Getting Engaged with HCPs

MARKETINGHow to take the journey together

By Bob Harrell, Director, Product Marketing, Technology Solutions, IMS Health
With contributions from Maneesh Gupta, Elinor Quinones and Steve DeLabio

Savvy marketers in life sciences are learning to construct “communications journeys” in which the series of messages sent to healthcare professionals and patients are tailored and iteratively refined to be more effective. This form of insight-driven, technology-enabled marketing requires new skills and capabilities, but can be a path to competitive advantage.

Effective healthcare marketing today requires orchestrating your messages across all channels, tailoring them according to individual preferences, and making sure each message builds upon the last. Achieving that level of sophistication is not easy, but it is a path to competitive advantage. Many pharmaceutical brands have layered personal and non-personal promotion—sales calls, web visits, mobile marketing, direct mail and other offline channels—as separately-managed initiatives. Instead of an orchestrated customer engagement strategy, they have a collection of channels broadcasting overlapping messages that recipients too often find overwhelming or confusing.

Breaking through this form of marketing to a more insight-driven, technology-enabled model requires knowing a great deal about each customer. This includes both stated preferences and observed behaviors. By testing alternative messages and channels to find those that are most effective, marketers can drive faster adoption of new products and better sustain sales of established brands.

The communications journeys approach enables management of complex communications campaigns across many customer segments, allowing for more effective marketing and better customer experience. It includes:

• Integrating sales promotion with other channels to make representatives’ limited time with physicians more relevant

• Developing more effective and crisp marketing content over time through iterative development of messaging

• Developing differentiated communication based on local regulations

• Creating and managing feedback loops that improve the journey with time and experience


Healthcare customers, both consumer and professional, have rising expectations for communication from any brand—and there is also intense competition for their time and attention. To get through, your messages must speak directly to them. You must understand customers and their needs as individually as possible. You must communicate with them respectfully, understanding the communications channels they respond to best and timing messages appropriately rather than flooding them with more than they can absorb.

The communications journeys approach is the means by which you can orchestrate your multichannel activities to accomplish this outcome. It requires good planning supported by highly targeted content and the right enabling technology.

However, the foundation for this approach rests in the same elements that underpin any solid pharmaceutical marketing plan. Specifically, you’ll want to make sure you have a firm understanding of your customers and strategic objectives by completing the following processes:

• Analyze the Patient Journey. The “patient journey” is a technique for understanding a patient’s complete experience with an illness and with the healthcare system.

• Segment, target, and position. Understand market segments, target those that best align with your product strategy, and position your product as an appropriate solution. Then continually refine that strategy to get closer to an understanding of the individual customer.

• Fully integrate customer data. The better you can coordinate customer interactions across all channels, online or in person, the more effective your overall communications strategy will be.


Once you’ve gained a solid understanding of your customers and goals, you can use those insights to engage them with well-orchestrated communications journeys. Like a patient journey, a communications journey tells the story of how each step in the process adds up to an overall experience. You want to understand the sequence of communications that will be most useful and engaging for your audience, delivering them at the right time and at the right pace to achieve your marketing goals.

This journeys-based approach differs from the traditional approach in a number of ways:

Microsegmentation —rather than applying the same tactic to everyone or breaking a campaign into fixed streams for two to three basic segments, this approach involves creating more personalized experiences based on the mix of data points and interactions with each customer. This can include classic demographic and psychographic segmentation elements along with other data points such as channel preference and past campaign response. Representing an extension of (and enhancement to) traditional market segmentation strategies, these microsegments are iteratively refined and improved based on new data as a campaign is executed.

Differentiated messaging —creating a range of messages that can be deployed to address the microsegments you’ve created rather than a “one-size-fits-all” approach.


Orchestration across channels — centralized management of all the touch points a customer receives so they fit together into a coherent experience, expressed in one voice from the company.

Two-way, iterative delivery —A communications journey also breaks from the pattern of communications flowing one way only – from the marketing and sales professionals out to their customers. The customer journey is created as an initial framework, a plan designed to accommodate change based on bi-directional communications. By systematically gathering customer feedback and observing customer behavior, you can make course corrections as your understanding of the market and the individuals within it improves. For example, you might have initially planned an email campaign but your data shows customers with certain characteristics respond better to text messages.

Use of branching and business logic —campaigns that involve many segments, messages and channels are by definition much more complex than traditional campaigns. Managing these more individualized customer journeys requires using business rules that control the cadence of messages across channels over time and adapt what the customer receives next, based on how they respond.

The software to support this process must provide both an accessible user interface for defining and refining the business rules, plus a robust business rules engine to execute those rules reliably during a campaign.


CASE STUDY: Driving provider adoption with a well-coordinated brand journey.

• This campaign started on the web, with follow up by email, a different coupon sent based on the email response, then an online survey, and follow up by either direct mail or (if requested by the recipient) a visit by a representative

• The initial outreach, a promotion on the Med-scape website, produced hundreds of healthcare provider leads with valid email addresses

• To make the decision to prescribe easier, the “dosing simplicity” message was augmented by an offer of savings for the patient. Depending on the mix of insurance companies in the provider’s patient population, the offer was either a coupon covering the patient copay or a savings card from the pharmaceutical company

• After a preprogrammed delay, the providers who requested the coupon or the savings card were sent a follow-up survey by email, which included an offer to send further patient education information to the physician either by email or with a visit from a sales representative


• Clicking on the option to request a visit from a sales representative triggered an automatic notification to the representative for that territory to pay a visit as soon as possible.

