Pursuing the Payer

Pharma’s customer hierarchy has shifted toward payers. While their proclivity for print is well-known, many prefer to receive pharma resources digitally, research shows. Joe Dysart on tools that work for this segment 

Keen to appeal to a world full of iPads, smartphones and the Next Big Digital Thing, drug makers are increasingly relying on digital tools to market directly to payers. They are listening.

Research from an October 2012 study by Manhattan Research, for example, found that more than 80% of therapeutic committee members at hospitals are looking for more support from pharma, like provider and patient education materials. Those at managed care organizations and PBMs also expressed this desire.

As to what form they prefer resources in, nearly 60% say they still prefer print. But about half of committee members across all types of organizations (among those who have used or are interested in using pharma patient education) are looking for websites and apps to learn more.

Those findings were buttressed by a study completed this past spring by payer-marketing agency The Hobart Group, which found that payers respond very favorably to digital marketing done right.

“Hobart has seen a significant shift by our clients to include digital tools and resources in their overall marketing efforts to payers,” says Sue Patton, VP/director of client services, The Hobart Group. “As a general trend, we’ve observed that pharmaceutical manufacturers that provide more digital resources are seen as providing better value to payers.”

Not surprisingly, much of the focus in digital has been on iPad and other tablet-optimized presentations, which often offer payers heightened interactivity, including the ability to pick and choose from a buffet of informational options.

“A great example is an iPad detail app we created recently to allow account executives to focus payers on key issues in diabetes,” says John Burke, VP, digital strategy, Entrée Health, which bills itself as the largest agency focused on managed markets. “This app is set up as a ‘choose your adventure’ detail, so the payer can decide which portion of the story to start with, move on to next, etc.”

The app’s opening screen lets a payer pick a topic—such as adherence, economic impact, national quality measures and the like—and then explore that interest via interactive charts, graphs and text.

“The team took the information that is traditionally presented in flaccid PowerPoint format, and brought it to life with the visual vernacular specific to the disease state, and to payers,” Burke says.

Hobart is doing similar work at its shop. “We are converting current materials for tablet format for the majority of our clients,” Patton says.  “In one instance, we transformed what had been a traditional, static, PowerPoint customer presentation into a dynamic and engaging digital tablet presentation.

“We took full advantage of the tablet’s touch interface to transform the ‘story’ and messaging, using touchable icons and bold, eye-catching, infographic–style headlines,” she adds.

With tablets, account managers can easily pre-select content before a meeting, and customize the presentation based on the payer’s interests and preferences, Patton says. Plus, the interactive format allows managers to jump to key messages and data points—freeing them up from a traditional, linear presentation format.

“In another instance, we transformed an internal printed resource guide to the digital format and developed search filters and logic, allowing the account manager to quickly search for relevant materials and plan accordingly,” Patton says.

In general, payers surveyed by Hobart said the new style of tablet presentations “allowed for the best use of short meeting times,” and that they “allowed for more agile and interactive discussions.”

Adds Kim Wishnow-Per, president, McCann Managed Markets, another agency forging digital tools targeting the payer market:  “The customer’s specific needs become the primary focus,” with tablet presentations.

But while tablets are perfect for an in-person visit, both Hobart and Entrée stressed that payers are responding to digital marketing ­rendered across the full spectrum of hardware that’s currently in vogue.

Drug-maker websites focused on managed care, for example, scored high interest among the 138 respondents in Hobart’s study—which included MCOs, PBMs and integrated delivery system networks.

“We are encouraging our ­clients to think ‘beyond the iPad’ and consider multiple channels for engagement, including a web presence,” Patton says.

Key to those web presences is “responsive” web design, an approach that enables web content to auto-reconfigure for viewing on any screen size—be it desktop, laptop, tablet or smartphone.

With responsive design, a drug maker need only create one version of its website—rather than creating a separate version for smartphones, another for tablets, a third for desktops and perhaps a fourth for other computer devices. Essentially, responsive web design ensures that site visitors are not stuck with a site designed for desktops only—which generally renders horribly on the tiny screens of smartphones.  “If a website renders poorly on a smartphone or tablet, you run the risk of poor user experience—which reflects on your company/brand,” Patton says.

Despite its rising popularity, the design method does have its limitations.  Text on one-size-fits-all, responsive websites sometimes appears cumbersomely large on desktop computers—a compromise that allows the same text to be viewed when the overall site shrinks to fit a tablet or smartphone.

And smartphone users visiting a responsive website miss out on the large, arresting graphics that often appear on the desktop version of the same site.

But inarguably, responsive web design is becoming an influential force in the design of digital marketing tools for payers—as well as sites on the web at large, Patton says.

Entrée reports similar interest in sites that target payers with its clients, and has devoted considerable resources into the development of a diabetes hub for one drug maker that is shot through with interactivity.

Payers can dial into the site at their convenience to work with therapeutic, area-specific tools, a HEDIS tool that allows them to see how their own organization stacks up against others, and videos that delve into how diabetes impacts a payer.

“As much as we love our printed materials, years of experience have shown us that printed materials stay in the payer’s office at best,” Burke says. “A web-based hub ‘travels,’ which is to say, it’s virtually available, and it’s available anywhere the payer decides to work, as long as there is web access. Different people learn in different ways, and a hub appeals to all types of learners or users.”

Meanwhile, Hobart says smartphone aficionados at payer organizations are also on the lookout for apps that make dealing with drug makers easier. “About 60% of the survey respondents were highly interested in a managed care mobile app,” Patton says.

As for digital marketing forays into the world of social networks?  Currently, not so much, according to Entrée and Hobart.  “The regulatory concerns of our clients has made this an arena [in which] we are not doing a lot of experimentation,” Burke says.

Adds ­Patton: “Only 1% (of survey respondents) reported visiting Twitter for business purposes.”