-Ken Begasse, CEO and Founder, ConcentricLife
-Elizabeth Beringer, President & Founder, Spring & Bond
-Kamya Elawadhi, Chief Client Officer, Doceree
-Jose Ferreira, EVP, Product Strategy & Transformation, CMI Media Group
-Jason Gloye, Global Chief Client Officer and NA Lead, VML
-Harshit Jain, founder and CEO, Doceree
-Andrea Palmer, President, Publicis Health Media
-Brian Robinson, Global Chief Strategy Officer and Head of Growth, Havas Health Network
-Joanna Ruiz, Managing Director, Deloitte Digital
-Thomas Shea, Chief Revenue Officer, Doceree
-Moderator: Steve Madden, editor-in-chief, MM+M

The goal of the omnichannel approach is to provide a “seamless and frictionless experience between a brand and the consumers.” With that explanation, Doceree’s Harshit Jain set the stage for this discussion.

It’s inarguably a worthy goal, yet he observed that in the healthcare industry, when it comes to applying tactics to measuring results, “there’s much conversation around it and very limited action.”

“Omnichannel is all about getting closer to your customer and delivering experiences in an integrated, orchestrated way,” noted Deloitte Digital’s Joanna Ruiz. “Yet big companies are so siloed, it’s almost antithetical to what we’re trying to do.”

“Moving to omnichannel is a process and pharma is a bit of a laggard,” admitted Brian Robinson of Havas Health Network. “There’s a lot of cultural and organizational challenges.”

The complexity of the sector’s audience — patients, payors, providers — certainly makes an omnichannel strategy more challenging. Publicis Health Media’s Andrea Palmer noted that omnichannel is frequently referred to as “connectivity between various customers.”

“That plays into the complexity in this industry of coordinating marketing across not only channels, but across customer bases,” she pointed out.

Trouble with the story

Panelists also agreed that it’s a challenge to change a long-held industry focus on marketing a product rather than a “story.”

“A lot of physician questions aren’t brand-centric, they are around treatment protocols and what KOLs are doing,” said Robinson. “That requires a level of strategic alignment and harmonization — and that’s not happening.”

“The heritage of pharma is brand-centric,” explained Palmer. “It’s hard to get an enterprise aligned when there isn’t a lot of consistency and commonality.”

“Right now, the cost of the disruption and the fear around that outweighs the opportunity cost perceptions of not doing that,” continued Robinson. “That’s why this mindset just persists.”

A further complication occurs in large pharma companies, which often market several products in the same disease category.

“They’re all talking to the same customer base, but none of those brands are talking to each other or organizing how they’re communicating to that end customer in a meaningful way,” reported CMI Media Group’s Jose Ferreira.

And yet another stumbling block emerged during the roundtable, as the dependence on centers of excellence for data insights came up.

“We’ll start seeing more customer-experience strategists well versed in data and analytics sitting on brand teams driving that customer experience through an omnichannel lens,” predicted Ken Begasse of ConcentricLife.

He counseled that brands need to keep their omnichannel strategy in focus while working with different agencies.

“A lot of times there’s a handoff from one agency to another that makes the goals of omnichannel harder to realize,” suggested Begasse. “Over the next few years, that is going to be a focal point for our clients.”

Those challenges not withstanding, the industry must pivot.

“We’re starting to see more innovation in the adtech and martech side,” noted Ferreira, “and hiring new talent from other verticals. And on the publisher side, companies are moving to a spot market, so they have to be as agile as possible.”

More pre-planning is needed to connect all programs and marketing components.

“Measurement is only possible when you have connecting data between different channels and audience sets,” offered Doceree’s Kamya Elawadhi. “You can establish connection when you bring all the efforts together in one unified place.”

The assembled group recognized the unique challenges to delivering value to consumers, but are confident the healthcare/pharma industry will deliver.
The assembled group recognized the unique challenges to delivering value to consumers, but are confident the healthcare/pharma industry will deliver.

Some solutions

To help companies get there, Doceree has created an Omnichannel Maturity Index, a mathematical score that can assess an organization’s omnichannel performance.

“It’s an initiative that will help the industry move forward so that there are better outcomes and efficiency of how media money is being spent,” explained Jain.

While panelists agreed that pharma has unique challenges to delivering value to consumers, they are optimistic the industry can deliver.

When customers “didn’t choose the disease or have to be on medication,” Palmer noted that it can be difficult “to create a value proposition with a customer that makes them want to be in your experience.”

Robinson suggested the solution may be for pharma companies to reframe their value proposition.

“The nature of the relationship will obviously be quite different for doctors and patients,” he said. “We have to give the patient a better relationship. That is how we create goodwill in a modern marketing environment.”

Participants agreed that owning data is a step in the right direction, since it helps differentiate how brands can engage with their customers.

“Marketing should be focused on surrounding your customer with information they need to make informed decisions,” explained VML’s Jason Gloye. “In healthcare, though, the lack of primary data makes it harder to reach people that way.”

“We do a lot of first party-data aggregation for our clients,” added Elizabeth Beringer of Spring & Bond. “When they launch a product, we collect as much data as we can on HCPs so that for the second launch, they have data signals from reps on what resonated with those HCPs.”

Data can also be used in a health equity-centric model to make sure social determinants of health are incorporated into the dataset.

“We need to broaden the frame, not only in clinical trials, but overall,” emphasized Ruiz.

While in the past, the pharma sector largely avoided direct connection with customers, Begasse sees more leaning into that relationship building.

“Going forward,” he concluded, “corporate brand ambition and purpose will be really important to building that kind of continuing relationship.”