Palm trees bend and sway in hurricane-force winds that could topple an oak or crack the trunk of a sturdy pine. There’s a lesson here for biopharma marketers during the planet-wide hurricane that has been COVID-19. Flexibility in the face of uncertainty is essential – especially as we transition to a new world of omnichannel marketing and tech-enabled field representatives. When exploring tech-enabled pharma marketing strategies, the takeaway is self-evident: be the palm tree, not the pine.
Top 5 takeaways
1 Flexibility in the face of uncertainty is essential.
2 The march toward tech-enabled field forces and omnichannel must be nuanced and flexible.
3 Digital content and algorithmically enhanced channels should amplify messaging, not replace it.
4 Heterogeneity and hybrid experiences will be key going forward in Europe.
5 Be the palm tree, not the pine.
As marketing engagement turned virtual in the early days of the pandemic, the rush into remote calling, webinars and other modes of digital outreach seemed to support a broader push toward omnichannel, as conventionally described. In one sense, this was appropriate. A plethora of new tools enable us to look at healthcare professionals (HCPs) holistically, analyse how they interact with digital media, measure each impression and assess preferences with the help of behavioural science.
Table 1: HCP preferences around virtual calling*
*Data extracted from survey conducted by Syneos Health in October 2020. Survey designed to explore HCP attitudes and experiences of promotion channels during the pandemic and beyond. 493 European hospital specialists responded.
Under the banner of non-personal promotion (NPP), representatives can also extend their brands through tailored one-to-one experiences, both face-to-face and virtual. Marketing automation platforms like Salesforce, meanwhile, can help the representative increase a sense of personalisation without an in-person presence.
The trouble is, COVID-19 gave marketers license to pump out untailored, undifferentiated content. Bombarded by noise throughout last summer, European HCPs began to withdraw permission for marketing engagement. Not just digital outreach – any kind at all. This is the rough equivalent of an oak tree crashing on a power line. It’s exactly the outcome omnichannel aims to avoid.
Customising digital alternatives
In Europe, perhaps more so than in the U.S., the march toward tech-enabled field forces and omnichannel-everything must be nuanced and flexible. In the same way that brands in Europe must secure permission to engage with any customer, via any channel, we also must embrace the heterogeneity of our client base. Even at the height of the pandemic, many HCPs still preferred face-to-face over any digital modality. When this is not possible, the onus is on the marketer to customise digital alternatives for each engagement based on known preferences of the content recipient.
Market research by Syneos Health® strongly supports this approach. Last October, we surveyed European HCPs on their preferences toward promotion channels during the pandemic and beyond. Of nearly 500 respondents, fully half said they prefer face-to-face calls when possible. But, in almost equal numbers (42%), they approved of the flexibility around virtual calls with regards to time availability. On the minus side, just 16% said they were utilising more web-based materials. Do virtual calls get straight to the point? Again, only 16% said “yes.”
“In the same way that brands in Europe must secure permission to engage with any customer, via any channel, we also must embrace the heterogeneity of our client base”
Digital content and algorithmically enhanced channels are useful when they amplify well-designed, calibrated messages. They cannot serve as a replacement. Missing this point, you may find yourself in the awkward position of inviting an HCP to join your Zoom meeting, not realising the state-run health system prevents her from downloading the app. Or…you have gone to the trouble of optimising your digital service for Google Chrome, unaware the local health system bans the use of this browser.
Now that COVID-19 vaccines are available, everyone is looking to regain some footing in a radically altered environment for biopharmaceutical marketing. However that continues to play, Syneos Health believes that the future will not pave over the past. Heterogeneity and hybrid experiences will be the game in Europe. Even in a calmer climate, we will sing the praises of the graceful palm.