The hundreds of pharma marketers at the 4th Annual Digital Pharma West conference were no doubt eager to learn about the latest trends such as mobile marketing and wearable devices. But they also learned a great deal about one of the original tactics in the digital marketing playbook—email marketing—from a presentation by an authority on the subject: Dev Dutta, Director of Multi-channel Marketing, Global Human Health at Merck.

For product managers and other pharmaceutical company marketing staff, Dutta made an excellent case to devote more attention to the email channel. He emphasized its importance as a strategic platform to quickly achieve important, measurable product marketing objectives.

Three main reasons why email is so important:

1. Reach—Email reaches over 70% of healthcare professionals (HCPs) and drives 80% of online traffic.

2. Segmentation to the point of personalization—unlike traditional non-personal promotion (NPP), email allows marketers to deliver the right message to the right person at the right time based on individualized creative briefs. This mass customization is based on permission, obtained by offering valuable content. Permission allows marketers to collect information to refine personalization to deliver ever more relevant content that engenders trust and loyalty, and ultimately drives sales.

3. Cost-effective scalability—email can be implemented at a very affordable cost, creating a low threshold for positive return on investment (ROI).

Other benefits of email, according to Dutta, include immediate and measureable response and ease of integration with other channels. Merck uses email globally to drive traffic to portals and websites, acquire and retain customers, and reinforce brands.

Rather than repurposing sales aids or print ads, Dutta emphasized the importance of crafting campaigns specifically for the email medium. He defines email marketing as using the medium to deliver relevant and valuable communications to an interested audience in a timely fashion to establish a relationship involving regular, ongoing dialogue.

The customer journey is a virtuous cycle, Dutta says, with email as the vehicle. The journey begins with brand awareness generated by acquisition email. Valuable content is offered in return for permission and information about customer preferences. This information is used to enable one-to-one marketing. Welcome campaigns and ongoing engagement email nurture and strengthen the relationship. Any customers who become inactive are targeted with reactivation campaigns to elicit re-engagement.

Dutta cites five key elements which must fit together to optimize email performance: process, tools (including templates), data and content, with strategy at the center.

Zoe Dunn, Principal at Hale Advisors ( and Co-Chair of Digital Pharma West, commended Dutta on his presentation, stating that she believes email is one of the most underused tactics by pharma marketers, and thanks Dutta for eloquently outlining its potential.

Pharmaceutical companies that adopt this strategic approach to email reap benefits of paramount importance to pharma marketers: Trust, loyalty, and ultimately increased top line and bottom line results. Therefore, it makes sense to devote some of your valuable time to learn how to use email to its best advantage. There are many educational resources at your disposal—including email service providers eager to share their expertise.

  • Terry Nugent

    Terry Nugent (@tjpnugent) is Executive Vice President of Sales and Marketing at MMS, Inc. (, a leading provider of HCP email marketing services. He has over a decade of experience in email marketing to healthcare professionals.


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