Marketers today have an abundance of channels available to them to reach their audience, but they don’t have an unlimited budget. That means they need to make sure they are picking the right channels and using the right mix in order to make the most impact. To help marketers make the right decisions, PM360 asked 12 experts in this space:
- As the number of channels that a marketer can use to reach their target audience only continues to grow (print, social, video, apps, websites, etc.), how do marketers determine what is the optimal mix of channels for their brand and target audience?
- What can marketers do to ensure they are utilizing their budget appropriately over their chosen channel mix to maximize their investment and get the most out of each channel? Which channel is worth the biggest investment? Which channel is only worth a small portion of your media spend?
- How can marketers test new channels to best evaluate if they will be effective for their brand? In your view, what, if any, newer channels (chatbots, voice, VR, etc.) hold the greatest opportunity for marketers?
- What can marketers do to ensure that their audience has a seamless experience over all of the channels used in the campaign? Furthermore, how can marketers optimize the experience for each customer?
- What metrics or measurements should marketers be using to evaluate the success of each channel? How quickly should marketers make adjustments to their channel mix if they see little success?
Marketers have been dealing with the fragmentation of media channels since cable arrived on the scene—and it’s only expanded from there. The best approach to determining what channels to invest in: Measure prior performance. And even new channels without historical data are learning opportunities. If you determine you can reach your audience in a new channel, then put a measurement plan in place to “test and learn.”
The interesting thing about measuring your media mix: It’s typically made up of elements that serve different purposes. This makes it hard to measure against other elements, when you are not trying to achieve the same thing with each element, but rather complement each other. You must be prepared to make investment decisions, even when you’re not sure which goal may be more important to your brand.
Metrics to Measure Success
A broad range of metrics is available for measuring the success of a campaign—the trick is determining the ones that matter to your business. We often employ a combination of cost metrics and a metric associated with the primary marketing goal—whether it’s awareness or engagements or conversions or otherwise. Because we are able to collect data relatively quickly, we can typically make optimizations within a quarter—provided the volume is there.
If you are seeing high volumes against your marketing goals, but the costs are out-of-line against lower-performing channels, what would your choice be? If you’re seeing great conversions, and low costs, but minimal volume, is it worth it? There is no shortage of metrics but there is often a wide range of opinions about what to measure back to. Objectives should not be retro-fitted, and if you are aligned upfront across the various stakeholders (brand, digital, business analytics, media agency, etc.), then the optimization decisions become easy.
Building compelling stories and personal connections requires empathy for your audiences. Map out how they engage with media over the course of a day. Identify the information they want and the information they need to create a meaningful change. Understand how they feel as they are seeking this information, when they tend to look for it, in what form they like to receive it, and where they go to get it. Your channel mix should mirror the audience preferences you have identified, so your interactions are not forced or irrelevant.
Natural channel pairings for progressive storytelling complement this human-centric engagement strategy. Next, learn by doing and by measuring. Set your measurement strategy early. Clearly define your indicators of success. Choose appropriate attribution models. Establishing control groups will enable you to evaluate the impact, calculate the ROI by audience segment and channel, and optimize your ongoing and future campaigns.
New Channels to Add to Your Mix
Virtual assistants will increasingly be integrated into our lives, whether through text-based chat, phone- or speaker-based voice, or other interfaces as Internet of Things and 5G enable them to truly be ubiquitous. Successfully leveraging virtual assistants demands a sensitivity to the customer experience in use cases that may not support traditional one-way communication of brand messages. Resist letting powerful models of human behavior from deep data disconnect you from a deep understanding of human motivations.
In any case, for all emerging channels, it is essential to establish an innovation budget for your organization. Innovation should not compete for funding with established channels. Set the expectation that all marketers should experiment. Cultivate an innovation culture in your organization, and define KPIs for experimentation: Did the experiment generate new customer insights? Did it result in new internal capabilities? Did it yield benchmarks for future efforts?
The first step: Set key performance indicators (KPIs) such as awareness, engagement, and NRx lift. Let analysis of the data gathered from internal sources (details, samples, etc.), digital providers, and syndicated data guide your marketing mix decisions. With so many variables, it’s important to take a multi-disciplinary approach to analytics. Advanced analytics such as machine learning and AI, inferential statistics, data mining, and more can be used to quantitatively determine how changes in channel mix activities may impact performance. Marketers can then optimize their channel mix based on the model’s coefficients—along with a healthy dose of pragmatic judgment based on their own expertise.
