In this three-part series on digital campaign planning, I explore some keys to help you plan a successful pharma or healthcare campaign that supports your brand strategy and integrates digital with traditional marketing channels.

The first part, “Set Digital Goals”, looked at the role of digital channels in achieving outcomes you can measure against your brand strategy. This second article explains how to know your digital customer so that you can engage them effectively.

Who is your digital customer?

In today’s digital era, knowing your customer means knowing how they behave online. And because digital is so measurable, it is possible to gain deep insights about customer behaviour, and to track the changes you want to make to this, in a digital setting (as long as you keep a few principles in mind – see Paul Grant’s latest article about cookies and EU law for a more in-depth discussion about tracking behaviour).

You might start by asking yourself some simple questions about the digital behaviour of stakeholders or customers who you want to engage, such as:

Why do they go online? What, for example, do they search for?

What do they share with others online? In social media, what do they talk about, what kinds of comments or opinions do they share?

Your existing investment in digital is likely to be rich in data about user journeys, search behaviour, and customer needs

You can learn the answers to these questions using various tools to carry out observational studies on digital behaviour. You can also learn from your existing digital engagement activities, and this is often the best place to start.

Your existing investment in digital is likely to be rich in data about user journeys, search behaviour, and customer needs – those needs that remain unmet as well as those that have been satisfied.

Sources of data about your digital customers

Many diverse tools and techniques may be applied to studying digital behaviour. At Creation Healthcare we broadly classify two approaches: passive listening, or observational research; and active listening, where digital users are actively engaged.

Before starting your research into customer activity, it’s a good idea to make sure you’re familiar with current industry reports on the digital environment and especially any research relating to your disease area, regions of interest, or relevant stakeholder groups.

Search behaviour analysis

A good place to start is by analysing search behaviour using tools provided by major search engines and search advertising platforms including Google. Understanding the kinds of words that are typically associated with particular themes in search will help inform your search marketing tactics; customer targeting; digital customer journeys and will also inform your further digital research.

Studying how people search on your existing digital content is also a good way to identify user needs and the language they use.

Beyond Google, advanced search keyword planning tools will provide deeper insights into customer journeys and competitor behaviour.

Social media monitoring

Passive listening techniques also include social media monitoring, where conversations, content and engagement around particular themes, topics and keywords are monitored. A range of free and commercial tools may be employed to support this research activity (for a glimpse of how much you could learn simply by using free tools, see Georgiana Murariu’s latest report, ‘Free tools you can use to study healthcare customers online’). Social media monitoring tools help by collating social media content that may be relevant to a theme, identifying trends, attitudes and related activities.

Two words of warning about social media monitoring tools: in our experience, no single social media monitoring tool will provide a comprehensive view. Typically we would use a range of tools – both commercially licensed and free to use tools – to develop a clear picture of the digital environment.

Secondly, social media monitoring tools are only tools – intelligent human analysis of the data they produce is essential. Automated ‘sentiment’ analysis reports, for example, can be misleading without some interpretation.

That said, automated listening tools are essential for processing large volumes of data to identify areas of interest for further investigation.

Analysing closed networks

While automated social media monitoring tools can provide insights into publicly-accessible parts of social media networks, blogs, and discussion forums, a wealth of additional insights exist inside closed networks that are beyond the reach of most tools.

Closed networks include some specialist social networks for healthcare professionals, as well as some patient or therapy area groups. The closed nature of these networks provides a more intimate, trusted and safe environment for dialogue to take place between like-minded people, so while the content might provide highly-targeted insights for marketing planners, the terms of the networks mean that it will simply not be possible to carry out analysis as easily as with open public networks.

Some network owners will provide access to their data to varying degrees, or will provide their own commercial analysis of conversations. In our experience at Creation Healthcare. the data that can be extracted is often limited but can provide a useful basis for further research.

Where possible, an active listening approach (see below) may provide useful further insights in some closed networks, subject to their conditions of use.

Active listening

Active listening is a term we use at Creation Healthcare to classify direct engagement of digital users, customer or stakeholders. This may take place in discussion forums, social media channels, or in closed networks; using a range of techniques including direct dialogue, comments, surveys or questionnaires.

Active listening requires a sensitive, ethical and highly controlled approach, especially in a regulated environment. In the interest of long term trust, openness about research taking place is essential, even where this limits the level of engagement that can take place. But the activity can be highly effective – qualitative, personal insights can add significant context to your digital customer insights.

Bench testing

Bench testing is where you test customer journeys and perspectives that you have identified in the research steps above. It provides a deeper understanding of your customer’s online environment, and the competitive landscape in which they engage.

Bench testing tests theories about user activity and observes the digital environment from the customer’s perspective. It asks, for example, what do customers find when they carry out the search activity you have identified? Bench testing may reveal surprising competitors, in the form of anything else that attracts the customer’s attention or engagement. Online, that could come from anywhere.

Translating data into insights

Your search analysis, passive and active listening, and bench testing activities will provide you with a wealth of data. But all your research will mean nothing unless you can apply it to understanding your customer and what this tells you about their habits and needs.

Having collected the data that exists about your customer, you will need to translate that into meaningful insights to plan your campaign, interpreting what you have discovered in the context of what you already know about your product, therapy area, and market environment.

Assuming you have started with setting digital goals (for a guide to doing this, see part 1 in this series), you should be able to identify behaviours that you can plan for. Understanding current behaviour will allow you to plan for behaviour changes, and to align these with the digital goals you have set. This is an essential step that will ultimately lead you to indicators of business outcomes.

You should also look for patterns in the data you have collected through your research. Add your existing knowledge about the environment, to put insights into context. In a Europe-wide digital behaviour study that Creation Healthcare carried out in one therapy area, for example, our research team members based in individual countries applied a local market and cultural perspective to data. This ensured that relevant channels and messages were used in a major regional campaign, with an understanding of individual market needs.

Putting it all together

By now, you will have set digital goals, and you will know your customer and their digital behaviour better. You are well equipped for the final step, selecting the right channels for your campaign. I’ll cover this next month in the third part of this series.

Meanwhile, if you would like to speak to a digital campaign planning advisor, Creation Healthcare has experts who know your market. Why not get in touch now for a confidential discussion about how Creation Healthcare could support your pharma campaign planning?