The new rules of pharmaceutical engagement

By Paul Grant

Some marketing is sporadic and disjointed, with one activity seemingly completely disconnected from another – so much so, that for an interconnected world there is confusion about what the message and value proposition actually is. The ‘net’ effect (pun intended), is noise.

Then there are those organisations that, like a symphony orchestra in concert, have every marketing channel and consumer touch-point working together in harmony. Each piece plays a small, but vital, part in the whole experience. Just like an orchestra, each pharmaceutical brand is only as good as the weakest communication channel and the last interaction. Each interaction between the brand and the consumer (or professional, or media) either builds or removes satisfaction. Likewise, if one channel is to be improved, all channels need to be simultaneously improved for the orchestra to continue working in concert.

In the past, each communications channel had a unique strategy and budget for promoting awareness of the brand. Television had a strategy, in-pharmacy advertising had a strategy, billboards and public facing messages had a strategy, the interface with professionals and doctors had a strategy, and so on.

Yet over the past ten years, a slow realisation has dawned throughout the industry that it is increasingly important to intercept responses to broadcast media by ‘bolting on’ an accompanying website. Given that Internet users spend more time online than watching television, it seems that in these ‘bolt-on’ cases the cart is leading the horse.

The simple fact is, we now live in a digital world, and we are all participating in an information media revolution. Any communication initiative needs to start with ‘digital’ at its core, followed by any ancillary offline or supporting broadcast channels.

It is easy for a pharmaceutical company to think that they have a campaign that is not digital. Perhaps if there was an idea for some product placement in a movie script, for example. But that would be a mistake.

All campaigns are digital

Whether the prompt is an advertisement in a cinema, a page in a magazine, or a billboard by the roadside, people will be talking about that campaign – online.

So the new rules of engagement involve providing initial stimulus, followed by understanding and participating in the conversations that result online. This mew model for interaction is not without challenges.

One great challenge for marketers and communications teams is actually keeping the message consistent across all mediums and channels.

Another challenge is that the modern consumer has access to all the world’s information and entertainment. They are no longer ‘fed’ content, as in the broadcast model of old. They increasingly choose how and when they would like to consume information. Because they can be so ‘choosy’, they also need brands to show that they know and understand their needs and buying emotions.

John McKean, in “the Human Touch” proposes an acronym which is easy to remember. It can be thought of as the ART of understanding buying emotion;

  1. Acknowledgement
    • You know who I am
    • You know my relationship to the company
    • I am valuable
  2. Respect
    • You respect my decisions and way of interacting
    • You will take time to listen to me
  3. Trust
    • You are trustworthy
    • You will protect my information
    • You will do what you say you are going to do

This acronym applies as much to a pharmaceutical company which is not selling direct to consumers, as to health-care or well-being companies that are completely public-facing. Everything that a brand says or does will ultimately affect the greater perception of the company. Common sense says that the public ‘feels good’ during interactions with your brand when you:

  • Are accessible
  • Respond promptly
  • Keep your promises
  • Are transparent and consistent
  • Remember they are humans

In an age of analytics and consumer tracking, we are able to continuously monitor the pulse and emotion of the people that interact with our brand. Brands that are embracing data-driven analytics are able to make informed strategic decisions that are not about “We think…”, but “We know…” In this new paradigm, we cannot think of people as statistics or ‘number’s, but we can extract great intelligence which drives the direction of the business as a whole.

“Our management team is passionate about competing on analytics”
Michael B. Polk, President, Unilever US Inc.

The whole marketing and communications industry, across all sectors, is developing and responding to this changing technological and communication landscape. It is a fairly level playing field, and pharmaceutical companies are poised to grow into a positive and loyal relationship with interested people online. It simply takes small and manageable initiatives that are informed by an overarching company-wide engagement strategy.

An engagement strategy is so much more than a ‘marketing plan’, ‘sales plan’, ‘communications plan’ or any other operational departmental plan. It is nothing less than the very strategic core of the brand – how we will engage with people, and with what channels, and when. The new rules of engagement put ‘people’ and ‘interaction’ at the heart of the business strategy.

In the new rules of engagement, everything is measurable. Therefore marketing activities can now be held accountable to the budgets that they are assigned. As one of the greatest cost centres in an organisation, marketing and communications have for many years occupied ambiguous ground where results are not necessarily directly proportionate to organisational performance. The days of ‘grey area’ have passed, and it is now possible to very concisely assess the effectiveness of any marketing activity, even where it doesn’t necessarily tie to bottom line revenue.

In implementing these new rules of engagement, a good starting point is to identify what you know, and what you do not know. From this, you can commission appropriate research to better understand the people that are interacting with your brand, so that you can listen and learn about how to best engage with them.

Why not freeze that big campaign budget that was destined to disappear into unmeasurable territory, and then consider how that same budget could be strategically applied to deliver increased interaction between the brand and the people, with digital communication at the core.

Making the transformation in a digital and interconnected age need not be difficult, and to find out how to apply the new rules of engagement in your company, you can simply contact one of our consultants now.

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Meet the Author

Paul Grant