A transparent view into campaign performance is also important, with the ability to measure KPIs in aggregate, by channel, and by subsegment to understand the impact and identify areas of campaign optimization. Markets are dynamic, and any approach to campaign design should be flexible enough to accommodate changes based on these insights.
A Seamless Experience Across Channels
The proliferation of digital engagement programs makes it possible to analyze how each HCP interacts with content. An even deeper understanding of the individual can be derived—and applied to a campaign—through Advanced Analytics of data, in the form of personas. The development and application of personas based on HCPs’ format, topic, channel, and delivery preferences will yield superior experiences, increased engagement, and improved Rx lift and ROI.
Beyond that, marketers should look for partners who can provide that seamless customer experience across a range of digital channels that are intrinsically integrated. This ensures continuity of experience and a complete understanding of how a program is performing across different channels. Again, transparency is key—marketers should choose tactics that offer real-time insight into campaign performance, with the ability to dynamically monitor and adjust promotional activities accordingly.
- Define your customer persona: Identify demographics, psychographics (interests, beliefs, needs, wants), and behaviors to create a customer persona or ideal representation of your customer. Too often, marketers stop at this step and it can lead to improper targeting—too narrow or too broad—which results in sending the wrong content to the wrong customer.
- Segment your customer by common characteristics that you have identified in step one to better identify the unmet need of each segment and provide a relevant solution (right content to the right customer segment).
- Map your customer persona journey—to understand how your customer interacts with your brand online and offline. Look at all the touchpoints the customer makes to engage with your brand. These customer touchpoints represent the marketing channels you should be including in your campaign.
- Understand the bigger picture—online and offline customer ecosystem—to learn what other platforms and channels your customer uses to fulfil their needs and wants, and how your campaign fits within. This step tends to be overlooked because after marketers identified the touchpoints and channels, they think the job is done. However, understanding a customer’s ecosystem will help you think beyond “selling your product” and delivering value.
- Deliver the seamless experience: Use the identified channel mix to provide your consistent brand/product message (tailored to each channel) and drive customer through the desired outcomes (e.g., awareness, engagement, conversion). Why seamless experience? Because it fosters better brand/product recognition than single ads. With better recognition, comes customer advocacy and loyalty, and that’s success.
As pharma marketers are forced to do more with less, three areas of optimization are most critical: 1) Optimization of scarce commercial resources across an organization’s portfolio and regions; 2) individual brands need to optimize budgets across channels; 3) spend on any channel needs to be optimized across customers.
How to Do More with Less
AI and machine learning (ML) can now provide the scalability and repeatability in omnichannel marketing optimization—with the ability to run hundreds of simultaneous complex regression models and algorithms to determine the best model. However, to get it right, you need to combine knowledge of industry data sources, advanced analytics expertise, and AI/ML-powered technology.
Selecting the Right Tool
The best marketers and analytics teams fail because their platforms are too complex, inefficient, or not able to arrive at the best channel mix. When evaluating tools to ensure technology has the ability to determine the optimal mix of channels, use the following criteria:
- User friendly (no data science/business analytics experience required)
- Highly customizable to meet your brand’s unique needs
- No “Black Box” of the data
- Ability to runs millions of models in a parallel environment to find the best model
- Platform validated via thousands of models and iterations across hundreds of brands, therapeutic categories, and countries/regions
- Benchmarks and norms for ROI across therapeutic categories
Expect Significant Results
Based on our own research study—validated through thousands of models and iterations across more than 100 brands—when done correctly, you can expect to see:
- Up to 20% gain in incremental sales
- Up to 30% improvement in cost efficiency
- >50% gain in productivity (cut time in half for optimizations)
Using the right tool, you’ll know the optimal channel mix and budget every time.
Contrary to popular belief, there’s really no such thing as the “perfect” channel mix. Today’s audiences consume content, not platforms, and a brand’s success depends largely on its ability to meet its consumers alongside the content they’re already consuming, at every point throughout the funnel. While marketers should constantly be evaluating the efficacy of different channels in combination with one another, it’s the ability to unify their audience across those channels that can make or break a campaign.
