Eric Trépanier

As a brand manager, you want to understand the ROI of your marketing efforts. The most robust assessment can only happen after patients see the ad, visit a physician, start therapy, and the data become available for measurement. Given this process, three types of interim data can guide optimizations:

1. Use operational metrics related to execution, such as impressions delivered and click rates for digital campaigns, and impressions/views delivered and video completion rates for video/TV. These are useful to ensure the media is delivered as contracted. While some suggest reviewing actions taken on a site, such as clicks on a copay card link on Brand.com (e.g., cost per action or CPA), our data has shown little correlation between CPA and audience quality (AQ) or ultimate performance. These on-site behavioral metrics therefore have limited utility in predicting ROI.

2. Optimize media by leveraging leading indicators that connect campaign audiences to offline prescription and medical data. You can ensure your message is reaching patients with relevant medical history (e.g., AQ), and that these patients are taking actions (e.g., physician visits) that lead to prescriptions. Your measurement partners need to be transparent on sample sizes and statistics around these estimates to ensure reliable results.

3. Conversion to brand or category. Some platforms report gross conversion, which provides minimal information on campaign performance because there is no control comparison. But other measurement partners can provide rough estimates of net conversion while your campaign is in market, and ROI driven by net conversion analysis using a well-matched control group is the metric you ultimately want. Although the most rigorous methodology for ROI, it is also the last one observable because it is only available months after the campaign has started.

So, for optimization decisions, focus on AQ metrics to support ongoing marketing investment before getting the final ROI result.

Nick Rambke

Unlike in the consumer world, very rarely in life sciences does promotion directly result in a purchase. Instead, the marketing spend investment is considered in aggregate and can only be correlated with a return in terms of sales. Therefore, we have traditionally relied on regular measures of stated attitudes and usage to determine the impact of promotion on target audiences. Unfortunately, that method of measurement does not provide insight into the effectiveness of investment at the initiative or tactical level.

Digital Leads to More Action

The shift in life sciences toward a more digital-heavy tactical mix can provide better insight on the ROI. Interaction with technology, delivered through the sales team or by way of traditional digital channels, leaves a footprint. Ensuring that digital promotions are all encouraging a specific and measurable ACTION can more clearly demonstrate intent to interact with your brand. These actions, when shared with partners in sales, can help them target their time and tailored messaging to the highest value targets. Too often we hear clients asking about awareness generation through digital channels. Rather than striving for awareness, we should strive for action that allows for more specific measurement, customization, and adaptation.

Rob Blazek

Treatment decisions and drug research are guided by data that meet exacting standards for quality, reliability, and accuracy. The tactics marketers use to reach patients should be held to the same standards. Yet, those principles are often overlooked when budgeting significant sums of money to reach patients with information that can significantly improve their quality of life. KPIs vary, but when measuring script lift, for example, a matched panel experimental design methodology is always the gold standard. This allows for isolation of the variable being tested and the quantitative impact of the media tactic.

Determining What to Measure

For any campaign, the best way for marketers to ensure their investments are optimized is by setting clear up-front performance measurement parameters with their media partners, including analytics needs and reporting schedules. If the goal is to raise awareness about a condition, then that is what should be measured, with specific expectations established before the campaign launches. Those expectations can then be used as a benchmark when determining ROI. If the goal is to increase sales of the brand, a lift analysis can be done with the value of the incremental sales compared to the spend. For that type of analysis, the most crucial element is getting agreement on how the NRx value will be determined.

A Key 2021 Channel

In 2020, the pandemic impacted every marketing channel. The federal government’s partnership with pharmacies to directly deliver and distribute vaccines cannot be ignored. Pharmacies are now the focal point for the COVID vaccination effort. This will drive a significant number of health-focused consumers to the aisles who are ready to act. In 2021, marketers must take note of the opportunity in this vital channel.

