Four marketing megatrends that will shape the future of pharma

1. Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning (AI/ML) are here to help humans

Greetings, earthlings, especially those of you who market pharmaceuticals. It turns out artificial intelligence (aka machine learning, or AI/ML for short) is not your new master (insert sigh of relief here). Although the future of pharma marketing is digital technology including , but to supplement rather than replace human intelligence, according to a recent post by Viseven.

Says Viseven: “The forecast is that AI and machine automation are going to unveil individual data preferences, making pharma marketers able to ensure every customer receives adequate information in time needed. “

But you can’t automate humanity and authenticity, according to Viseven: “Even though automation is quickening and simplifying multiple tasks, marketers shouldn’t forget where their own value remains. Chatbots will never replace humanity and empathy. True emotions and understanding are what people expect most from life sciences and it’s certainly cannot be provided by technology itself.”

There is the key: Even in medical marketing to healthcare professionals, widely viewed as the most rational of humans, emotion plays a far greater role than many marketers would like to admit, yours truly included. Even these most rational of beings don’t make entirely rational decisions. If they did, marketing and sales would be much less effective.

Not only are machines unable to think, they can’t feel. That’s where we humans have the advantage. Hardware gets better, software gets better, wetware…not so much. Human emotions still have more in common with chimpanzees than PCs.

As it is, says Viseven: “All technological processes and automated algorithms require people at their core. Al/ML cannot be simply plugged in and to solve whatever challenges may occur. The triangle of data, processes and technologies still requires humans’ strategic thinking and mindset.”

As we see daily in the financial markets, most people don’t react to the same facts the same way every day. The Fed cuts rates and the herd either rallies or panics, based on irrational reactions and overreactions driven by fear and greed. What data driven AI/ML algorithms can analyze is what data points trigger human emotions and what decisions are made as a result. Monte Carlo-type simulations can predict the probability of decision-maker actions as functions of emotional reactions to data points. Such profiles can be individualized and rolled up into segments based on past behavioral data to the extent that the necessary data are transparent.

According to Sara Siegel, Deloitte Partner, Healthcare Strategy and Consulting: “Technology alone, such as the smartphone, is not a silver bullet for healthcare. Instead, success lies in the convergence of digital health and human interaction. It also relies on developing partnerships which harness technology, while providing trust-based, patient-centered care; and balances person-to-person engagement with the efficiencies provided by technology.”

2. The omnichannel digital future is now (and from now on)

Remember edetailing? Great idea if you’re a pharma CMO/CFO or an edetailing SaaS startup, except for the part where the doctors shockingly don’t want to sit in front of a computer and listen to the detail (unless of course you pay them, which you can’t). Result: crash and burn. Detail reps easily dodged that bullet. So once again human triumphed over machine.

The takeaway for the 21st century tech stacked marketeer is that the user experience is paramount. It may be easier and cheaper for you as a marketer to check the sales box with eDetailing, but if the if you lead the objects of your affection to the water you’re carrying but you can’t make them drink from that particular font of knowledge, then you are using a channel that won’t serve as a conduit for two-way communication, which is the only kind that matters. Channels that don’t function as media between the mind of the marketer and the mind of the marketee are exercises in futility.

Now comes the buzzword du jour, “the smart multichannel mix”, also known as “omnichannel”. According to Viseven, “Personalized multichannel marketing and value-based care will matter more than ever. The trend of using online resources via multiple channels is going to increase significantly. (The) (s)mart multichannel approach is gradually affecting HCP-med rep relationships as well. Receiving any medical updates or products info might be easily done at any time via Internet. As a result, here come more relevant digital solutions pharma can offer — live videos, interactive detailing and e-sampling. It seems unlikely you’ll see a high-performing med rep with no interactive presentation on his/her tablet.”

I concur with this vision with one caveat. Access is being denied to pharma reps at the day job, and even where the gate is not kept, reps are essentially trying to steal time, the doctors’ time, most valuable asset. As a wise physician once told us at an industry meeting, it’s really all they have to sell. Yet they still need to know as much USEFUL information about indications, dosages, patient assistance programs, etc. as ever, and they still need samples in a high-deductible world. As older docs retire, the uptake curve on digital is trending up exponentially-digital, especially mobile, is moving from an imposition on Boomer doctors to a demand from mobile millennial medics for who the latest greatest information is just a click away. Also, in a world moving toward concierge medicine and connected care, detail reps need to become as accessible as their colleagues in the rest of the business world — that means 24/7/365. Doctors and patients never sleep (at least not soundly), so neither can reps who want to be the winner that goes to dinner. At the very least, there needs to be a customer service center that is always on. Furthermore, channel responsiveness varies by physician and even by data point and by product and rep. Certain doctors with high interest in a complex product from a trusted rep will welcome high-value text messages, especially in response to urgent questions. Change any one of those characteristics of the rep-prescriber relationship, and harm could be done. Some doctors read some emails from some senders. Others may not be accessible at all with that channel, whereas they still read direct mail. Today’s technology allows custom media mixes by doctor, dynamically optimized based on the response graph.

