Are pharma marketers and sales reps too reliant on using tactics simply because they have proven effective in the past? This industry is already notorious for taking longer to embrace new things, due to tight regulations, but is it also too reliant on the old tried-and-true tactics that people have just come to accept as best practices. That was exactly what PM360 wanted to find out when we asked nine experts:

  • Considering the world of marketing is constantly evolving with new tools, channels, and mediums to work with—not to mention how audiences change as well—what previously successful sales and marketing tactics or strategies now need to be retired (or at the very least, just not used as frequently)?
  • How do you determine when the right time is to abandon a particular tactic or strategy that has previously proved effective? Are there any specific channels that marketers have come to rely on that no longer deliver the value they once did?
  • How have doctors’ or patients’ views about healthcare or marketing changed over the past few years that now require marketers to try new ways to engage with them? Can you provide any examples in which you have noted such a change and how you have adjusted your marketing accordingly?
  • What is your biggest pet peeve about current healthcare marketing or sales strategy that you think needs to go?

The opinions expressed by the authors in the Think Tank section are their own and do not necessarily reflect those of their affiliated companies or organizations.

Chris Reese

Does it ever feel like marketers are serving physicians the Grand Slam breakfast when they really just need a healthy piece of fruit? It’s time to fully embrace the idea that one size does not fit all. It’s time to offer customers something other than densely packed long-form content.

Of course, doctors still want and need evidence, disease information, and data about their patients. Some of that information will always be more complex and require more time and space to share, but some of it truly is not that complex. It is critical for teams to develop a content and MLR strategy that can parse out that information in shorter and quicker formats. Just like meals, medical professionals digest content differently at different times throughout the day. Sometimes they’re ready for a three-course dinner, sometimes they want a sandwich, and other times they just want a snack.

We know that physicians are working and consuming content on multiple screens throughout the day in different settings. At certain times a 20-second mobile-optimized video on YouTube may be the best solution, and more likely to be viewed. Additional pieces of the story can come later.

Addiction to Long-form Content

Pharma’s reliance on long-form content is rooted in the requirements of a governing body anchored in long-form content. The FDA requires a company to submit a comprehensive story at launch in the form of a 12-page detail aid or website. For the most part, there’s not much deviation allowed for the presentation of that content and messaging. That’s a tough place for a brand to start if they have not thoroughly analyzed how all that content can be teased out in various lengths.

It’s time for pharma to shake up its reliance on long-form content, modernize its content pyramid, and serve doctors a more balanced diet.

George Jones

Standard volumetric targeting has to be quickly retired. We simply have too much data and information to treat the “decile 10” prescriber who prescribes 99% generics and doesn’t do prior authorizations, the same as the HCP who prescribes less of the class but has shown a willingness to prescribe brands. HCPs who demonstrate a preference for branded products are typically more “patient centric” and more willing to make the additional effort that is often needed to ensure their patients get the medication that they feel is best for them.

Additionally, it is always difficult to move away from something that is “tried and true,” but to me the question is: Did I do the proper measurement to ensure that my company was getting the results needed?  For example, I have recently set my focus on National Medical Meetings. Today’s practitioner is simply too busy to take time out of their schedule to attend a large generalist meeting. They are more likely to attend something smaller, more specialized, and closer to home. So, I am shifting my efforts and resources towards local, specialized meetings, placing extra emphasis on meetings that cater to the Nurse Practitioners and PAs who specialize in my therapeutic areas.

Changing HCP Attitudes

I haven’t seen it widely yet, but medical schools, residency programs, and fellowship programs are going “pharma free” and encouraging their students to stay away from pharma-supported education. I think this is a mistake as the industry has been and continues to be a reliable and credible source of education about disease states, as well as the therapies to treat these illnesses. I fear that we are on the cusp of a younger generation of HCPs who might not perceive the value of our education offerings, potentially reducing the possibility that they will be as familiar with newer/cutting edge medicines.

Becky Chidester

It’s time for healthcare marketers to put engagement versus awareness at the center of their marketing strategies and prioritize a new series of metrics that drive action and behavior change.

Research continues to demonstrate that much of today’s marketing misses the mark, educating but not motivating action. Recently, we conducted a survey of individuals with chronic conditions and found that despite significant, tangible evidence otherwise, more than half (56%) believe they are very healthy and, as a result, do not perceive a need to change. Today’s marketing content does little to change their minds. More than half (61%) are satisfied with the content, even while admitting to numerous unhealthy behaviors.

