How COVID-19 Has Changed the Way We Reach Payers

We still don’t know how COVID-19 will affect us over time, but details are starting to emerge about how it is shaping the way marketers talk to their audiences. From becoming the masters of Zoom calls, to staying on top of children’s virtual schooling, the pandemic has caused us all to figure out new ways of connecting and working with one another. That’s true for marketers like us and it’s just as true for payers.

New research suggests the pandemic is pushing payers to re-evaluate their budgets, partners, and processes. Throughout 2020 and into 2021, we’ve continued to monitor the attitudes, behaviors, and needs of payers across the country. We wanted to see what’s stuck, what’s changed, and what’s continuing to evolve. We spoke with more than 30 payers covering over 100M lives to provide additional insights into how to tackle the challenges of reaching payers now and in the days to come.

Navigating the New Normal

Isolated from colleagues, account managers, and other sources of authority, payers have come to rely more heavily on search engines, digital platforms, and online medical journals to get the information they need to prepare for a still-uncertain future.

Moreover, there is a continuous and growing need to plan and predict in an unpredictable global landscape. After a year filled with instability, payers are searching for insights and partners to help plan for the future. While their priorities have stayed relatively the same, payers continue to grapple with meeting today’s demands while working in a COVID-19 silo.

However, per our survey, one new, but pivotal, priority is on the horizon. Payers are looking to prepare for the promise of Cell and Gene Therapy. Still grappling with the potential costs for many of these, this shift presents a unique opportunity for manufacturers to demonstrate value beyond a singular product and enable successful management and implementation of innovative and crucial new therapies.

But instead of turning to congresses and account managers to help answer these questions and more, payers are diversifying their information sources and increasing their use. Our research has shown us that the latest breakdown of digital behavior currently looks like this:

  • Online journal usage has overtaken print: Journals remain the number one source of authority; however, payers are going to the AMCP (Academy of Managed Care Pharmacy) or the NEJM (New England Journal of Medicine) online, rather than pick up print versions, at a rate of 3:1.
  • Website visits are up: 50% more respondents said they went to a manufacturer’s website seeking answers than in 2019.
  • Social has grown: Payers are using LinkedIn and Facebook more than ever.

Prepare to Rise Above the Rest

In short, we’ve learned payers are looking for more information online, but unfortunately, not everyone is ready to meet their needs. You’ll have to find a way to connect with them where they are, entice them to come to your website, and continue to provide relevant and valuable digitally based information to keep them engaged. What’s more, while reaching key decision-makers is and should be your main priority, today’s digitally savvy junior-level “influencers” will become tomorrow’s main contacts.

Even though the payer audience isn’t large, it’s influential. If you’re not ready to create a stronger digital presence through comprehensive messaging points, impactful content marketing pieces, and, ultimately, a more effective digital content strategy, then you’re not prepared to stay ahead of today’s digital demands.

From Digital Barriers to Communication Breakthroughs

A strong content strategy can improve your marketing results and ROI by allowing you to understand exactly how your audience is responding to your content and empower you to have ongoing online discourse with prospective payers. However, you will need to consider challenges and opportunities as you develop your content strategy with the goal of having more meaningful online conversions. Our research has shown us these can include:

  • Building trust: Content that appears in trusted journals and/or provides unbiased value (such as whitepapers) will help payers do their job better and therefore help you present yourself as a trusted partner over the long term.
  • “Noise” pollution: Payer audiences are currently bombarded with emails. You won’t want to pull completely away from this space, but when you use this channel, you’ll want to stand out.
  • Right place, right time: Placement on sites relevant to the products and solutions you’re offering is pivotal to reaching your audience while they’re in the right mindset.
  • The rise of social media: LinkedIn and Facebook, the latter of which may be a good place for campaigns and corporate communications, provide often untapped opportunity to reach payers.
  • Broader placements: COVID-19 has forced payers to broaden their digital information sources, making paid search even more important.
  • Extend content lifespan: Make each piece shareable to facilitate ongoing conversations within your audience’s community.

The Three I’s

Much of the above can be customized to the needs of a manufacturer’s specific audience and product offerings, but at its core, a strong content strategy should aim to accomplish three goals:

1. Influence: Ensure that placement catches payers’ attention in a crowded space with bite-size but compelling content, whether they’re on their phone, tablet, or computer. Make them stop and think, “This is interesting, I want to know more.”

2. Involve: Encourage them to take action now—or in the near future—to dive deeper, such as download a whitepaper or to submit a lead.

3. Inform: Give them the tools to do their job better and build lasting trust. Make them want to come back to your website, article collection, or webinar library because they’ve come to respect your business’s expertise. Position your company as a partner and thought leader in the manufacturing space.

By following these guidelines, your content strategy will deliver results—no matter the challenge.

  • Adrian Garcia

    Adrian Garcia is Senior Vice President, Managed Markets at Syneos Health. Adrian has spent 18+ years overcoming the challenges associated with the payer customer. As the head of Payer & Integrated Health Strategy for GSW, part of Syneos Health Communications, he leads a team focused on supporting both in-market and pre-launch brands.

    • Aaron Davis

      Aaron Davis is Senior Managing Director, Consulting at Syneos Health. Aaron has spent his 19+ year career in market access strategy and execution. He is accomplished in helping innovators developing life-changing products understand their payer landscape, what works for their technology, what needs to be changed, and how to communicate with their payer customer.

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