Physician Engagement: New Rules of the Game for Pharma Marketers

The marketing landscape is dynamic as ever, more so with communication routes evolving at lightning speed and consumer behavior undergoing changes in-step. How does it change engagement rules for Pharma’s audience and how can the sector adapt to this new-age behavior?

As the latest developments in consumer behavior unfold, it becomes more and more significant for marketers to take note and act promptly for staying relevant in the market. This is especially crucial for Pharma industry that is in a habit of soaking in the warmth of traditional comfort zones.

It is time for the industry marketers to acknowledge that like every other consumer, doctors too have switched to digital/tech-enabled platforms for satiating information needs and like for every other consumer, for doctors too that means less face-time but quicker and easier access to educative material. While the information requirements have not changed much, the format, timing and delivery methods have changed. They need the same multi-channel experience, all other consumers demand. Smartphones, tablets, laptops are giving hard copies a run, webinars are gaining traction and conferences requiring attendance in person are, to an extent, taking a back seat. Doing content marketing the right way, therefore, is paramount.

Physician Information Requirements

Doctors want unbiased content on their fingertips, everything they need at the convenience of a click. Time is of the essence when physicians are audience. There is a reason why MR visits unsupported by prior digital interaction are not considered sound strategy. Most met with less than 10 minutes of the doctor’s time and are often pronounced useless by both the parties. (Read more about the challenges faced by MR’s and how to address these here)

Marketers are clueless about what physicians want and as a result, physicians are unsatisfied with information detailed out. What value can you build in few hard-earned and not so fruitful minutes at the clinic? Discussions have to be relevant and that is a direct product of a two-way relationship that transcends communication channels. Grasping target’s pain points before hitting them with sales pitch is significant. To gain this information, demands gaining doctors’ trust first. Then providing solutions that hit the bull’s eye becomes more probable.  This would also make sure that the next time you visit a clinic or hospital to present your solutions, you’d have an active audience, eager to hear you out.

So, how do we reach this level? It is simple. Marketing communications plan should aim at achieving optimal reach, frequency, and rhythm, aligning strategy with varying ways physicians prefer to be contacted/informed, based on their personal practice requirements. The challenge is also engaging without bombarding.

Having communicated with a wide doctor-base (250,000+ at present) for nearly 4 years and executed over 40 content marketing projects for top 22 pharma companies, we have come up with the following Rules of Successful Physician Engagement.

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Rule 1:

Know where to target your audience

According to a Docplexus survey, 76% doctors stated that internet is an excellent medium to gain knowledge, 72% stated it is an excellent way to gather drug information (Read the full report on doctor’s online behavior here).

These figures clearly mean that it is time to target them where they are found the most- online. But internet is a huge place and chances of getting lost in the content storm are immense. Marketers spend their budget on creating in-house websites and apps. The problem with the approach is very well explained by a top executive in a Consultants Across Health study as, “marketers waste a lot of money on websites that doctors don’t go to”. True, the website or internal blogs carries all the branding, but it hardly gets any visits because doctors consider these biased. Moreover, they are looking for a one-stop solution for their information needs- be it treatment guidelines, medic-legal policies, scientific updates or patient case studies and drug information.

So, how can you find the perfect spot where doctors meet and greet, places where they are ready to collaborate? One solution most swear by is community networks.

These hold huge potential for marketers to talk about drugs, trials and therapeutic advancements, events, CMEs and so much more. But a word of caution- only unbiased content wins the day. So, keep it informative and steer away from sales pitches. When such a scenario is created, most doctors are observed reaching out to relevant companies on their own. If not that, they are sure to be more welcoming to MRs the next time they visit. Not just this your MR would know specifically what he needs, thanks to qualitative analysis of published online content. This ensures better pre-visit preparation for more personalized catch-up- something 90% of doctors favored in the survey conducted for understanding online doctor behavior. A clear win-win solution for both.

Rule 2:

Know when to target audience

For physicians, as mentioned earlier, time is a scarce entity.  Work-days are more than packed. So, what can you, as a marketer, do?

As per our study, most doctors are online at 10:00 A.M. (looking for stimulating information at the start of the day), 2 P.M. (closer to lunch and ready to check their smartphones after a hectic first half, trying to fill in any information gaps they might have felt) and 6 P.M. (planning to wind up but eager to catch-up on educative material). That is when you’d want to vie for their attention. Depending on what your content talks about and which format you release it in, timings vary only slightly.

Rule 3:

Know how to target your audience and why content optimization is indispensable

Nothing can be as important to a marketer as targeting the right audience or else budget dries up quickly leaving you hanging by a thread. Also, wrong or inefficient targeting is equivalent to creating waste content. A couple of things to focus here would be geographic locations you might want to campaign at and therapeutic areas that are more relevant to you. On digital, you can do both and also find out timing most suited to make campaigns live.

On the delivery front, ensure you have content optimized for multi-screen engagement. Our research suggests that 53% of doctors use mobile phones, 25% use laptops and 15% use desktops to access information. Careful planning can ensure your message lands to the right people at the right time on the right screen!

Rule 4:

Keep content meaningful, unbiased and crisp

In an era of digitization, content is key and, by extension, so is content marketing. It is what decides if you can be trusted after all and that, as we all know, is crucial for your brand image and sales! So, create value-driven content and market it right. Don’t focus all on the brand but on scientific material, contributing to the educative cause. Gary Monk, Managing Director at Across Health UK, sums it up perfectly, “You’ve really got to start thinking outside the box and thinking more about the therapy area than the brand – that’s the way we’re going to influence healthcare professionals, by being a company that can show itself an expert in their field and can help to make their job better.”

Behavior patterns of digital natives, people belonging/adapting to the digital age, heart and soul reveals that they hate being sold to. Doctors are no different. Most want to be informed and not just targeted for naked sales-pitches.

Another point to keep in mind is ensuring content marketed is crisp.  80% doctors in our survey opinionated that any medical content should not exceed 2-3 scroll limit.

Rule 5:

Keep different content formats for different requirements

The need to consume information instantly and easily demands of pharma companies to provide it that way. Currently, doctors need Continuing Medical Education and Webinars, they need drug and therapeutic area advancement information accurate and educational, down to a T. Making use of preferred media in the right format is key. 78% of our survey respondents concurred that video content is easy to comprehend. Infographics too are preferred as they have a visual appeal that plain text doesn’t. Interactive self-learning experience is also what doctors look for.

Another crucial step, once the content is ready, is hosting it on platforms that are perceived as neutral by the doctor community.

Rule 6:

Keep interaction result-oriented and monitor results constantly

For any campaign/marketing strategy to succeed, it is essential that it constantly monitors results- both quantitative and qualitative. Quantitative provides insights into trends, allows space and data for testing hypotheses. You can validate relevance of your messages that drive your content plan. Qualitative, on the other hand, provides insights into physician behavior-brand and drug perception. Thus, it shows the strongest indicator of engagement success. As a research tool, these provide data that may otherwise remain hidden.

These new rules throw light on what forms the crux of future marketing, educate and not advertise; give what is needed, not just what you have to offer. The what, where, when, why and how takes center-stage, so you give due importance, now more than ever.

(Read complete survey report on insights into doctors’ online behavior here)

Docplexus – Pharma’s Trusted Marketing Partner
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