The latest buzzword in the pharmaceutical industry seems to be multichannel marketing or multichannel strategy.  I am reading numerous blog posts about multichannel this and multichannel that, how to do it, how important it is and so forth, and I am also getting increasing requests from clients around the area.  The problem is when I was with McKinsey multi-channel was a buzzword . . . but that was over ten years ago!

Now do not get me wrong I think multichannel strategy and multichannel marketing (two different things) are extremely important.  In fact multichannel marketing really is basic and all companies will be doing some form of multichannel marketing.  The big issue, and the reason it is this year’s phrase du jour, is that very few pharmaceutical companies are demonstrating a clear multichannel strategy and therefore a consistent multichannel approach.

If we take a step back to 1996 and take a look at Tesco, the UK supermarket, and the launch of their Clubcard.  This was done with an integrated PR, TV, press advertising, and in-store support. Whilst this was still pretty much pre-digital this was already using multiple channels to market – namely publication, TV and in-store.

Now jump forward to today and Tesco is still using multiple channels to market – they have however added digital areas such as websites, email and social media.  They still integrate across the channels so the experience the customer gets in-store is mirrored in the other channels.  The messages the customers are exposed to are consistent and match across channels.

Looking at other industries today, such as the highly regulated financial industry, they too generally provide a consistent presence and style across channels.  Lloyds TSB for example matches their advertising (TV, print, etc.) with their in-store and online branding.  There is a clear, consistent look and feel across channels – the customer knows that every touch point, regardless of which channel, is clearly Lloyds TSB.

One can also see that they have a clear strategy around their channels and how they work together.  Offline materials for example will drive customers to an online asset, and they may also train in-store staff to be aware of the various marketing materials available in other channels.  A classic example of this would be walking into a store and enquiring about an offer that the store has online – in my experience the salesperson will often be able to answer whether they are matching this in store or whether it is online only.

If one then looks at pharmaceutical companies and their marketing practices not much has changed over the years.  We have added new channels but we have not done a great job of integrating across channels or providing consistent experiences or messages across channels.  The contact an HCP gets at a conference may be very different from what he experiences through the website or sales rep meeting.  Similarly the materials patients are exposed to through patient hand-outs from their HCP and the information they get from the company’s public website may not have a consistent look and feel.

One of the big reasons for these inconsistencies and lack of integration across channels is the siloed nature of the industry.  There will be different people responsible for congress and sales materials, for example, and they do not always work in a collaborative way.  This is within the same product team – you can then imagine how this works when you have people from the same company, targeting the same customers (for example oncologists) but from different product teams.  Rather than work collaboratively and ensure that when they are targeting the same people (e.g. the same breast cancer specialist), they combine resources and provide a single, integrated experience to this customer across channels, they will each deliver their own brand experience with no correlation with other brand experiences.  The pharmaceutical customer today then gets very different experiences across channels and from the same company.  There is a very clear lack of integration and consistency.

There are also regulatory barriers such as medical teams or the R&D teams not being able to work with or match what the marketing teams are doing.  However this does not mean they are not able to provide a consistent experience and ensure an integrated strategy across channels.  Just because they are not able to work together does not mean they are not able to communicate – after all they share the same brand strategy.  But again these siloes are very ingrained and there is a limited culture of collaboration – be it cross-functional or cross-brand.

Here lies the crux of the issue and the reason that multi channel strategy and marketing are such hot topics at the moment.  The industry is looking increasingly dated as customers get exposed to more integrated, consistent and sophisticated marketing from other organisations.  HCPs are people and they use shops and technology just like other people do – they are exposed to the Tescos and Amazons of the world.    When it comes to contact with pharmaceutical companies however they have to put up with one feel at congress, another through the sales rep and then what they get online may be totally different again.

There is now a growing realisation within the industry that this must change.  It is time for the industry to grow up and become more customer centric but also more sophisticated.  The only thing holding pharmaceutical companies back from providing a consistent, integrated face to each and every customer is internal process and politics.  Unfortunately these can often be the hardest things to change.  Will a year of having multichannel as the hop topic have an impact?  I hope so!

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