Now for the caveat: I don’t think in-office online interactive presentations work. There are too many login and bandwidth issues and while tech is great when it works, it often doesn’t in vivo. Better to follow up a face-to face detail, that rarest of occurrences in the real world, with a texted or emailed link to online content.

As Viseven says of pharma vis a vis he “mobile generation”:

“Pharma made a significant shift towards using mobile technologies over the past few years. Throughout a day doctors have an ability to access any clinical information just using their smartphone. In order to get the latest sources or to find any info, just a button click is required. That grants physicians with an opportunity to be focused on more complicated tasks and leave their easy ones to be solved by smart technologies. Sounds promising? Huge transformations in healthcare and pharma industry continue to evolve through virtual and mobile experiences. Internet-savvy physicians are no longer an emerging group — nearly all physicians are online for professional purposes.”

Privacy is the biggest threat to the brave new world of personalized promotion. The controversies embroiling the FANGS (Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, and Google) threaten data broker life as we know it. In my opinion, the regulatory environment is a substantial risk. If the US ends up with something resembling the EU GDPR, business will proceed almost as usual. If something more restrictive comes to pass, marketing effectiveness could be compromised. In the short term, the biggest complexifier (as Jeff Bezos would say) is inconsistent state regulations, which could potentially mean 50x decision trees in algos.

The antidote may be, in Viseven’s words, “Trust and transparency. The keys to sufficient collaboration between humans and technologies.” I also agree that “Visualized data and up-to-date 24/7 virtual care will become the norm throughout the industry.” I am basically a visual illiterate, but my more graphically inclined colleagues have convinced me that visualizations via dashboard reveal insights plain text and spreadsheets obscure.

3. Data is destiny
You need to feed the AI/ML beast with mass quantities of data, and not just any data: the old GIGO rule (Garbage In, Garbage Out) applies more than ever. The data must be accurate, comprehensive, and current.

New sources are going to be woven into the data tapestry according to Viseven. If data is oil, the Internet of Things (IoT) and edge computing are shale oil, expanding the supply of data in real time at automated speed and provision, harvesting a new bounty of bits and bytes.

According to Viseven, pharma spend in this tech stack will increase 5x by 202, to $2.5 billion. Through edge computing, “data can be processed by the device itself in real-time. SaaS (software-as-service) grants pharma companies quick solution (s) from any device at any location almost 50% of pharma manufacturers are using or are about to consider it.

4. Content reigns

I emphatically concur with Viseven’s assertion that a new perspective on social media networks and content marketing is in order: “Pharma companies should no longer consider content marketing and social media as add-ons. Social media networks might be a great enabler for pharma companies in terms of deepening relationships with potential customers. Thanks to their advantages, pharma can reach very specific types of audiences throughout the world and deliver them qualified content exactly when and where they most need it. If the company wants to remain relevant, no chance those networks could be neglected.

Viseven also addresses the dark side of the social media force: “Beyond question, people often trust what they read no matter whether it’s proven scientifically or not. Thus, digital and social media platforms are ideally to be highly regulated. According to the current FDA regulations and multiple restrictions, pharma isn’t allowed just simply join a conversation. As a result, a large amount of information can be both imprecise and adverse.”

Here is a case where regulators do a disservice to the public. Antivaxxers and other charlatans and scoundrels can say whatever the social networks let them get away with, but the experts on the subject at pharma companies are gagged by FDA free speech limitations. I sincerely hope that First Amendment challenges to this policy which works against the public interest prevail.

Meanwhile pharma has picked up the pace: “According to a recent study, since 2013, the average number of tweets by pharmaceutical companies has gone up by 530%. Top industry players have increased their Twitter followers by nearly 300%.”, according to Dr. Kevin Campbell

So, to recap,

  • Humans need not fear marketing machines, rather they should embrace them rather than be replaced by them. Nonetheless, automation won’t be a panacea. You can’t just set it and forget it. There won’t be a “do my job” button on the keyboard.

  • Omnichannel is the real deal, but privacy concerns will limit the potential of data-driven content and channel personalization.

How we can help

If you need help navigating this brave new digital data-driven world, T. Nugent & Associates can be your B2B marketing sherpa. We know data, doctors, and content.

To find out what we can do for you, contact us.