It may have been around for nearly a decade but we are just now realizing what it takes to make eDetailing truly work: User-friendly interaction, individualized content and integration have become part of an entire promotional mix.

Digital communication with physicians is not a new tactic. For the better part of a decade, eDetails have been used to communicate with physicians and are increasing in popularity. Indeed, Booz and Company’s Pharmaceutical Sales and Marketing Trends 2011 study published earlier this year indicates that 52% of the industry plans to increase spending on eDetailing, 55% will increase their spend on mobile technologies, and 58% will increase their spend on physician-oriented social media.

In the course of this evolution, we have moved from pilot testing to full-fledged programs, honing our skills to create an optimal user experience and resultant Rx lift. But what have we learned along the way? What leads to a successful eDetail? To answer these questions effectively, we must first take a closer look at tactics and then step back and examine the evolving role of digital communication within the promotional mix.


The first rule in delivering an effective eDetail is to create clean design and intuitive navigation. User-friendly interaction and clear and concise language are a must. Superior eDetails also make extensive use of interactive graphics and animation, leveraging the unique capabilities of the medium. And the best eDetailing programs use interactive techniques that encourage physicians to become highly engaged, which has been proven to increase retention of key messages.

Optimal eDetails are created or adapt content to suit the specific delivery (desktop, smartphone and/or notebook) and make it active and engaging. For example, creative teams need to be careful to not just take content designed for a desktop computer and change the screen size for smartphones or notebooks. It is critical to understand how people use each type of device and create content optimized specifically for each device. Because people who access information on digital devices are accustomed to rapid information retrieval and short interactions, the most effective eDetails are relatively brief. Other channels can provide deeper levels of information. If you make the experience pleasant for physicians, they will remain highly engaged.

In addition, interactive media allows the use of branching techniques so the most relevant information can be provided to physicians on an individualized basis. Another exceptionally effective technique is to encourage physicians to interact with screen prompts and see how their responses correspond to those of their peers.

Creating this type of engaging, personalized digital interaction relies heavily on a robust database and appropriate analytics. Not unlike personal promotion, understanding the value the physician offers will dictate the type of digital program you will launch; understanding the attitudes and behaviors of your targets will allow each eDetail to be tailored to the needs and interests of the individual physician, delivering a true 1:1 experience.

When creating a digital communication plan, one should start by defining the value offered by physician targets. In its infancy, digital communication was used primarily to reach those physicians who were viewed as “non-called-on,” or who came from lower prescribing deciles. Today, those attitudes are shifting, as marketers understand the value of integrating digital, non-personal communication with their personal promotion efforts to all physician targets.

To create a compelling campaign that has a strong return on investment (ROI), physician target segments should be identified based on the opportunity for Rx lift. Messaging for each target segment should be refined based on the attitudinal drivers within the identified segments. Ideally, the eDetail would be set up to define the user early in the communication and then match that user profile to the attitudinal and experiential database. Each physician response then leads to a new screen populated with content predicted from similar physician behaviors. Such individualized content delivery resonates and reinforces learning. Responses and subsequent prescribing behavior can then be analyzed for effectiveness of messaging, and included in future communications. (See Figure 1.)

FIGURE 1 Coordinating the efforts of Personal and Non-Personal promotion will be essential as technology becomes more embedded with the end users. 


Building a database to drive this type of customized content delivery is costly and time-consuming. As a result, lack of appropriate data and analytics has been a major stumbling block for many brands to efficiently and effectively tap eDetailing as part of their standard promotional package. In an ideal world, real-time data from the field, market research and prior digital responses can be integrated to create an accurate profile database from which we can predict responses. In practice, most organizations are still working in silos and the resources required to capture data across silos both in time and money, are staggering. For many, by the time the system is built to capture and utilize this data, the technology is already out-of-date. Nonetheless, some pharmaceutical companies have started to do so internally, while others have turned to outsource providers who can more cost-effectively leverage non-confidential data across multiple clients. There are numerous obstacles in integrating from multiple sources, especially sales force data, but the synergies to be gained are drawing many to a workable resolution.


The deployment of eDetails has continued to change to maintain pace with technology’s evolution. Desktops and laptops have given way to smartphones and notebooks. The iPad has become a serious technology platform to consider in reaching physicians, and as a result, eDetails in Flash are limited. Different technology platforms require individual software executions leading to a rise in cost and the time required to develop effective eDetails across all platforms. Just the smartphone alone can involve three different software platforms: the iPhone, the BlackBerry and the Droid. Although there are some ways to work around these differences, creating the superior user experience has become substantially more complicated than developing a storyboard and executing it for HTML delivery.

In addition to platform evolution, one must look at how the eDetail has evolved as part of a multi-channel delivery of messages. A number of studies have proven that eDetails deliver the greatest return when combined with other non-personal promotion tactics. We have historically combined eDetails with direct-mail programs and have delivered ROIs ranging from a low of 3.1:1 to 16.7:1 over a 12-month period. The lower cost of non-personal promotions certainly contributes significantly to these results, but the effectiveness of the interactive, digital communication cannot be minimized. Engaging the physician works.

That is why it should come as no surprise that multi-channel programs that integrate personal and non-personal promotion lead to greater results than either of these strategies alone. Although more and more physicians are adopting technology, the vast majority still look to sales representatives to deliver scientific studies or service to their office. In a recent study conducted by Publicis Touchpoint Solutions and Sermo, 80% of the physicians surveyed indicated that they would like to see more or significantly more “hybrid” reps or multi-channel efforts in their office. In a study we conducted in 2009 of 400 physicians, we found a significant synergistic effect when personal and non-personal promotion was combined. A 60% increase in prescriptions was delivered when eDetails were combined with field sales calls over using either tactic alone.

The progression of digital communication as part of the multi-channel promotional mix has led to a tremendous opportunity to improve interactions with physicians. (See Figure 2.) A case in point is the evolution of an integrated, personal and non-personal promotional effort by a top-five pharmaceutical company. In 2009, they outfitted their field force with a tablet armed with SFA software to improve efficiencies in the field. Later that year they began eDetailing sessions. In 2010, they were able to influence the content of their rep tablets with captured data results from these eDetails. They then integrated eDetail attitudinal data into their customer database and added other non-personal promotional channels such as webkeys, direct mail and teleservices. In 2011, they launched a multi-channel calendar where reps can access a dashboard showing when their physicians will receive non-personal promotional efforts and when they participated. Also in 2011, they optimized their tablet content to reflect updates in technology and launched eDetails across all devices—desktop/laptop, notebooks/iPads and smartphones. This is tapping the power of the technology at its finest—almost. We still need to integrate all data from each touch point, but it’s coming.

FIGURE 2 Detail content is best served when it leverages the insights from other data inputs. 


As we continue to harness the power of digital communications, we need to take some lessons from physician usage of technology. Their embrace of smartphones and, now iPads and notebooks, far outpaces the general public. Why? They like the immediacy of the medium and the ability to communicate directly with their colleagues, sharing their experiences to improve the delivery of healthcare.

We must find a way to better provide physicians and reps the information they need when and where they want it. To optimize effectiveness, the rep should have access to all data collected on physicians in their territory from every touch point. They should be the one driving the eDetail based on a real understanding of the physician’s needs and the timing most suited to the physician’s schedule. The physician should have the ability to communicate directly with their rep and the pharma company and see how their peers are addressing the same topics, and they should be able to do so in a clear, simple interface that delivers a superior user experience. When this occurs, we will have truly harnessed the power of digital technology to support the communication process.


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