Turning healthcare marketing strategies around is never an easy pivot. But it may be necessary. With customers not only increasingly comparing brands to direct competitors, but rating them against companies and brands across industries, the healthcare industry is continuing to play catch-up as it tries to evolve to a new customer-centric rather than product-centric marketing model.

In addition to employing customer-centricity, to truly engage with patients, providers, payers or other decision-makers, an even more holistic approach to marketing is necessary. That means marketers need to understand how technology, cultural, political and environmental factors affect their customers’ lives.  

This #TrendTalks discussion, Customer Experience: Beyond Customer-Centricity, in partnership with BGB Group, focused on how brand managers are pivoting to adopt these new approaches and develop smarter commercialization efforts in the future.

It’s clear that pharma messaging needs to be more integrated and move more quickly. A 2021 Indegene survey revealed that one in three HCPs was dissatisfied with their channel experience due to slowness and siloization.

“People expect pharma to engage with them the way they’re engaging with a consumer-driven brand,” said Anna Gaudio, SVP of CX innovation, BGB Group, and co-moderator for the discussion. “We want to be responsive and deliver what the customer needs but the process hasn’t caught up.”

 Like many other pharma marcomms professionals, Paola Franco, U.S. marketing director, Johnson & Johnson, noted that her team is “just starting the journey. Right now, we are not that sophisticated. There are a lot of silos,” she said.

“There are definitely varying degrees of where some companies are versus others,” noted Sonja (Sparkle) Fisher, former associate director U.S. patient marketing, Vertex. “Creating personalization and customization requires data and infrastructure, and having the creative developed and ready to go is a hurdle slowing pharma down.” Fisher added that even when the use of AI-generated content becomes more prevalent, those silos will still need to be addressed.

During the pandemic, the industry saw a technological boom in APIs established by clinical software companies designed to connect to EHR platforms. Those applications provided new options for disseminating messaging that might have been delivered personally to HCPs and patients before COVID-19 but the myriad choices could be overwhelming and integration remains a challenge.

“We saw an explosion of vendors that completely changed their tech stacks looking to drive into clinical applications with these new tools,” said Steve Closter, VP, strategic marketing and launch excellence — psychiatry franchise, Sumitomo Pharma America. “It was a huge challenge integrating or connecting on the health IT side of things. We saw a lot of failure. And then there’s the cost component.”

Connecting with the right audience

Finding a way to create more personalization around messaging will be critical going forward. For instance, Fisher noted for a specialty such as rheumatology that has previously been male-dominated, the industry continues to engage as if primarily targeting male HCPs, even though a significant number of rheumatologists are retiring and the new guard entering the field is predominantly female.

“On the patient side caregivers are important partners in the chemo therapeutic area, but marketers struggle to understand that engagement,” added Fisher. She stressed the importance of working closely with patient services and building the customer engagement and adherence journey, which she said “starts at the front end.”

Erica Hawthorne, owner, principal digital consultant, The People People, cited the success brands had in bringing messaging about COVID-19 vaccines to Black communities through barbershops and hair salons.

Panelists agreed that customer support programs can be a great source of data. “Data coming from that hub goes unused and it’s probably some of the most valuable data because that is one place that speaks to your payers, your HCP, the office staff and the patients and caregivers,” said Fisher. “That should always be a part of your overarching strategy.”

“We’ve seen success in making our hubs the heartbeat of our patient-facing programs,” said Maria Verastegui, executive director, Acorda Therapeutics. “Our hubs provide detailed analysis and metrics of our programs, as well as direct feedback from our patients. Having such a strong partnership allows us to easily identify gaps to ensure our patients’ voices are heard.”

Hubs can also be helpful resources for information on how to make the HCP journey frictionless. “On the physician side, we understand their points of friction, our biggest challenge is the mindset change, getting them to look at things in a new way to help patients live a more engaged life,” added Verastegui.

Intelligent experience engines can serve as the back-end fuel to power informed, contextualized customer engagement. MM+M’s 2023 Marketing Transformation Survey revealed that 62.5% of respondents said their company has a marketing tech stack and 71% said it’s accessible to them. 

Panelists discussed the maturity around using these kinds of tools needed to deliver strong experiences. “Part of the problem with some of the programs is the silos,” said Hawthorne. “Pharma is trying to reinvent the wheel.”

Compliance and regulatory can be huge hurdles, but they are inherent in the industry and must be respected. MM+M’s Healthcare Marketers Trend survey showed that 41% of respondents cited gaining medical/legal/regulatory approval as a challenge to personalized marketing.  “How can we be agile and responsive when we need to plan everything out with MLR two months in advance?” said Gaudio.

Critical internal partnerships 

“A lot of this comes down to really good partnering,” said Closter. Fisher values the relationships she builds with her legal and regulatory “collaborative partners.” 

“I understand why these collaborators may say no, and I’ve been lucky that they have understood my need to escalate,” said Fisher. “There have been times when I’ve received a ‘no’ from internal partners, but escalation to outside counsel garnered a yes to proceed.” It’s not easy to be responsive and actively engage with consumers when messaging needs to be approved by MLR two months in advance. Fisher has a team member focused on monitoring partnerships. “That’s helping us to look for partners, whether it’s an adherence to a patient program or customer experience,” said Fisher. “You need leadership support when you get pushback in certain areas. We need to create a test and learn the pilot process with the MLR team that explains what we are trying to do and attempts to partner with them to create that process together.”

Jim DeLash, omnichannel marketing director, vaccines, GSK, described how GSK is using feedback from reps, who know their HCP customers best, to trigger communications. “If the doctor doesn’t have time to discuss vaccinations with patients, we need to have content to address that and a button that triggers that communication,” he said. Two months later, the marketing team can prompt the rep to revisit the issue with the HCP after they have received follow up information. “The field is now the channel. You use them judiciously because they are the most expensive and impactful resource we have,” he said.