Focusing on Content Not Channels
One way to achieve that is to use data to build accurate, HIPAA-compliant segments focused on your business goals. From there you can create relevant, custom content that ensures the right message is delivered to the right consumer, at the right time, on the right platform. Additionally, machine-learning techniques can help optimize these audience segments to do more of what works, creating a virtuous cycle that constantly improves campaign outcomes and generates higher return on investment. And the intelligence gathered during campaign execution and optimization can further help as you continue to evolve that elusive channel mix.
Digital media consumption is happening everywhere, and while there’s more content in the market today than ever before, a new scarcity has emerged—a scarcity of great content. Consumers are bouncing around from Instagram to YouTube to Facebook to find it—and that’s how brands should be buying, too.
Mobile is the most personal form of brand engagement, which is why consumers flock to it. Savvy brands know this and use it to elevate traditional advertising into a two-way, meaningful conversation. It also enables cross-device outreach and conversion attribution in a much more accurate and scalable way. This is why a marketer should not limit the number of channels, but rather leverage the power that mobile has to identify the core motivations of each person, build a relationship with them using the hyper-relevant opportunities that it creates and then extend outreach to the channels that fit the conversation as the consumer chooses to have it.
Talk With—Don’t Target—Consumers
Targeting is done. We are in the age of personalization. This means that savvy marketers have new capabilities to precisely customize the audiences that a brand reaches out to, as well as the message content and delivery channels used. Consumers hate advertising, but they love offers. They hate being targeted, but they love warm, relevant outreach. In this way, channels need to be personal to the consumer and facilitate conversations rather than simply sending single-direction messages. Modern consumers don’t just expect this, they demand it. If marketers take this “conversation first” approach to evaluating channels, they would see that most spend should be flipped on its head. They would also see that calculating ROI is much more effective, as channels such as mobile offer far better capabilities for driving conversion metrics at scale.
We’ve been taught that the way to isolate the relative impact of one channel versus others is by testing the channels while keeping all else equal. So, if we test the same piece of creative across different channels, it’ll perform well in some channels and not others. However, that’s not because those channels work better. It’s because that specific creative works better on that channel.
We’ve found, through extensive testing of Healthline’s content, that different channels appeal to people with different mindsets. A person with RA looking at family photos on Facebook is in a different mindset than the same individual searching for treatments on Google, watching the news, or surfing recipes. The person has RA but their engagement and intent levels on the channels will be different. Content that works in one channel won’t work well in another channel, even if that other channel is effective in reaching and converting your target and should make it into your mix.
Adopt Mindset Marketing
Mindset marketing gives us a different way to think about optimizing channel mix. Mindset marketing means being in the right channel at the right time with the right content.
To get to an optimal channel mix, marketers first need to understand their audience from the point of view of their different mindsets. Insights from qualitative research and segmentation studies can be applied to audience mindset mapping to create a strawman media plan for testing. When testing, it’s important to customize the brand’s message for each channel in a way that satisfies the consumer’s mindset at that interaction. That’s the only way to really understand if and how the channels are pulling your audience in. Once you have your campaigns running across channels, you can start to optimize for audience reach, quality, and ROI.
The rise of advanced, data-driven platforms and nearly endless opportunities to contextually, behaviorally, or programmatically reach any audience, any time has fundamentally changed the dynamics of media planning. With so many options for custom targeting, channels can no longer be differentiated solely on their ability to reach a niche audience regularly and efficiently. Equally important are:
- Measuring performance vs. a defined goal based on tangible brand value, with fluid campaigns optimized in real time to achieve and surpass them.
- Understanding the information-seeking journey of the audience, giving context to not only which channels they use, but how and when they use them.
- Evaluating and fully leveraging the ad formats supported by each channel and their ability to effectively deliver the brand message and elicit the desired response.
- Applying learnings across channels for continuity, such as using keyword-level insights from SEM to inform contextual display placements, and organic social engagement to inform SEM ad copy.
- Monitoring real-time social signals and first-party data to keep abreast of trends and shifts in the market, informing optimization.
