Experts with experience at AMAG, GSK, BMS, J&J and others talk about where marketing is headed

Our panel of experts:


Senior Director, Digital Innovation AMAG Pharmaceuticals


Strategic Analyst/UX Consultant Copperhead Creative


SVP/Strategist GSK Team at MRM/McCann


VP, Strategy imre health

Innovation in marketing used to mean coming up with smart campaigns that appealed to consumers. It still does, but now it includes so much more. Strategizing the channels that will reach the right consumers at the right time. Crafting messaging to many different audiences for the same therapies. Condensing the messages to powerful appeals while not stepping over regulatory lines. Most of all, understanding the consumer mind in a more personal way—not just about the medication itself, but about the disease or condition state and its effect on a person’s life. We asked this group of marketers to address some of these issues and offer their observations on what the future looks like. We hope it gives you some ideas for your own strategies.

How has the proliferation of digital video impacted content strategies?

BRUCE GRANT: Mostly it hasn’t…because most pharma brands don’t produce enough content to support an actual strategy. Real content strategy—as practiced by leading B2C and B2B marketers—presupposes a publishing model, with a steady stream of new content throughout the year, keyed to an editorial calendar (“feature stories”) and/or triggered by marketplace events relevant to customers (“spot news”). With the increasing importance of specialty therapies for chronic conditions that require ongoing support and education to keep patients engaged and adherent, a growing number of pharma marketers recognize the importance of content strategy and would like to implement one. But the stone wall they run into virtually everywhere is medical/ legal/regulatory approval processes that lack the staffing, budget, and expertise to handle the volume and pace of content required. For most brands today, simply getting three POAs of basic marketing materials approved per year is a grueling effort.

RYAN BILLINGS: There’s so much noise in our social feeds between brands, friends, and family — both organic and sponsored. In a sea of noise, forms of video are crucial to catching our customers’ attention, whether it be an actual video, an animated GIF, or even a cinemograph (my personal favorite format for “thumb-stopping” creative). However, there are more reasons than just short attention spans and noise to utilize video. It helps with SEO, is favored by most platforms’ algorithms, demonstrates higher click-through rates, and inspires a stronger emotional connection. How many videos have you watched in your social feed and literally cried after? The biggest thing to remember is that the actual creative content is more important than the format. Use customer insights and analyses of the competitive landscape to come up with something that will really stand out.

KIRSTY WHELAN: Much more than being an integral part of our content strategies, video has become the predominant content type. That’s evolved with changing patient demand. YouTube is the second largest search engine. Online video will account for 80% of all consumer internet traffic by 2020. There’s a big opportunity to evolve away from only using video in the context of campaigns and think more creatively about how to integrate higher quality, dynamic content and video much more often and consistently to promote more time spent with the brand.

BERNARD FALKOFF: There are two parts to this question. Healthcare consumers are spending more time searching for information they can learn from, whether it’s digital video or not. Pharma agencies want to bring more media options like digital video into play, but the medical-legal-regulatory environment continues to paint all media content with the same brush.

What changes are companies making to reach patients in an increasingly fragmented media environment and when more consumers are cutting the cord to their cable TV subscriptions?

BERNARD FALKOFF: I see companies trying to improve their judgment by focusing on data and/ or the latest analytical tools. But data are only as useful as the expertise and marketing experience of the people using them. The best marketers still see data as a means, not an end.

RYAN BILLINGS: Part of what drew me to AMAG Pharmaceuticals was the digital aptitude and modern media thinking from our leadership and brand team members, as well as the incredible top-down support for digital. At AMAG, media decisions are truly based on actual customer behavior. We know that millennial moms are highly digitally active, and —maybe surprisingly—the same goes for post-menopausal Baby Boomers. In fact, women over the age of 45 are the fastest growing age demographic on Facebook. We make creative and strategic decisions based on where our customers are, and how and when they want to engage with us. In prior organizations most of our budget was spent on TV and then only a tiny portion on digital. You really need to go “all-in,” investing both mentally and financially in digital and social—you can’t just dabble anymore if you want to truly move the needle.

KIRSTY WHELAN: The average person spends more than two hours on social media a day now, which is only a little less than the time we spend watching TV. The best experience that brands can provide patients is being there with support or information they need, when they need it and how they need it. That means looking at how digital and social can deliver on the awareness created by television – viewing the marketing mix as an ecosystem, with each channel playing a role in enhancing the patient’s journey.

How do companies keep pace (or better yet, stay ahead) with the fast-moving changes to technology and media in your field?

KIRSTY WHELAN: The smartest healthcare brands closely follow consumer trends in media and technology consumption because they lead the trends that we see play out in healthcare. For example, Snapchat made the art of communicating with photos and facial expressions ubiquitous. Over time Facebook and Instagram evolved their platforms to promote more visual sharing. Technology influences consumer behavior, just as consumer behavior influences the development of technology. These companies recognize that patients are consumers too, and don’t easily dismiss emerging media and technology trends as irrelevant.

BERNARD FALKOFF: The best way to stay ahead is to involve the MLR team as early as possible. If they understand the value, their “buy-in” can help ensure success no matter what technology or medium is used.

RYAN BILLINGS: Luckily, at AMAG, I’m surrounded by smart and savvy stakeholders across our digital engagement team as well as our communications, and commercial teams. We’ve implemented an internal Digital Engagement Blog to share digital trends and updates that affect our industry. We also held our first Digital Innovation Summit last fall for employees—where we held panel discussions with local digital health startups, showed industry case studies, heard from a digitally empowered patient, and presented statistics on the ever-changing digital landscape and customer behaviors and expectations.

