What does multichannel marketing mean in reality?

How do we develop a multichannel go-to-market plan and move from marketing speak to effective marketing deployment?

Multichannel marketing in the pharmaceutical commercial mix is now well established, with no self-respecting marketer daring to deny that it’s the most effective way to communicate the key elements of a product’s efficacy for a patient.

However, what it means in reality will alter from therapy area to therapy area and from market to market, as the blend of channels will need to be adjusted depending on the dynamics of the environment into which the drug is launched.

It would be easy if we had a magic formula we could deploy, inputting elements from each of the channels we have in the marketing arsenal and from which a wonderful, optimum result would emanate.

But the marketing world is not that simple and utopia is a far-off land. How do we develop a multichannel marketing strategy that doesn’t just tick boxes, but translates to successful marketing deployment?

Are you prepared?

Let’s first take a step back and ask whether the organisation is prepared in terms of its commercial organisation. Does it have key platforms in place to move to a full multichannel position? Full multichannel approaches combine an internal cultural readiness and skillset with a number of technology platforms that can be orchestrated to best effect.

An organisation may not have ‘every’ piece of the jigsaw in position when it embarks on multichannel marketing, but it should have a clear roadmap and an understanding of where it is now and the route it is taking. The multichannel strategy and approach is resilient enough and capable of growing in its sophistication over time. New elements or market capabilities can be added as skills develop, technology platforms are acquired and introduced or indeed the marketing adapts, as was the case with the growth of social media and new mechanisms for information sharing. Multichannel will not look the same in 10 years as it does now.

Market insight

The multichannel approach is a distillation of many functions: medical affairs, regulatory, sales (including medical science liason (MSL) representation) market access and legal, to mention a few. Meanwhile, the thirst for information from the medical community has never been greater.

The healthcare professional (HCP) is also constantly challenged to keep abreast of the changing treatment landscape, with the need to strive to ensure they meet the needs of the patient in the most effective way while also ensuring the best value for money from existing and new treatment approaches. HCPs are challenged daily by digitally-empowered patients who seek information online and present it to physicians for consideration for inclusion in the treatment journey.

While this adds complexity to the multichannel approach, at the same time it provides opportunity. Key to it is understanding where physicians look for information; how long they spend in specific channels and how much influence that channel has on their perspective. This insight into the market is essential as a starting point in the multichannel marketing approach, pointing the way to the ‘prime’ channels and those used most often, and signing less influential channels for the market in question.

Channel preferences and their influence levels will differ from a sophisticated Westernised market such as the EU, to a less developed market area such as parts of South America. Indeed differences also occur between disease areas.

This understanding of the market is a distillation of the internal organisation’s understanding of its present target physicians, and either bespoke insight work or market reports from the likes of DRG Digital (formally known as Manhattan Research).

Start planning

Taking the insight stage knowledge into a planning phase we can start to look at how we weave together a plan for communication to the target audience, determining touch points where, as an organisation, we will have direct contact with them. Touch points might be, for example, medical congresses or when a field sales representative meets with them face-to-face. We might enhance this exposure by injecting into the plan additions such as email or invitations to an e-detailing call. The HCP might also be exposed to a myriad of other channels such as peer-to-peer opinion within closed medical communities, pharma websites (product or disease awareness), journals, or social media.

Obviously diverse and sophisticated markets will have a wide range of HCPs, all at different levels of their exposure to the data and medical evidence and opinion on a treatment type and product. It may therefore be appropriate to organise the target stakeholders into different types, sometimes called archetypes or personas. This allows for the creation of order of the complex target universe.

Message received?

The key is to pull the potential touch points together into an ideal or optimum journey exposing the target stakeholder into the most key message elements possible, moving them along the journey we wish them to have to become informed about the product or treatment regime. Some of this journey we will have partial control over, such as a face-to-face representative meeting (with or without e-detailing) and some we will not, such as peer-to-peer discussion.

It is crucial that the target HCP is exposed to as many of the messages as possible.

Key is the analysis of the effectiveness of our plan and the elements it contains. In the age of agile marketing we no longer launch an initiative and sit back and hope that it delivers a mindset change in those stakeholders that consume it. We are now in the digital age. We have the ability to test content and approaches to the market on a small ‘test’ scale, benchmarking it against alternative approaches, and thus identifying the approach with the most positive impact before launching it to the whole target audience.

Target impact should be developed towards the start of the planning process with each channel having target KPIs set and those KPIs monitored through the channel analytics gathered on an ongoing basis. In this way we can have knowledge of whether the overall campaign is delivering and take action if its positive impact is falling short.

Word of caution

The overarching imperative for an organisation is the development of a marketing infrastructure and cultural skillset underpinned by the appropriate technology platforms ready to effectively deploy multichannel.

However, that itself should not exist in a ‘bubble’; for multichannel to be effective it needs to feed from an equally world class content strategy. The creation of content is essential
for a multichannel system to leverage. A multichannel approach, no matter how well developed and defined, will be impotent without quality messages to use as ammunition.

The provision of this content is a task that the whole pharmaceutical organisation should confront in order to meet a very different challenge.