Balance is Required in Channel Planning
Successful multichannel planning must balance rigorous data-driven reach, response, and conversion science with the human insights that bring audience personae to life. Each brand’s message is unique—some strive to seize attention, others look to stir emotion; some seek to educate, others to communicate or transact. For example, native ads and email can effectively deliver deep educational messaging, while video can grab attention and evoke powerful feelings that help a message resonate.
Planning must consider both sides of the equation to win, beginning with a thoroughly vetted short list of channels that will deliver the message in the most resonant way before finally modeling reach, composition, frequency, cost, and business impact to right-size investment allocations for maximum returns.
Within the highly regulated bounds of pharma marketing, it can be easy to forget that our audiences are also non-pharma consumers who spend a significant amount of time engaging with a variety of media. Pharma brands must contend for audience attention not only with competitor brands, but also with omnipresent non-pharma content.
As such, pharma marketing has become an exercise in relevance and immediacy. We can control the how—the messages and context of our campaigns—but not the when, making it critical to cast the net broadly across a mix of channels.
Choosing the Right Mix of Channels
Start by considering how customers are consuming information. Institutional research into channels favored by different specialties is critical, but we must also consider typical age demographics and general trends in media consumption. Our own experiences are invaluable as well. What media do we view on a daily basis? How likely are we to engage with advertising and why? What makes us move from passive to active consumers?
Then design campaigns in such a way that you are constantly moving customers along your defined journey, not backtracking to older pieces. Take full advantage of each platform’s strengths—a short one- to two-minute video with a single message can be much more impactful than a 30-minute presentation of an entire platform—and create meaningful content accordingly.
Recognizing your audience first and foremost as everyday consumers helps to identify the media mix that will reach and move them from passive watchers to active participants.
First, let’s all be honest with each other. Too often, brand teams (marketers and agencies) are lacking solid versions of the foundational tools that help us understand the current customer experience (CX). We definitely can’t improve it or make it seamless without spending time in our customer’s shoes, documenting it, and making some sense of it. Good CX has a roadmap. Great CX abandons any assumptions we have about the customer experience and relies on being continually connected to what today’s audiences want from their experience.
Second, let’s be disciplined. Marketers and agencies must architect experiences that honestly deliver on customer expectations versus forcing brands upon them. Edelman’s Trust Barometer showed pharma having a 13-point drop from 51% to 38% in the U.S. It was the biggest drop in the five years since sentiment has been tracked. We know we have an uphill climb to build trust with customers, much less an experience. Let’s all do better and stop advancing a false brand agenda.
Third, let’s all appreciate the potential. Forrester data confirms that superior CX drives superior revenue growth. Not surprising news? Pharma is considered a laggard in this space, according to Gartner’s L2 Digital IQ Index.
Let’s not wallow in this. Let’s talk about channels in a different way. Let’s make sure we’re using the human channel. Spend time with customers. Have an intimate understanding of their experience. Spend time with the colleagues who spend more time with customers than you do. Question your perspective. Challenge your colleagues when you sit down to design meaningful experiences. Let’s get to work.
- Audience behavior: Which channels do your target audience use for different purposes? This requires research. The most effective research is primary research to move beyond one-size-fits-all insights found in syndicated research.
- Brand goals: What’s your objective (awareness, education, leads, and customer support)? Different channels align to different purposes. For instance, display media is an effective channel for awareness raising, while rep-triggered emails and webinars are effective for education and lead generation.
- Rep-access dynamics: If you are targeting access-constrained HCPs, non-personal channels take on greater importance. If you have good access, but limited frequency, then channels extending the rep should be considered. Partner with the sales force or MSLs to understand the specific dynamics that will affect your business so you know how to use multichannel to complete face-to-face selling.
- Internal readiness: What channels are you prepared to support? What’s your budget? If infrastructure is immature, look at turnkey paid media versus owned media. Small budgets require narrowing your focus to a limited set of channels.
- Engagement data: In the case of paid media, consider which properties demonstrate they can reach the specific audience you seek. A simple but overlooked step is to map your target customer list to registered users with meaningful activity in the past 30 days.
By considering and balancing all of these factors, you will arrive at an intelligent mix suited to your unique situation. To maximize results, develop a formal customer engagement strategy to define not only the channel mix, but also specify a clear content strategy and measurement approach. This ensures the experience you define will move target customers toward desired behavioral outcomes, through a cohesive cross-channel experience.