The Evolution of Non-Personal Promotion

The pharmaceutical industry operates under a set of shifting conditions and regulations that put a strain on the representative-centric marketing model. As the availability of medical information sources grows, physicians are taking control of when they want to consume information. Many seek out sources they can review on their own time, rather than engage with pharmaceutical representatives.

Even when willing to see reps, restrictive policies at hospitals and institutions have resulted in limited or banned access to HCPs. Sales reps are restricted from contacting nearly half of all U.S. physicians,1 with oncologists—a primary pharma target—being the specialists with most restricted access.2

So how will marketers cut through these barriers to reach physicians while offering a positive brand experience? The answer is targeted and relevant non-personal promotion (NPP). The benefits of NPP messaging are twofold: Pharma companies can connect with HCPs and physicians can access information at a time of their choosing.

NPP also allows pharma companies to leverage cost-effective channels that optimize the media budget allocation. Today, reducing overall marketing spend is the highest strategic business priority for pharmaceutical executives given rising development costs of new therapies and resulting consolidation and downsizing.3 Adapting to changing prescriber attitudes by implementing customized non-personal programs can compensate for the diminished power of sales visits. I predict the allocated marketing spend on NPP will increase from approximately 38% of HCP-targeted marketing tactics4 to at least 44% of the total promotional expenditure by 2020. With 70% of executives dedicated to mastering multi-channel marketing over the next two years,5 NPP campaigns will be executed through this approach to maximize reach.

Let’s take a look at four trends that will impact the future of NPP:

1. Delivering Timely HCP Data for Multi-Channel Outreach

Although the changing healthcare landscape requires an evolution of the rep-based sales model, there is much we can learn from this approach. The sales force method was successful because it allowed companies to understand physicians’ unique needs and provide relevant information in real time. NPP methods should emulate this strategy by leveraging existing data to personalize tactics, while capturing engagement data to be used across all channels.

Programs targeting current customers can leverage basic profile data, including name, age, location, specialty and prescribing preferences to personalize messaging and content. NPP interactions can then be collected using a central data hub to develop prescriber profiles. Key metrics such as time spent watching a video, website engagement, preference to specific channels, or multi-channel response to e-mail and inbound requests help marketers to understand a prescriber’s interests at a specific time.

This data can be leveraged across all promotional channels. For example, let’s say an advertisement inserted into a prescription pad designed to generate awareness of a treatment for a rare disease includes a specific call to action. Targeted physicians who respond are likely treating a patient with this condition. Reps can offer responding physicians a visit to discuss therapeutic options, which helps the field sales force prioritize their outreach and creates a synergy to the NPP effort.

2. Digital Will Grow, But Print Will Remain Relevant

While digital channels are undeniably growing, the rate of growth and “decline of print” are overstated. Web and mobile technologies have obviously become integral to how doctors practice medicine. Today, 86% of physicians use the Internet to access clinical information6 and 80% use smartphones in their day-to-day practice.7 When implemented properly, digital marketing extends reach and helps maintain a competitive advantage. However, if marketers ignore today’s media realities and assume that a multi-decade trend away from print is complete, they will miss many opportunities to communicate with HCPs.

For example, many marketers are investigating EMR, EHR and e-prescribing platforms as a point-of-care tactic—but is their target audience really using these tools? It’s common for a prescriber identified as an EHR user to write a handwritten note that is transcribed into the EHR system by staff—therefore, brand messaging in the context of the platform isn’t seen by the targeted prescriber. Surescripts, which controls the majority of e-prescribing in the U.S., reports on how many doctors are certified e-prescribers, but the capability to e-prescribe does not necessarily correlate to actual eRx writing behavior. In fact, less than 25% of all prescriptions dispensed in 2013 were issued electronically.8

Controlled substances represent 13% of all prescriptions issued last year, which many eRx platforms and pharmacies can’t handle electronically. So many prescribers continue to rely on tamper-resistant pads to prescribe these substances. Due to the security and convenience of the printed prescription blank, some “e-prescribing capable” doctors don’t e-prescribe at all. In fact, one-third of certified e-prescribers demonstrated no eRx activity in December 2013.9 In addition, numerous restrictions limit how brand messaging can appear in e-prescribing.

It’s difficult to look at these statistics and the limitations of e-prescribing without concluding that print remains the most effective medium to reach prescribers at the point-of-care and the point-of-therapeutic decision.