This behavior pattern poses a challenge for marketers that we call “Health Inertia,” and underscores the importance of shifting from mass messages to personalized content. This includes content that supports healthcare professionals and content delivered directly to consumers through channels such as digital.

Overcoming Health Inertia

This shift requires changing how marketers gather insights as well as deploy and measure content. Traditional research such as focus groups and survey-based qualitative research should continue to be replaced by social media and digital behavioral data. Additionally, new motivational laddering research can uncover the emotional insights that help marketers understand peoples’ “whys”—what matters enough to them to change.

With these insights, marketers can evolve their practices from mass messages to capabilities that deliver dynamic content programmatically across digital and social channels. Connecting the right motivational message to the right person in the right channel.

Nothing is more personal than health. In our era of consumerism, and as marketing is increasingly judged by outcomes, marketers have the opportunity to win through content that speaks to individuals’ motivations and desires. Inspiring action that achieves business goals and ultimately better health. For more, check out

Patrick Richard

I’m going to answer this like my consulting colleagues would—it depends. Channels are proliferating and early adopters are accelerating past their more conventional counterparts, accessing new information in new ways. We have chatbots, voice, streaming video services, and new AR/VR experiences. Each touchpoint is changing expectations—and healthcare marketers have to respond. But not every HCP and patient is an early adopter. Although a savvy digital marketer might think it’s archaic, some physicians still respond to physical mailers. What we need to use is evidence—real data about our market to inform which portfolio of tactics has the best odds of successfully impacting results.

The challenge is that most healthcare marketers are drowning in data, including prescribing reports, ongoing digital analytics, libraries of syndicated surveys, segmentation analyses, qualitative market research, and so much more. Each has its own methodology and context. In the past, good marketers could often identify a potentially successful tactic or strategy by manual methods of piecing together the data they had at hand, but today the deluge of research overwhelms even the sharpest minds.

The Future of Marketing

As compelling as each piece of research is on its own, the data doesn’t easily come together to form a single view of the marketplace. And, they certainly don’t qualify and quantify new opportunities. It’s time we face the fact that the methods of the old marketing mavericks aren’t working anymore.

So, what’s the best marketing tactic of the future? Predictive analytics. It’s all about leveraging data about our market and our customers’ responses to specific stimuli to simulate and test assumptions about what we think would work best for them. From there, you can experiment with every permutation of investment, channel, and message without spending a single dollar on a well-intentioned in-market pilot.

Jane Urban

Step 1: Categorize and Prioritize

Every tactic should first be evaluated against the strategy and if the tactic does not support it, that tactic is an easy cut. Often, much spin is done to get a tactic to align with the overall strategic umbrella, but honest evaluation is critical.

Step 2: Table-stakes or Innovative?

There will be table-stakes tactics—necessary to keep a certain share of voice in a crowded arena. There will be innovative tactics that serve the evolution of brand strategy, push into new channels, or reach the once unreachable segments. Then there will be tactics that do not obviously have either of these characteristics. This is the group that moves to Step 3.

Step 3: ROI and Influence Sanity Check

In this third group, brand teams need to be honest and open in their evaluation, looking at utilization, ROI, and how much these tactics influence the performance of other tactics. Often with this more qualitative process, tactics are clearly no longer relevant and no analytics are even needed.

The Evolution Continues

When an engagement channel gets too noisy or crowded, what once was in the second innovator category needs to be either shifted into a table-stakes position or taken off the roster of key options. Some recent examples where this has happened are in the digital arena in which Facebook, click, and banner might be very low in investment per click-through, but the clicks are not influencing behavior with the right segments anymore. Perhaps there is a lower “table-stakes” investment level, but it’s not an innovative channel. Instead, innovation should be occurring when there is the opportunity to align targeting with segmentation and strategy.

Michael Byrnes

Significant investments continue to be made in marketing tactics that don’t have a distinguishable impact on Rx volume and do not deliver a quantifiable return. ROI might not be everything, but it seems like it would be difficult to justify the ongoing use of media strategies that cannot be concretely evaluated. In the pharma industry, it’s essential to link marketing actions to patient actions whenever possible. Each tactic in the plan should have a well-articulated measurement protocol that is thoughtfully carried out.

When making media decisions, the data that you choose to analyze matters, as is the way you choose to examine it. It can be easy for marketers to over-complicate the data they have at their disposal, or even worse, judge it based on their personal biases. We should remove our individual inclinations from the equation and, like award-winning actors, put ourselves into the shoes of those people we are targeting who might not be very similar to us. Many times, the keys to success lie in the most basic information.

