Pharma marcomms professionals are exploring ways to better connect with HCPs and patients post-COVID. Many are shifting away from traditional DTC mass marketing channels, evolving their omnichannel approach and thinking about how generative AI will impact the business. 

During this #TrendTalks roundtable discussion, in partnership with Veradigm, panelists explored how point-of-care advertising fits into the new marketing ecosystem.

MM+M’s 2023 Healthcare Marketers Trends Survey (HCMS) indicates that while budgets fell 8% last year, marketers increased their use of the POC channel and their POC budget last year. “Point of care was a missing piece of our omnichannel plan. We want our consumers to see us online, when they go to the doctor, on CTV, when they go to an event. We wanted to make sure we could be at every place that they are,” added Maria Verastegui, executive director at Acorda Therapeutics.

Jim DeLash, omnichannel marketing director, vaccines at GSK, is planning to increase spend on POC for the company’s meningitis B vaccine and target 16- to 18-year-olds and their mothers. “We’re talking about giving more information to the patient in the waiting room to help them understand why they’re getting the vaccine,” he said. On the other hand, when it comes to shingles vaccines, “age is the only criteria you need to meet, so EHRs is a key play for us,” he said.

Damon Basch, VP, strategic partnerships at Veradigm and co-moderator for the discussion, noted that it’s particularly hard to measure the effects of omnichannel marketing in the vaccine space since vaccines can be administered in many different settings.

Last year, Sonja (Sparkle) Fisher, global patient marketing strategist, launched a POC effort to bring information about a screening test into clinic exam rooms in two communities of color. The objective was not conversion for an expensive product that was being cut from Medicaid coverage in the South, but to determine if content about the test was resonating with patients and prompting them to want more information about the product. 

“This particular therapeutic area requires that you build a community. The community for this area is globally engaged so anything you say will resonate around the world. We had to be very careful about what was said on social channels and how we said it,” said Fisher.

HCMS data indicate that the programmatic channel gained investment on the HCP side last year. Steve Closter, VP, strategic marketing and launch excellence — psychiatry franchise at Sumitomo Pharma America, noted that “point of care in a programmatic ecosystem is challenging because there are many things preventing POC from being connected to that ecosystem.”

Closter admitted that the tactics he uses and how much he will ultimately spend on those tactics depends on the product. For him, being in the right place at the right time is the guiding factor. “As brands get more mature, the field force can actually call on fewer people with increased frequency to get the most bang for your buck,” he said.

Increased investment in EHR

Now that EHR can be bought programmatically rather than through a traditional buying desk, panelists discussed how much they plan to leverage the EHR channel in the current marketing mix.

“Most pharma brands don’t have massive budgets,” said Erica Hawthorne, owner and principal digital consultant at The People People. She explained that when she was at Bayer, she tiered brands to better help determine spend. “If a brand was tier one, it was all programmatic. Then we built channels within programmatic. Same thing for POC. It’s a lot more funds for you but it also allows us to build the real customer journey. There’s going to be a moment when I don’t have an EHR or Doximity budget, but I do have a programmatic budget where I have this control,” she added.

“Looking at point of care in a programmatic ecosystem is challenging because point of care is somewhat disassociated on a general scale from the omnichannel assets you have in a programmatic environment,” added Basch. “Data rights issues, technology issues, all sorts of things are preventing POC from being connected to that ecosystem. If you’re shifting to programmatic, how do you make sure you’re managing your point-of-care coverage if it’s only a small slice that’s actually available to you?”

Panelists discussed how they are using data from an omnichannel perspective. “When you talk about ROI, everyone thinks you’re talking about scripts. That means that we’re using claims data, which tells you what was done, but it doesn’t necessarily tell you why it was done, or what to do with that information for a next best action approach to using that data,” said Basch. He asked panelists how they are using data today and how they think they may use it in the future.

Paola Franco, U.S. marketing director at Johnson & Johnson, said her team uses customer relationship management data as well as claims data to provide a more complete picture of the consumer experience. “We can communicate with patients, push out materials, ask for feedback and measure awareness of initiatives or dissatisfaction. It is a fairly expensive exercise, but even one extra patient is an incredible increase in revenue,” she noted.

Pharma marcomms could do a better job in ensuring they own and are fully integrating their data. “Knowledge is power,” said Hawthorne. She explained that fully integrated data can allow marketers access to daily PLD reports so field sales team efforts can be synchronized to marketing objectives. 

“Merck is one company that does a phenomenal job on bringing data in-house and cleansing the data. They do it from a cost of engagement and are looking at the cost of agency fees and all other costs to engage with the HCP or patient,” said Fisher. “Every company is doing things differently. Some biotech companies didn’t even think about ROI as an important tool.”

Marcomms pros continue to struggle to engage HCPs on a deep and personalized level. MM+M’s data revealed that 54% of marketers see personalized communications as an opportunity, while 42% still rate no-see docs as a significant challenge. 

While every company has a different definition of personalization, noted Fisher, the definition is generally based on the financial investment required to personalize messaging. “They’ll fund it, but they may not fund it from end to end,” she said. “It can be a challenge to architect and justify that spend.”

“There are ways you can create audience segments that overlay target HCPs with patient claims or other data to determine the messaging that each HCP should receive to create a more personalized HCP strategy,” added Elizabeth McShea, director, innovation strategy and transformation at Organon.

To ensure the sales team is engaged with messaging, Fisher added that it’s important to stress that marcomms aims to partner rather than direct. “I work with them on the creative to ensure they’re comfortable and that they’re all speaking the same language,” she said. “We educate our salesforce about how our point-of-care initiatives can support them,” said Verastegui. 

Importance of getting DEI right

Panelists also discussed the importance of adequately representing patient populations across all communications. Hawthorne noted that because Black and Hispanic consumers are the most frequent television viewers, broadcast ads should feature consumers that represent those demographics. 

Verastegui cited research that suggests people of color are not being counted accurately in representation of Parkinson’s disease patients. “We are very much focused on that and want to make sure that there’s inclusivity,” she said.

Fisher noted that focusing on inclusive marketing should also take religious beliefs into account. When targeting Latino populations on birth control or vaccines, “it’s a very delicate dance. They typically are going to the doctor with another family member who is translating or helping them feel comfortable with the discussion and all of that has to be considered in your messaging,” she said.