Jedd Davis

To best optimize marketing and media investments, we need to re-examine the starting point of our campaigns—our audiences. In today’s world, it’s possible to use data to statistically derive multiple segments that each require different communication strategies, across content and channels. When optimizing the dollars spent against these multiple audiences, we must think differently about what a campaign launch looks like.

For example, instead of turning everything on at once and focusing on a singular, monolithic “target audience,” a better strategy is to create test cells against multiple audiences, and spend some time evaluating how those audiences are performing relative to each other. Then, we can funnel media dollars to the segments with the greatest business impact.

This prioritization steers us away from wasting investment in segments that are least likely to perform, and towards the most valuable segments. Therefore, investment optimization actually starts before the first media dollar is spent and the most effective marketers will be those that invest in audience definition and prioritization from the start.

The Best Metrics for Measuring Success

Outcomes-based metrics that are tied to behavior change are the best metrics to determine if campaign spend is working. Operational metrics such as click-throughs, view-through conversions, and impressions do not help us understand patient behavior change. A better way to determine campaign success is to measure the behavioral change that occurs after a patient or HCP is exposed to a message. Some examples of behavioral change metrics could be cost per doctor visit or cost per unique diagnosed patient reached—these are metrics that link directly to a business KPI such as script lift. Measuring clicks and correlating with script lift, or only using media-mix analysis is inefficient and misguided at best—and a guessing game at worst.

David Adelman

One of my favorite quotes is from Peter Drucker: “You can’t manage what you can’t measure.” When you start a campaign, the first thing you should think about are the inbound channels. How are the prospects responding back to you? Are you using only web-based inbound channels or phone calls and/or SMS? Every outbound channel needs to be matched with an inbound channel and your measurement plan needs to be able to capture this data.

But you need to measure more than audience metrics and not fall into the measurement bias trap. You know a lot about the people buying from you, but likely not as much about those who don’t. It’s the data you’re not capturing that is most important. Don’t believe me? Search for “Abraham Wald and the missing bullet holes.” Wald proves that “survivor bias” could have led the U.S. Navy to fortify airplanes in the wrong places because planes returning from combat had bullet holes in certain areas. Wald said it was the bullet holes on the planes that didn’t return that they should have been looking for.

A Common ROI Measurement Mistake

One mistake many marketers make when tracking ROI is using last click/touch attribution, which doesn’t show how all the components are working. If you are using traditional media to raise awareness, how much impact does that awareness have on your inbound channels? Too many marketers ignore multi-touch attribution and make adjustments to their mix that don’t improve the ROI. In many cases, something like DRTV measures the highest cost per sale on last touch attribution but is an important driver of sales in general and creates more sales volume than would exist otherwise. We’re big fans of ACR technology to match the IP address of homes that visited your site with homes that saw your TV spot.

Lisa Kirlick

The biggest change that COVID-19 will bring to life sciences marketers has already happened. The playing field for in-person consultation, whether a doctor with a patient or a pharma or med device rep with a doctor or healthcare facility, has been evened. With less face time, doctors and patients alike are turning online to do their own research. This means well-crafted websites, regardless of the spending power of the parent company, have equal opportunity to inform and sway doctors and patients. A well-developed content strategy, accompanied with SEO and SEM, will be key to capturing interest in life sciences products and services as long as a wariness of in-person and large gatherings persists.

Determining Your Site’s Value

While most pharma and med device companies have websites, this is a time to consider revamping to ensure that both doctors and patients are able to find valuable information on their sites. To ensure website value, marketers should be tracking data, through Google Analytics, Adobe, Salesforce, etc., and then leverage those findings to understand if on-site users are taking the actions or discovering the materials that are most valuable to them. This can be done through goal-setting, user path analysis, or other proprietary reports and functions available through those marketing platforms previously mentioned. Regardless of what a company or brand’s website analysis yields, a strategic vision for the website, content, and desired user experience must be the preamble to any work or revisions on the site, so that any improvements have lasting value and effect.


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