September 21, 2010
By David M Paragamian
Today we hear the term “multi-channel marketing” used frequently. In fact, a Google search for the term will yield more than two million results. Moreover, even in our industry, depending on whom you ask, you will get a different definition. For example, some say it means reaching physicians across multiple communication mediums, with a special emphasis on the digital toolbox. Some say any definition needs to include the ability for the end customer to make a purchase via multiple channels or outlets. My point: It’s here to stay, and in the future we will just call it “marketing.” Let me explain.
There was a time, not so long ago, when the pharma industry communication was a one-way “push.” Sales representatives were, in fact, called “detailers” and face-to-face communication with physician customers (or payers, for that matter) was done with a printed sales tool in hand and a very brief detail of product or program benefits. We augmented this No. 1 delivery channel with print advertising, medical conventions, and the long-standing tools of the trade. Our carefully crafted message, delivered our way, on our terms: “Push.”
PULL OF TECHNOLOGY
Not so today. The process has evolved to more of a “pull” model, whereby physicians, payers, patients, and involved caregivers gather, or “pull,” information on their terms more successfully than we can simply “push” the information out. The rapid proliferation of technology has been—as it always is—the key enabler. We know, for example, that almost three out of four physicians own a smartphone (thanks to Manhattan Research data) and that by 2012, almost 20% of all Web usage will be consumed on smartphones. It doesn’t mean that our messages only get delivered on these devices, but it does mean that they must be able to be consumed by both physicians and patients in this environment. We also know that when physicians use the Web in their practices, it is often in consult with the patient, so unbranded disease-state sites are often the preferred, primary venues.
The marketing toolbox hasn’t contracted. It’s expanded. The role of the pharma brand manager has gotten harder… and more exciting. He or she has a broad array of tools—from the face-to-face sales call to physician advertising delivered in print, via the Web, delivered by peer-to-peer communication, delivered via hand-held smart phone, and multiplied across the stakeholder audiences of physicians, patients, payers, and involved caregivers. It’s not about one channel over all others. It’s about marketing… knowing there is a broad array of tools and channels and finding the right balance to deliver the product messages, deliver helpful disease awareness, create communities where physicians (or patients) can come together to share information. Consulting firm McKinsey & Co. warns packaged-goods marketers of the dangers of the 3 E’s: trying to be everything, everywhere, for everyone. It still takes discipline and focus to know what we are communicating and what sources we have made available for our customers to engage with.
Brand managers and their agency partners are navigating exciting times, with lots of opportunities. Today we are abuzz with the new nomenclature of “multi-channel marketing.” I believe, as we go forward, “multi-channel” will be understood—another part of the “of course” nature of our thinking and plans.
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