In this first test, nearly half of the recipients opened the patient education message and half of those requested further information, which was delivered electronically. There were no requests for a sales representative visit, but the option was there – and as long as it satisfied the need, electronic delivery was very efficient and inexpensive. Email response rates for the campaign were strong, with no unsubscribes following the initial email, and open rates increased substantially for the follow up messages with the more engaged providers.


Although creating a communications journey for a product offers great promise, you must be willing to confront and overcome the common challenge associated with every business process improvement: resistance to change.

Organizational integration can be at least as big a hurdle as getting databases and applications to work together.

Sales and marketing leaders need to coordinate the messages delivered online, in print, or in person. Within the marketing organization, managers who have established silos of responsibility around running seminars, email marketing, or direct mail must learn to treat their efforts as part of a greater whole. IT and analytics partners accustomed to building walls around proprietary data must be persuaded to make it available to cloud-based systems that give more direct access to marketers and their agencies.

Making communications more customer-centric means that every customer contact, through whatever channel, should build on the most recent interaction and further deepen the relationship. You may not be able to achieve that ideal every time, but with a concerted effort you can come a lot closer.

You embark on a communications journey with the understanding that you cannot know every twist and turn that lies ahead. In a more traditional approach, the marketing campaign for the rollout of a new product is planned from beginning to end before the first message is sent. The messages and channels are predetermined, and marketing and sales efforts may not be well integrated. The sales force may feel they are the primary “owner” of the customer relationship, and now marketing plans to send a series of yet-to-be-determined messages to their customers independent of sales team input. The key to making this relationship work is to coordinate between all functions and ensure that sales knows when messages are flowing — sales must be in the loop. The sales team needs to know that having richer, individualized, and timelier messages sent about a product’s basic information allows a more meaningful, in-depth conversation in-person down the road. This leads to quicker adoption rates for the product. The sales team is also a communications “channel” and needs to be part of the integrated multichannel plan.

Another critical factor is timing communications to capture a customer’s attention but without sending so many messages as to be annoying. Software tools let you send the right response to the right customer at the right time based on that particular customer’s engagement in the process.

While this level of personalization and precision of timing is unmanageable without automation, it’s also the case that the organizational alignment must be as good as the technical integration to achieve a 360-degree view and delivery of customer engagement.


Once you have committed to using a communication journey approach to marketing your product, your success depends on your focus in several key areas.


1. Establish a clear vision of your starting point. Although you will most likely further adapt your message and channels of communication based on feedback and customer data, you must start with a clear message and direction for your product, then rigorously test your plan.

2. Select and implement a marketing technology platform. Due to the complexity of channels, timing and messaging, which can differ based on factors such as type of physician (a primary care physician versus a specialist) or time of initial contact, using technology to manage your plan is essential. Critical success factors that technology should enable include having marketing and customer data fully integrated and directly accessible to marketers 24X7 providing a centralized “hub” from which you can execute tactics across multiple channels, including email, direct mail, mobile, surveys, call centers, and sales reps.

3. Establish clear communication channels within the product team. Communication within the release team is critical for the success of a communications journey. You must put in place marketing operations to collect clear campaign requirements from brand and agency partners, then as the campaign rolls out, report back on the activity to those partners.

Moving from a preplanned, linear product rollout with a series of static, one-way messages to a dynamic, customer-focused campaign requires more than just purchasing and training on a software suite. To be successful, you must rethink the process from people (bridging the gap between marketing and sales), to what the message might be to different customers, to when that message should be delivered and over what specific channel. The more planning you put in up front allows you to make small changes over time using one central tool to optimize your campaign’s results. Then you are well on your way to orchestrating a whole new level of engagement with your customers.


The Top 30 Promoted Brands increased their digital spend by 277% from 2009-2014 (Ref: Cegedim Strategic Data, 2014)


Well-coordinated, personalized delivery increases engagement by up to 44% (Ref: IMS Health Case Study 2015)

Bob Harrell, Director, Product Marketing Technology Solutions at IMS Health, is responsible for key aspects of Global Product Marketing for IMS Health’s Technology Solutions unit, including thought leadership, customer evidence and analyst relations. In Bob’s 20+ years in the pharmaceutical industry, he has held top positions in digital, MCM and product marketing. Bob joined IMS Health through the acquisition of marketing software company Appature, where he was VP of Marketing. Prior to that, he was Director of Integrated Marketing for Shire Pharmaceuticals, where he established the company’s digital and database marketing function. Bob also served as a Group Account Director for SimStar (now part of Rosetta Marketing), an RM/digital marketing agency, managing digital marketing programs for such clients as Novartis, Roche and Sanofi. He also spent two years in Prague, Czech Republic, leading marketing for a B2C eBusiness startup. Bob began his career in sales for Merck, followed by headquarters positions in product, field and strategic communications at Astra Merck and AstraZeneca.


IMS Health is a leading global information and technology services company providing clients in the healthcare industry with end-to-end solutions to measure and improve their performance. Their 7,500 services experts connect configurable SaaS applications to 10+ petabytes of complex healthcare data in the IMS One™ cloud platform, delivering unique insights into diseases, treatments, costs and outcomes. The company’s 15,000 employees blend global consistency and local market knowledge across 100 countries to help clients run their operations more efficiently. Customers include pharmaceutical, consumer health and medical device manufacturers, and distributors, providers, payers, government agencies, policymakers, researchers and the financial community.

Master Collaborator