Strategic use of digital channels for engaging with HCPs

The Covid-19 pandemic has accentuated and accelerated important changes to how healthcare providers (HCPs) keep abreast of new product information relevant to their specialties and the patients they treat. Most notable among those is the HCPs’ embrace of digital technologies and digital-first channels of delivering content. This trend is accompanied by a growing preference for engaging with Medical Science Liaisons (MSLs), who bring technical expertise and rigour to their sales pitches, over traditional medical representatives. Those shifts have a direct impact on how pharmaceutical marketing and sales teams must reorganize their work and the tools they use to communicate with HCPs, such that Sales may convert leads to prescribers. 

Underpinning the drive toward digital is a set of challenges that providers have been facing for years. Namely, high administrative burden, paucity of time for learning and training, a need to ”squeeze in” activities not related to direct patient care during off-hours and weekends, and a quest for immediate trustworthy responses to product-related questions.

In the context of these challenges, traditional sales rep strategies have begun to lose steam as a growing number of physicians have discovered the convenience of digital platforms. For example, HCPs are able to get many of the benefits of face-to-face detailing by attending training webinars and accessing scientific publications online – that is, without the need to schedule a meeting with a sales rep. Indeed, a survey of over 1500 physicians in Europe carried out by global research company Bryter showed that only 44% of HCPs were rep-accessible in 2016 compared to 80% in 2008.

So how is the industry evolving to cater to this transformation? The sobering reality for pharma companies´ European operations is that uptake of digital marketing on the continent is lagging, with only 11% of players reorienting their strategy compared to 21% in the U.S. and 47% in Japan, according to the Bryter survey. Similarly, deploying a hybrid approach that combines face-to-face meetings with online channels accounts for only 6% of contacts between HCPs and sales reps in Europe (although, to be fair, at 8% the U.S. is not doing much better). Altogether, 48% of surveyed physicians reported a “monochannel” experience.

To stay relevant, the pharma industry should take decisive steps to improve its digital footprint in dealing with HCPs. To do so, it only has to follow the guideposts helpfully left by market researchers: almost a third of survey respondents (32%) indicated that digital platforms make information easily shareable with colleagues, while 37% said digitally delivered promotional material fits in better with their schedule. If companies succeed in delivering their marketing pitches in a way that meets those preferences, they will have gone a long way toward repositioning their brands as trustworthy partners to physicians.

With Covid-19 having put the brakes on off-line marketing, the current moment presents a perfect opportunity for the industry to pivot to a more modern and flexible approach to HCP engagement. The type of pharma-proprietary content that physicians seem increasingly drawn to includes online training and education on drug safety, efficacy, and real-world data, so this is one sure path companies can take right away to get started on their digital marketing transformation journey.

In order to be successful – even comfortable – in their new marketing skin, however, it is essential for organizations to gain a 360° view of their customers. This is where PeakData’s Healthscape suite of services can help by partnering with your marketing or business development teams to understand their pain points in engaging HCPs and suggest data-driven improvements. Our deep expertise in untapping real-time insights from publicly available data on physician affiliations and appearances, social listening analytics, and publishing choices and collaborations can be your ticket to aligning your available resources with the demands of the digital communication era. So send us a message or give us a call and let´s explore how far you want your company to go – here at PeakData we´ll be sure to have just the right mix of research capabilities to help it get there.

KOLs, POLs, and DOLs: Expanding the universe of opinion leaders

Two converging and consolidating trends – the amplification of the digital space (social media, messaging apps, microblogs, short video apps, and Q&A destinations such as Reddit and Quora) and patient-centred transformation – are driving largescale shifts in value creation in the pharmaceutical and biotech industry. As such, going digital and listening to the patient voice have become a part of the overall strategy of many large pharmaceuticals, but the industry can mobilize trust further by sustainably embedding these trends throughout its KOL engagement strategy in particular.

Why does KOL engagement need a rethink or any change of strategy at all? The conventional definition of a KOL envisions a healthcare professional, academic, or corporate leader whose influence stems from the fact that he or she speaks from a raised stand (e.g. through publications in high impact factor journals). But just as marketing departments across the board are adopting more participative approaches, with end user-led involvement and innovation front and center, pharma and biotech companies ought to broaden their vision and bring more patients into their KOL mix. This means reaching out to patients not only at the clinical trial stage but also during the marketing and post-launch phases of product development, and managing the new relationships sustainably rather than as one-off, “pop-up” campaigns.

Engaging patient opinion leaders (POLs) has immense value for reaching targeted therapy markets organically. It helps the universe of patients for whom a new treatment is developed feel spoken for and is both educational and empowering to them, since POLs are seen as experts in the management of a health condition. It is also good for business as it allows the industry´s end users to engage in authentic conversations with peers, exchange disease management tips and emotional support, and discuss the benefits of new medicinal products. This in turn adds a patient perspective to the clinical results-driven conversations propelled by traditional KOLs and helps rally engagement around the quality-of-life impacts of pharma innovation, treatments, and care regimens.  

On the other hand, the shift towards digital spaces means that many outreach channels for the patient´s mind have moved online. Thus, beyond recruiting patients as opinion leaders, it is key for pharma and biotech companies to also map those among them who are digitally savvy and have a significant followership and influence on digital platforms. One marker of digital opinion leaders (DOLs) is sharing original content frequently and driving high engagement and response rates around it. Like KOLs, DOLs can be segmented by therapeutic area or country of interest and their online activities can be complemented by in-person events organized by the sponsoring company.

So what are effective strategies to strengthen engagement with both POLs and DOLs? It starts with having a clear view of desired metrics to assess the impact of these new categories of influencers, determining a small group of first contacts, and defining a pathway and milestones to implement the outreach in a manner that can be replicated. The last point is important since many promising POL and DOL initiatives have failed to scale due to their being implemented sporadically or as part of product launch campaigns rather than as part of an enterprise-wide engagement roadmap.

If your company is considering expanding its KOL identification efforts to include POLs and DOLs but is not sure where to start, PeakData can help. Building upon our established methodology for mapping KOLs using dispersed public data and automating bibliographic searches, we are expanding our own arsenal of tools to assist pharma and biotech companies with gaining new opinion leader allies. One such set of tools is our proprietary algorithms, which track activities generated by DOLs across social media and detect spikes of activity around topics of interest such as a health condition or a drug. The information is aggregated across multiple data sources and monitored in a longitudinal manner, such that a complete picture of emerging topics and trends can be observed in real time through a specially designed BI-like web platform.

If you would like to know more about how this methodology can give a competitive edge to your company, do not hesitate to get in touch with us – we are always happy to brainstorm creative solutions with and for our clients.