As marketing has evolved from mass advertising and promotion to a more sophisticated interactive approach, marketers have many new choices. But in this new environment, marketing decisions must be based on true insight derived from verifiable customer feedback and not just educated hunches or agency hype.
With the sheer volume of new communication platforms, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the huge number of variables that can be involved in an interactive marketing program. I recommend starting with baby steps. Two simple but very effective ways to personalize marketing are the choice of communication channel and the development of custom content. Channel and content. Often just getting these right will have a significant positive impact on building value-based customer relationships with healthcare professionals.
As a place to start, channel and content are both necessary. It’s one thing to come up with great, personalized content – but it’s a total waste if you’re not using the channel that a target physician is monitoring or uses. On the other hand, you might discover the unique channels a specific physician prefers, but if the content is irrelevant or inappropriate, you have lost an opportunity to build affinity.
Lessons Learned from Breakfast
I had breakfast with a physician friend of mine. We’ve had a number of great conversations about her practice. She is very busy internist with over 2400 patients, making her a “top decile” physician, the segment that pharma needs to reach. Not surprisingly, given her large patient load and full calendar, she has very strong opinions about pharmaceutical sales reps and the value she gets or doesn’t get from their daily interruptions.
There are certain media channels that she uses regularly. She knows she needs regular access to information on new FDA approvals and emerging therapies. The major peer-reviewed journals and online content portals are two of those channels; the sales rep channel is not. Try to communicate using any other method and she simply won’t get the message. And like most professionals, she’s very particular about what kind of content she’s interested in. It’s got to be related to internal medicine. Go ahead and try to offer content outside her areas of interest but it won’t matter – she’ll turn it off and walk away.
At the end of our conversation I had a pretty solid idea of how to market to this physician. Now obviously, we can’t go out and have breakfast with every customer in order to build enough trust to learn specific channel and content preferences, but we can carefully structure our existing marketing interactions with the goal of capturing this insight.
One of the most underappreciated advantages of interactive marketing is the fact that every time we publish content to our audience, they publish their preferences right back to us. Unfortunately, most campaigns aren’t designed to listen to the customer response, especially at the individual customer level. But in fact, based on careful analysis of detailed response data, we can capture glimpses of an individual doctor’s interests and preferences. A good marketing analytics team will begin to recognize familiar patterns, and over time individual profiles will emerge.
After several months of intelligent interactions, we start to deduce which channel that specific physicians trust and what kind of content they prefer. In the marketing world, this knowledge is gold.
Direct Mail isn’t Dead for Everyone
About a year and a half ago, an editor of one of the leading trade journals called me and said, “I’m writing a year-end review. I want you to comment on which marketing channels are in and which marketing channels are out.”
This is the wrong question to ask, because you can’t categorically say that, for example, sales reps don’t work anymore or direct mail doesn’t work anymore. I can tell you that sales reps don’t work with specific physicians, and direct mail may not work with other specific physicians – but you can’t say categorically that a channel doesn’t work. You can only say it doesn’t work for a specific physician.
One of our most important responsibilities as an agency is to prevent broad generalizations about customer segments and channel and content preferences. We can’t just dismiss a channel such as direct mail that might only have a 5% response rate. Our job is to find the 5% who trust that channel and service them well. And redeploy the budget for the other 95% towards the channels that are most relevant to them.
This physician-level insight marks an important shift in the way marketers think about their markets and their customers. Even if we start with the baby steps of simple channel and message preferences, the implications are profound and will have a ripple effect throughout brand planning, budgeting, messaging, and marketing operations.
One small baby step for a brand, one big step forward for the industry.