Aside from internal efforts to stay ahead of technology changes, I rely on my digital network, external blogs and resources, as well as our agency partners. They are key in helping us stay ahead. Many of them create daily newsletters and regular point of views which keeps me informed, while not taking too much time. For instance, during the Facebook personal data problem, they provided us with daily updates which was helpful in our decision making process.

What is the single ripest area for transformation in healthcare marketing today?

BRUCE GRANT: Making customer centricity a reality rather than a slogan. Dr. Paul Batalden, of the Dartmouth Institute, has said, “Every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets.” And the reason healthcare companies don’t get customer-centric results is that they are not designed for it. “Multichannel marketing” does not include— or even, in many cases, coordinate with—the sales channel, though both of them communicate with the same customers. Reps are not compensated on meeting customer needs but on increasing script volume. Even the endpoints in our clinical trials are chosen based on how likely they are to result in approval, rather than how well they measure meeting the unmet needs of patients and the healthcare professionals who treat them. True transformation in this area will require not a campaign, but an overhaul of organizational structures, reporting relationships, and incentives, all with customer needs and values at the center.

RYAN BILLINGS: I’m a big believer in transforming the customer service experience in healthcare. Customer service is the new marketing. Customer inquiries are visible on company social pages, and customers expect answers to their questions within 30-60 minutes. On top of that, they want quality and empathetic responses. Most industries have figured this out already, but healthcare seems to be slow to operationalize. Many companies in regulated industries aren’t responsive at all, or they’re not present on the same channels as their customers. Often, if they are responsive, the tone of their content is robotic or canned. There’s got to be a better way!

BERNARD FALKOFF: Direct healthcare consumers and providers to information that is more about education than it is about advertising or marketing. Then provide a tailored user experience so each target can find what they need as fast as possible.

KIRSTY WHELAN: There are positive and negative aspects to patient engagement becoming such a big buzzword. While it’s admirable to have consensus on the importance of patient centricity, too often in execution we see these programs are at best, transactional and at worst, just content marketing. We need to transform our idea of patient engagement and make sure we’re designing experiences that add value and enhance the patient journey. This has to start with empathy – understanding patients’ needs and the barriers they face in treatment and adherence. And, in execution, these programs must be interactive, dynamic and empathic.

What opportunities and challenges lie in engaging patients who are empowered by a deluge of digital health information and personal health data?

BRUCE GRANT: The #1 challenge is to be part of the signal rather than the noise—to deliver relevant, timely value to today’s healthcare consumers, who often are not so much empowered as inundated. That means investing far less in traditional reach-and-frequency mass media and instead using every bit of data we can ethically lay hands to—demographic, psychographic, technographic, and behavioral—to tune our signal to the needs of each individual consumer, as they evolve over the patient journey.

RYAN BILLINGS: As far as opportunities, I’m really excited to see how innovations like remote patient monitoring and telemedicine improve patient outcomes and access to care. There’s already some great technology available like FDA approved wearables, and secure telemedicine platforms. I’m excited to see digital health technology continue to evolve and take the patient-doctor relationship to the next level.

The biggest challenge lies in misinformation. In the age of “fake news,” I believe that we in the healthcare industry have an obligation to put out truthful, accessible, and unbiased information for our patients. In order to combat misinformation in the health space, we can’t forget about our unbranded condition awareness and education efforts. This type of content plays a larger role than just generating awareness for our products. It also provides a safe, trusted space for prospective patients to learn and engage with us and each other.

BERNARD FALKOFF: An empowered patient can be the pharma industry’s greatest asset and advocate. The key is to treat patients with respect. Once they feel that, they’re more likely to be open to your messages.

What efforts are being made to reach out to physicians, educate them, and improve the doctor/ patient relationship?

BERNARD FALKOFF: Unfortunately, not enough. A 2017 survey of nearly 3000 providers from more than 25 specialties found only 27% of providers saw pharma websites as a credible source for professional information. In this regard, doctors are like patients. They want content and tools they can use to educate and inform.

KIRSTY WHELAN: There’s a strong case to be made for partnering more closely with physicians to educate them about patients’ emotional experiences. By fostering more empathy in clinical settings, empowered patients can feel better understood, which can translate to better communication and adherence, particularly in chronic conditions.

BRUCE GRANT: The playing field for HCP marketing and sales has changed radically in the last decade. Ever more practices are restricting rep access. And even when reps can get in, more physicians are employees, with less prescribing autonomy. And they have more and better sources—like UpToDate, Doximity, and Medscape— for the kind of information they used to depend on reps for. All of which makes the kind of non-personal promotional tactics to which we typically turn to take up the slack—direct mail, email, banner ads, etc.—unwelcome, low-value intrusions. Physicians today spend half their clinical day engaged with their EHR, and it is in “workstream integration”—incorporating information and resources of actual contextual value (not banner ads)—in the EHR environment that the future lies.

RYAN BILLINGS: Just like our customers, physician behaviors and expectations are also changing. We are starting to think about physicians as consumers. “Dr. Smith” doesn’t go by “Dr. Smith” when he’s at home, so what channels are important to him as a regular person? That’s something we’re taking to heart as we re-think our engagement with physicians. We’re also looking at our traditional speaker program approach for our key opinion leaders (KOL). Many of our KOLs are highly active on channels like Twitter. Because of this, we’re asking ourselves questions like, “How can we engage them and work with them to engage their peers on these channels?” Additionally, we’re rethinking the traditional definition of KOL and starting to identify and engage a new type of doctor, the “KOI,” or Key Online Influencer. A physician can be a thought leader on a certain topic and have a large digital sphere of influence. We’ve started to parse out these two groups and figure out ways to engage both.


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