3. ROI Will Remain the Key NPP Metric

Digital marketing allows the review of detailed metrics—nearly in real time. Click-through, page view, form submission and ad view activity is often available instantly. Daily analysis of this data is used to refine the mix and deployment of digital media.

However, the improvement or variance in such metrics is not directly related to writing behavior or ROI. In analyzing multi-channel NPP campaigns, it’s crucial to generate a program that offers a comprehensive ROI and impact analysis.

Several credible third-party companies measure audience exposure and interaction to provide such analytics. By matching HCPs who received a promotion with those of similar pre-promotional writing behavior, geography and other factors, a test vs. control analysis can be performed to determine new prescriptions (NRx) behavior, and from that, incremental revenue.

It takes about four to six months to complete a comprehensive analysis. A campaign should run for several months to provide a true assessment of its impact, and preparation of the analysis usually takes at least 30 days. The reward for your patience is a true picture of an NPP campaign’s effectiveness. Some NPP vendors will execute an independent ROI study for a campaign, or will provide an archive of such studies to help with media selection. When choosing an NPP partner, ask about their experience with and availability of such third-party studies to verify the efficacy of their tactics.

4. More Educational Messaging Delivered by Mobile Apps at PoC

In the wake of the ACA, physicians are more time constrained than ever before. Four out of every 10 doctors working in U.S. hospitals report they are overworked—and one in five say jammed schedules could threaten patient safety.10 This trend means that HCPs will be more amenable to NPP that delivers value beyond merely touting the advantages of a particular drug.

Pharmaceutical marketers can achieve this by providing educational information that helps improve care alongside branded messaging. Physicians also actively seek resources that help educate patients about conditions and treatment decisions to improve patient adherence. By establishing recognition as a trusted provider of clinical information, pharma companies build trusting relationships with physicians—and deeper levels of engagement. This approach also helps to position pharmaceutical and biotechnology manufacturers with payers as not just providers of drugs, but providers of an overall solution to improve outcomes and reduce costs.

Chief among the educational tools that will be employed by pharma companies: Mobile apps. More than 400 FDA-approved apps currently exist—and the FDA encourages doctors to use apps to enhance patient care. Mobile apps quickly deliver info to patients about a condition and recommended therapy. Physicians can also provide lifestyle and adherence plans through mobile technologies and track patients’ compliance.

Deploying mobile apps at the point-of-care will strongly impact patient outcomes. If an HCP can prescribe a drug, or alternatively, provide the drug along with a free, easy-to-access patient support app, which do you think he/she will provide? Which will have a greater impact on patient outcomes?

The point-of-care is the most effective time to deliver the clinical information that physicians value. Targeted use of non-personal channels that reach physicians within their daily workflow increases impact and yields a strong ROI. Continuous engagement in the exam room throughout a product’s lifecycle also strengthens brand awareness.

Right now, tailoring marketing communications based on customer preferences, while leveraging a central database of customer data to drive multi-channel communication—including the use of mobile apps—is practiced across most industries. Yet the pharma industry has not fully embraced the power of this approach.

As the industry reaches a crossroads, mastering this technique and leveraging the effectiveness of customized non-personal promotion will be essential to overcoming industry challenges and improving patient outcomes.


1. Kantar Media: Non-Journal Media Study December 2013.

2. ZS Associates: Spring 2013 AccessMonitor report,

3. Accenture, Big Pharma Sales and Marketing Executives Detail Top Strategic Priorities for 2013,

4. Cegedim Strategic Data, 2012 U.S. Pharmaceutical Promotional Spending, February 15, 2013.

5. Accenture, Big Pharma Sales and Marketing Executives Detail Top Strategic Priorities for 2013,

6. Wolters Kluwer Health Medical Research, 2011.

7. Wolters Kluwer Health 2013 Physician Outlook Survey,

8. SureScripts, 2013 National Progress Report and Safe-Rx Rankings May 2014 and IMS 2013 Year in Review.

9. SureScripts, 2013 National Progress Report and Safe-Rx Rankings May 2014.

10. Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine 2013.


You May Also Like

Why Adding Drug Prices to DTC Ads Will Have Little Impact

Soon, all those direct-to-consumer advertisements we see on TV will include drug prices, which ...

Improving Physician Experience in an Era of Omni-Channel Overload

The advent of digital communication tools was supposed to simplify the life of a ...

Innovators 2016: Companies

PM360’s Innovations Issue, established five years ago, serves as a comprehensive guide to our ...