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Failure to engage: pharma and multichannel

Look at the latest LinkedIn poll from pharma digital guru Len Starnes (ex of Bayer) and you’ll get a very vivid sense of the viewpoints unleashed when the topic of multichannel marketing comes up.

The poll asks the question “Will pharma marketing become de facto multichannel marketing in future?” and despite more than 200 votes and an overwhelming agreement (perhaps skewed by vendors and consultancies answering alongside their industry colleagues) that yes, this will happen “within five years”, the multitude of comments point to a slightly less positive attitude.

Viewpoints expressed range from the downright cynical (the industry doesn’t have the vision, the skills and the trust of its customers) to the matter of fact (it’s happening already, just not very well).

Even Starnes himself – never short of a visionary viewpoint – opts for a ten year horizon over a five on the basis of the “myopic short-term tactical mentality that is so characteristic of many industry marketeers.”

With this debate rumbling on (and long may it continue) and a flyer on my desk telling me that DigiPharm is dedicating its September event to “Innovation and excellence in multichannel marketing” it seems like a good time for me to throw a personal view into the mix.

Firstly, I’m firmly on the side of inevitability when it comes to a multichannel future.

If you’re not already there yourself then you could do worse than read Mckinsey’s excellent Eye of the Storm report to get a perspective on the broader context of patent cliffs, portfolio structures and the prescriber/payer power balance that’s provoking this type of thinking.

It’s also telling that of all the potentially transformative waves I’ve seen wash over the industry in the wake of external consultancies’ research and insight (viz. the more app-oriented side of “pharma 3.0…”), multichannel appears to be generating the most significant focus at a senior management level.

That said, while I’ve noted some advances being made across client organisations in their thinking around this new potential paradigm shift, there are still significant short comings in the way that companies are gearing up to take advantage of it.

It’s not the strategic vision, nor the imperative to grasp multi-channel that seem to be the common point of failure, rather it’s something far more prosaic; it’s simply the blunt approaches to putting theory into practice that are letting the industry (and its customers) down the most.

At the risk of this becoming too much of a rant, there are two key areas that I’m seeing contribute most heavily to this organisational failure to launch:

1. Flawed Understanding of Customer Behaviour and Channel

The mantra of customer-centricity that’s accompanied the move to multichannel is a refreshing change to the internal Pharma-centric, inside-out view of old.

Still, it doesn’t mitigate my main beef, which is the way in which some so called ‘customer centric’ practitioners still remain over-reliant on traditional quantitative techniques and single dimensional data sources as their wellspring of ‘genuine’ customer insight.

Taking a practical example, the most common level of secondary quant data available would tell me that an average European HCP customer is deeply comfortable with digital channels: that they use Pharma Portals, check their emails daily and own an iPad.

Although this can start to help me narrow down which channels are important to investigate further, what’s really needed is an understanding of the wider context and the relationship between behaviour and channels.

To clarify, rather than over-relying on existing quant data, it makes far more sense to employ ethnographic and qualitative research techniques as means of teasing out answers to the properly central questions – for example, what drives HCPs to use each channel? How and when do they switch between these, and what are the external triggers and circumstances that lead them to use one over the other?

Going forwards I think a competitive edge can be gained by organisations that grasp the value of this type of insight and understand how to leverage it to pull away the me-too strategies of others attempting multichannel moves.

2. The Last Mile Customer Experience

Then there’s what BL’s Head of Strategy Duncan Arbour refers to as the ‘last mile’ of multichannel – the actual systems, interfaces and experiences offered to customers as the future of their industry interactions.

The type of detailed insight around channels and behaviours I’ve just sketched out can truly advance multichannel practice, but this ‘last mile’ of the customer journey is also critical and it’s an area where I’ve seen things unravel a number of times in the last few years.

My exposure to Pharma organisations over this time has left me jaded by a culture where brand teams merely execute programmes and campaigns as a box-ticking exercise without any focus much beyond lip service to really delivering a properly exceptional customer experience.

Get with the programme

So, as Len’s poll highlights, MCM (get ready for that acronym to become all pervasive, people…) will continue to grow in importance for Pharma as pressures to transform increase, but the eyes that really need to be cleared of myopia are not those of marketeers but those of the management teams who believe that the future can be seized by the same hands and approaches that have already fumbled much of the digital present.

Pharma needs to move beyond the traditional inside out approach and look to fundamentally embed multichannel as a discipline. This can be done via internal training academies, investing in formal, proprietary qualitative customer consultation and insight programmes, and shifting the focus of customer experience from being just words on PowerPoint slides to a tangible reality. Whether this is wishful thinking or a possible future remains to be seen; in the meantime let us know your thoughts on this and all things multichannel below…

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