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What Could Go Wrong This Planning Season?

8 Solutions to the Top Challenges Pharma Marketing Campaigns Face

Pharma marketing can sometimes feel like a thankless job, the web of overlapping indications, “second plus”-line treatments, FDA regulations and privacy landmines sapping the joy out of even seasoned industry veterans. Even when you’ve seemingly overcome these obstacles and launched what you believed to be a campaign that exudes the essence of your brand, its lukewarm audience response may suggest a different story.

How do you master the shape-shifting digital landscape while maintaining your strategic focus and building brand momentum in the face of this unwieldy machine? If you take the path of least resistance – creating your website, collateral and media assets tactic by tactic and negotiating each piece through the MLR process – the result often resembles a generic, soulless brochure.

Every manufacturer, treatment portfolio and product has unique marketing needs. However, in my twenty years of working with healthcare and pharma clients both in the U.S. and abroad, I have noticed approaches that define the most successful campaigns, when success is measured by market performance, share growth and category leadership. By happy chance, these “rules” need not add complexity or cost – rather, they often result in a cleaner campaign structure and improved execution.

Following this “keep-it-simple” checklist, surprising connections happen organically, breeding inspiration from within. A plan becomes self-nourishing when the dots are connected at the planning stage and the audience members themselves have the conversations that change mindsets and move the needle. The phases of awareness, trial and adoption, unburdened from a heavy-lift planning process, become the natural result of a single, simple well-conceived plan.

To frame the challenge, here are eight key problems I see regularly in pharma campaigns that go wrong:

  • Settling for cookie-cutter audience segments
  • Relying on “owned” marketing to carry all the messaging weight
  • Imposing obstacles that impede patient relationships
  • Forcing your brand’s message into the information journey
  • Disjointed messaging across platforms and audiences
  • Choosing channels based entirely on reach and efficiency
  • Using a small budget as a rationale for a one-dimensional plan
  • Accepting meaningless campaign KPIs

Consider the principles that follow your roadmap to avoiding these pitfalls and keeping your team on track, your plan falling into place like silky smooth domino tiles, your campaign springing to life as a living, breathing, growing center of gravity for your brand’s community:

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  1. Know who you’re talking to

As highly specialized marketers, it’s easy to convince ourselves that we know our audiences well. But when we hear from patients individually about their beliefs, hope and challenges and understand the particulars of their daily lives, how they get their information takes on much more resonance than when the same data is known for a population in aggregate.

2. Mobilize the care team

      “Talk to your doctor about…” has been the Pharma 101 call-to-action since the dawn of time. That’s why pharma marketers who get it right understand the value of empowering the care team to inform and guide their patients with information resources and tools to make smarter decisions, increase adherence and improve outcomes.

3. Make relationships inviting

Few question the exponential value of meaningful brand relationships with patient and professional audiences, so why do we make it such a drag to create one? Removing the obstacles (read 20-step registration forms) up front may be slightly more permissive with regard to who engages, but pays off in spades in terms of net brand engagement.

4. Tell their story, not yours

Both HCPs and patients are savvy enough to switch on their BS filters when they know they are being marketed to. And both place healthy outcomes at the forefront of their treatment efforts. While scary to step aside from the podium of brand efficacy talking points, it is well worth the extra effort to frame your story in the context of theirs. Everyone will be listening, their mental ad-blocking defenses lifted and your path to message receptiveness cleared.

5. Synchronize messaging

 Circling back to the golden CTA, “Talk to your doctor about…” We get why that’s important – patients can’t write their own prescriptions. But it takes two to tango, and when professional and patient messaging and media are conceived holistically and executed in harmony, the world is a far happier and healthier place.

6. Influence before reach

It’s funny how “opposite” non-personal professional media plans can be, when compared with person-to-person practices, in their approach to getting the word out. Target audience reach somehow remains a yardstick for media benchmarking even as we have arrived in a golden age of tracking and measuring behavior, awareness and ROI. Channel planning is a multi-layered craft that is very much a product of the nature of message itself and the ability of the channel to effectively deliver it.

7. Be everywhere, smartly

 One of my pet peeves is when media plans use a small brand budget as an excuse for a one-dimensional plan (say SEM only) because it’s not worth the effort to set up and track small numbers of impressions and clicks across three or four. Rarely does it make sense to draw the line at an entire channel rather than create a tightly aligned yet still immersive messaging ecosystem around one or more highly valuable and influential audience groups.

8. Know what success looks like

 CTRs, CPMs, CPCs, bounces, sign-ups and even conversion funnels all comprise the sleep-inducing metrics salad of garden variety media reports. By now, as the intended audience of said reports, most pharma marketers fall in to one of two camps – those who automatically zone out despite their best intentions, and those who dig the feel-good metrics “above industry benchmarks” and rising trend lines.

Get all the examples

For examples of current best practices, case studies and anecdotes illustrating real-world applications of all 8 of these principles for digital pharma marketing success, request your complimentary copy of my pharma planning essentials whitepaper:

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