A true omnichannel approach in pharma: Replicating retail

A true omnichannel approach in pharma: Replicating retail

What can pharma learn from retail when it comes to delivering a true omnichannel approach?

What a year or so we’ve all had since the Covid-19 pandemic hit us. From a pharma marketing and sales perspective, it’s clear that as we adjust to the new normal, start to reflect on our recent experiences, and look to what the future environment holds for us, digital has finally come of age. However what channel is that – digital alone? Multichannel? Or dare I even say, omnichannel?! Are the latter ones the same thing?

Definition wise, of the two terms multichannel is both the simpler and the older concept. A multichannel, read many channel, strategy really distils down to there being multiple ways that a healthcare professional (HCP) can contact and interact with a brand. A multichannel strategy gives customers the opportunity to choose how they approach your brand. Omnichannel is both newer and more complex. Omnichannel is aligned in concept to the notions of omnipotence and omnipresence, which should translate to seamless, integrated, and consistent customer experiences. However, breaking the words down still doesn’t provide us with a clear definition. Does that then mean that omnichannel is really just multichannel with a sprinkling of added grandeur thrown in? If only it was that simple. The main differences are that multichannel revolves around your brand and involves many channels for customers to be engaged, whilst omnichannel should involve all available channels and revolves around your customer, allowing customers to drift in a space entirely encompassed by your brand – easy right?!

Replicating retail
Some of the world’s biggest corporations like Google, Amazon, and Apple, as well as many others in more consumer led sectors, have already paved the way for the omnichannel experience and succeeded in putting customers at the centre of their omnichannel universe. Those organisations have made customer centricity and personalisation the norm, and it’s important to remember that our HCPs and payors are also customers. However, I’d suggest that, as ever, pharma in general is a slower adopter of this approach, mainly due to the regulatory environment we operate in and the challenges that can bring. So why would pharma want to evolve and operate in an omnichannel manner? Well, the more personalised content and touchpoints that a brand can create, the more engagement, long term brand loyalty and ultimately appropriate prescribing, which will drive the sales line upward. To truly deliver an omnichannel approach, you’ll need to gain a granular understanding of the journeys that your customers are likely to take across every touchpoint they can have with you and your brand. That will involve mapping the journey, understanding the variety of motivations and feelings that your customers have at each touchpoint.

“To truly deliver an omnichannel approach, you’ll need to gain a granular understanding of the journeys that your customers are likely to take across every touchpoint”

Omnichannel brings with it a host of challenges in implementation – you can have amazing campaigns that reach across a variety of platforms and devices, impressive email automation campaigns, engaging social media campaigns, a well-designed website, sale representatives armed with an array of online and offline materials, but if they don’t all work harmoniously and seamlessly together, they’re not delivering omnichannel. Do you have the CRM system and processes to deliver omnichannel? Is your cross-functional brand team, including key Access and Medical functions, aligned to delivering the omnichannel approach? And where does the sales team fit in now? No doubt to the relief of sales representatives, the more collaborative, problem-solving, relationship building roles in a face-to-face scenario still can’t be automated. Surely the future of the sales representative is as a sophisticated channel, working harmoniously alongside the mix of other traditional and ever evolving new channels, an omnichannel KAM, if you will, calling in the usage of key brand assets at the right point in the customer journey to ensure delivery of the omnichannel strategy?

So really, we should all be heading towards customer journeys and omnichannel right? Surely it’s a no brainer with the engagement omnichannel generates via the freedom and seamlessness it allows our customers. Well, I guess it comes down to the age-old issues of budget and time. The trend to digital has definitely accelerated in the last year, driven by the lack of physical access to our customers due to the pandemic, and the fact that digital marketing and remote communication were amongst the critical channels that were not crippled by Covid. Delivering true omnichannel requires a lot
of time and money to obtain, and expertise in execution, alongside a real shift in
outlook in terms of KPIs and measurement.

I think it’s clear that digital is now just a channel rather than being the next big thing, and that a multichannel approach is generally accepted and implemented in the majority of UK pharma brand plans. However, are we delivering true omnichannel? Generally speaking, probably not quite yet, when we look across at the achievements of the more consumer industries. It is clear, though, that the Covid-19 digital acceleration is not temporary but a real evolution in how we all do business and is taking us further toward omnichannel at a decent pace. So, on a day-to-day basis in marketing, we aim for a holistic understanding of our customers, embracing the ‘create once, publish everywhere’ mantra across a variety of channels and platforms with what we hope is ever engaging content. We do this to deliver a seamless customer experience in order to drive engagement and good old fashioned brand market share increases, so it does feel like we’re heading for a destination somewhere between a media company with service industry skills.

Craig Bradley is Head of Marketing, Diabetes & Internal Medicine, Takeda UK Limited. Go to www.takeda.com/en-gb