Is Medical Office Point of Care Worth It?

As an example, according to multiple studies, people don’t see their doctors all that often. Why then is so much investment made in doctor’s office-delivered programs? Potential patients are taking trips to the pharmacy for self-treatment OTC products eight times more frequently than they are visiting a physician. The evidence supports this, and yet marketers continue to believe that they can influence the consumer at the medical office point of care because it is “closer to prescribing.” That may be the case, but the frequency of message delivery is minimal compared with other media choices. We must think about the role of the communication platform in the real, daily lives and journeys of patients. Hopefully, the logic will emerge from there.

Kevin Dunn

When you want to determine if it is time to move on from a strategy, even if it has proved to be effective in the past, you must develop a measurement plan with tactical benchmarks and strategic KPIs. This will quickly identify underperforming channels and indicate when to abandon those channels and shift resources to more effective tactics. For example, established customer acquisition channels such as banner ads and health resource sites appear to underperform in brand conversions. Attribution modeling goes beyond basic metrics and helps us properly gauge the impact of these channels within the brand ecosystem so we can make the right call.

Shifting to More Effective Channels

Once we determine the impact of the channels, we shift resources to more effective channels. We have been increasing our investments in more refined and personalized engagement strategies. We pair contextually relevant text and video content with targeted deployments such as platform-specific creative, social influencer outreach, geo-activations, search marketing, and awareness tactics. This approach to targeted multichannel content delivery uses ongoing measurement, channel optimization, and near-time trend analysis to create an impactful customer experience throughout the customer journey.

Kelly Kutchinsky

Early in my marketing communications career, the value of disease advocacy partnerships and positive patient experiences for a pharma company or brand was obvious. Partnerships with advocacy lent credibility to campaigns, offered access to the audience clients wanted to reach, and demonstrated the company’s commitment in the market. Similarly, patient testimonials provided real-world experience that just couldn’t be conveyed by the company spokesperson or an advertisement alone. None of this has changed, but what has changed is the level of impact these advocates and patients have in the age of the “influencer” and social media.

One would be hard pressed to find a pharma company website, social media handle, or brand marketing campaign that doesn’t tout a commitment to putting patients at the core. But now more than ever, companies must not only talk the talk, but also walk the walk.

Power of the Influencer

The number of in-person and virtual patient and advocacy summits have skyrocketed with many companies trying to demonstrate their “patient centricity” to a growing number of highly engaged “influencers.” Why? Because it’s no longer a one-way communication channel. Patients and the advocates who support them not only hold the credibility but now they also have the same means of mass communications as pharma. Social media has given a voice to everyone, allowing patients and advocates to amplify everything a company or brand does—good and bad.

As marketers and communicators, we need to be innovative and genuine in our approach to patient and advocate engagement. All the data and market research in the world won’t do you any good if you aren’t authentic when building these relationships. Without really listening and taking into account influencers’ needs far beyond just a drug to treat an illness, a company can spend millions on paid advertisements that will just fall on uninterested or worse, hostile ears.

Akash Patel

Today’s digitally enabled, patient outcomes-based environment with more specialized drugs demands a very different commercial model than the sales-focused models that were prevalent during the blockbuster era. Pharma companies need to take an insight-driven approach to providing comprehensive, end-to-end, digitally enabled services from strategy through operations to transform their commercial models.

Intrinsically tied to a patient outcomes-based environment are patient services. Some organizations have tasked their brand teams with marketing patient services, which has typically led to patient services being an afterthought to the product. Meanwhile, others build separate patient-services organizations working separately/in parallel to brand or marketing teams. This approach also relegates services to an add-on position.

In a survey of nearly 400 healthcare professionals (HCPs) research released in September, Accenture found that just one-third of pharma sales representatives market the services in terms of their ability to improve patient outcomes when they meet with HCPs. Most sales reps don’t position patient services as an integral part of their company’s offerings or part of a holistic solution to address unmet patient needs. Instead, they present the product first and tend to treat services as an add-on.

Patient Services Need More Promotion

Our survey further revealed that pharma sales reps are the No. 1 way HCPs hear about patient services today. The problem: Nearly half of the HCPs we interviewed said they hear about patient services less than 25% of the time in their meetings with sales reps. Communication with HCPs on patient services via other channels—such as conferences, email, websites, portals, etc.—is happening even less.

We believe a lack of incentive to take risk in non-traditional marketing activities within most current commercial models is a barrier. Instead, it is critical that a commercial model incorporates non-traditional marketing into a steady state operational model and to develop mechanisms to track and refine approach.