The Future of Healthcare Marketing: Lessons from the World of CPG.

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Marketers in every industry face a twofold challenge today: increasing demands to quantify the ROI of every dollar spent, as well as demands for a simpler, more targeted message delivered through an increasingly complex array of media channels and touchpoints.

There is an oft-repeated trope that Pharma marketing seems to lag 3-5 years behind that of our colleagues promoting less-regulated products. In thinking about the likely future state of healthcare marketing, this lag is a huge opportunity for our industry. We’re all familiar with the demand for “innovative but proven” tactics, and one interesting approach to satisfying that demand may be to leverage marketing trends and tactics from outside the Pharma industry. Yes, there are industry-specific limitations, but other regulated industries have kept up with CPG – it’s arguable that Geico, for example, has moved insurance marketing from a laggard to a bellwether – and the next few years may be Pharma’s opportunity to shine.

One obvious challenge is the sheer volume of innovations that have impacted CPG marketers over the past five years. LUMA Partners, in their annual compilation of “Ad Tech” logos, has moved from one ecosystem chart in 2010 to no less than 15 full tabloid-size posters of potential marketing tools that a brand or company might adopt in 2016.

Faced with this plethora of options, it is useful to pull back and look for an underlying trend: is there one business objective is driving the vast majority of these innovations? A cursory summary of recent marketing consulting company white papers easily identifies a single overriding theme: “Optimizing the Customer Experience.” Adobe’s 2016 Digital Trends Report claims: “It’s official. Customer experience is in charge. In 2014, it emerged as a top priority for marketers. In 2015, it gained momentum. Now, in 2016, it’s so important, it pulls other priorities into its orbit.” McKinsey goes further in quantifying the benefits of improving the customer journey: “Our research indicates that for every 10-percentage-point uptick in customer satisfaction, a company can increase revenues 2 percent to 3 percent. At a time when the customer-satisfaction scores of top-quartile institutions can exceed those of bottom-quartile players by as much as 30 to 40 percentage points, the financial payoff from best-in-class CX can be significant indeed.”

Now the concept of optimizing our customer’s experience is not new to Pharma. Given CX’s dominance in the world of CPG, the value that companies like Disney (MagicBand), Google (search), and Apple (every product) have derived from building frictionless experiences, and the predominance of “user-centricity” advocates at every consulting firm, it’s no surprise that Big Pharma has jumped on the bandwagon. For example, J&J has adopted a mantra of “connected experiences,” which they define as engaging “our consumer at the right time, with the right message, on the right device with consistency and relevancy across channels in a best-in-class user experience.” And while there is no objection to these admirable goals, we should ask three questions:
1) How realistic is this “best-in-class consumer experience” in pharma, given the complexity of the healthcare system – both logistically and in terms of the regulatory environment?
2) Given the huge range of tactical options, where do we start?
3) How much of the current focus of advanced CPG marketing (shareable video content, retargeting, “programmatic native”) will ever be relevant to Pharma?

I suspect the right answers are: any improvement is welcome, start anywhere you can, and maybe. The only viable approach is to discuss options in advance with our friends in Regulatory, then test, measure, and look for verifiable and repeatable incremental gains. Pharma is not alone in needing to work to perfect its customer experience. Forrester notes that “despite progress in journey initiatives, there’s still a long way to go: Only 5 percent of customer journey professionals feel they have a complete view of their customers’ journeys.” So there is no “perfect” model – this is an evolving discipline.

But there are some guiding principles – derived from software development – that may help get us on the right path. My contention is that most marketing and communications enhancements in the pursuit of the perfect customer experience over the last ten years fall into three inter-related areas, all of which can be applied to build better Pharma marketing…

Data Driven
Marketing is a discipline that increasingly relies on an ever more granular sea of big and small data, from qualitative (interviews, sentiment, and eye-tracking studies) to quantitative (the mass of customer data triggered by almost every interaction with a brand, both offline and online). In response to this data, in general, the industry has been moving over the last 25 years from full-spectrum broadcast, to segmentation, and is currently laser-focused on personally targeted messaging. Every year there have been more data offerings and more ways to utilize that data, to the point of “information overload paralysis”: an inability to release anything without testing and re-testing, sometimes to the detriment of any innovation. The path forward is to develop methodologies for identifying the “actionable” portions of the data: those levers that might move consumer sentiment, those aspects of the experience that are critical factors to a brand’s success that might actually move the needle for our targets. Measure real-world outcomes against data trends.

It’s critical to ensure that our communications are accessible and relevant to users: more than just optimized for the device they are using (mobile), we must enable intra-customer recommendations (social), and modify our message based on the context in which they are viewing our materials (local). Further, we should be working to move from a mind-set of “what do we want our customer to hear?” to “what does our customer want us to tell them?” We must look at how our targets consume and amplify media – VR/AR may be the next step in a progression from text to images to video, but a portion of digital consumption/interaction is also becoming less “rich” – from wearables to the Internet of Things and even the rise of voice-controlled media with Siri and Alexa. Give the user what they need, when they need it. Nothing more, nothing less.

The prevailing approach in CPG is that rather than trying to use all possible data and all possible tactics, it’s more productive to get something out into the market, see how it performs, and leverage real-world data to identify friction points and incrementally optimize the customer journey. This agile approach allows us to be responsive to changing user and stakeholder needs, hard data such as analytics from each deployment, and changing conditions in the marketplace – including system and browser updates, for example, or expansion to include a new product. Each asset should be designed to leverage data and feedback generated by any preceding deployed assets. In this way, the program becomes iteratively more focused in terms of targeting, messaging, and delivery methodology.

A best practice when considering future technology recommendations is to examine the past, be sure to understand the present, and use these data points to extrapolate the future. As digital marketers in the highly regulated Pharma industry, we must take legal, medical, and even federal regulatory approvals in this consideration, and anticipate that some CPG tactics may step outside the comfort zone of our industry. But if our single-minded goal with every project is to provide the most valuable, useful (and balanced) user experience possible for the end user, we will be on the right path.

- David Cherry, Chief Digital Officer

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