By Justin Grossman, CEO of meltmedia


Relentless innovation in digital marketing means that HCPs and patients are engaging with brands in ways we have never seen before. For marketers, this creates an ongoing struggle to stay up to date on ever-changing technologies, trends, and customer preferences.

Justin Grossman

In order to make meaningful connections with your audience, it is critical to quickly identify and discard tactics that no longer serve to engage today’s audience. But how do you know what’s working?

Here are three outdated practices that every pharma marketer should leave behind  — and tactics to replace them with as you modernize your marketing.


Goodbye: Designs that Distract

Hello: UX-driven Design

A core tenet of the Hippocratic Oath can apply to user experience (UX) design, as well: do no harm.

If users are distracted or irritated by your digital experience, it is detrimental to getting your message across. How can your customer focus on your therapy if they are annoyed by what they see on the screen that’s telling them about it? 

Resist the temptation to invest in gimmicks like gamification, elaborate graphics, and animation just for the sake of it. If a feature stands in the way of delivering the information a user is looking for, no matter how beautifully designed it is, get rid of it.

Even commonplace formats, like banner ads, are subject to increasingly distracting design. End users can feel irritated by too many banners – especially expanding banners that displace a webpage layout. According to Ezra Ernest, CEO of Physicians Weekly, physicians report frustration with banner ads within EHRs that interrupt them while they’re trying to write a prescription for another drug. With HCPs already reporting high levels of frustration related to EHRs, marketers need to carefully strategize EHR ads to avoid leaving a bad impression.

Dr. Atman Shah, a physician advisor to the physician video game developer Level Ex, further emphasizes the importance of impact in richly interactive channels; games must have a real-world impact beyond their appeal as a new channel — such as reducing hospital stays or decreasing complications — to be effective.

Instead, focus on creating an experience that helps the user accomplish what they need and make it as easy as possible for them to do it.

For example, HCPs want information on efficacy, contraindications, dosing, safety, and side effects. Yet 63% of physician activity is limited to the consumer side of pharma brand websites, according to a presentation by David Reim, Chief Product Officer at DMD, at ExL Events’ 2018 FiercePharmaMarketing Forum. As we have observed in our own work with pharma brands, the tendency to overcomplicate the user experience is driving audiences away.

Developing useful, relevant features begins with user experience-driven design. Prior to designing visuals for your digital content, ensure that you have completed UX due diligence, including user research, analysis, testing, and evaluation. This process may just reveal that the best design is the simplest.


Goodbye: Touchpoint Overload

Hello: Customer Journey Orchestration

As technology enables more user interactions across more channels, marketers are producing more content. Audiences, for their part, are overwhelmed. Most marketers understand the importance of cutting through the noise in theory but continue to deliver impersonal, nonstop messages in practice.

Just because a brand interaction is possible doesn’t mean it’s beneficial. In fact, communicating with your audience too frequently can backfire. Why invest in an ad or email that only serves to make your user wish you’d leave them alone altogether?

If you are not yet optimizing the customer journey through personalization, it’s time to start — before your competition beats you to it. Customer journey orchestration will help you distinguish between the touchpoints that are available and those that are effective.

Email, especially rep-triggered email to HCPs, still offers some of the highest returns of all marketing channels. Mapping out an effective, personalized email sequence based on key triggers (such as FDA approval) and behaviors (such as HCP prescription behavior), versus a subjectively defined sequence (e.g. every two weeks) deepens your connection with your audience.

Plenty of research is available to help you understand physicians’ preferences when it comes to online content; according to a 2019 Digital Health Coalition presentation from Jon Sepp, senior director at SERMO, these preferences include: findings from medical conferences; case studies and real-world evidence; continuing medical education (CME); diagnosis support; and educational videos. While other formats or messages may serve the marketer, it is the target audience whose needs should remain front and center. How often do your users actually want to hear from you? It’s probably less often than today’s many digital platforms allow, and that’s okay.


Goodbye: One-size-fits-all Tech

Hello: Adaptive Ecosystems

Investing in your marketing ecosystem of platforms and partners without a solid strategy is a prescription for disappointment. Whether it’s costly marketing clouds that lack the functionality you need in a specific area or traditional agency partnerships that don’t produce results, pharma marketers are investing in models that just don’t work the way they used to.

Case in point: we’ve seen brands spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on high-end marketing automation platforms without the in-house or agency technical support to leverage them — wasting budget on what ultimately serves as an ad hoc email platform with underutilized features. Another area of technology overspend is digital sales aids; pharma brands invest in platforms that offer interactive elements but only use them as digital brochureware. Why spend time and money disseminating information through a field rep platform that simply displays an HCP site they can already access on their own?

There is no longer a one-size-fits-all model for how to build your marketing ecosystem. Today’s pharma brand must create ecosystems with platforms, partners, and processes that can adapt to ever-changing needs. For example: if your strategy calls for centralized customer data but isn’t yet clear on the most effective channels, consider a customer data infrastructure (CDI) tool that can flexibly integrate across multiple platforms rather than a best-of-breed marketing cloud that will lock you into a single one. If your agency of record (AOR) is being contracted for digital projects outside their core capabilities, consider utilizing specialized vendors for specific needs.

It’s never a bad time to reassess your spend, but the variety of options available today means there’s never been a better time to do so. Before taking an expensive tech plunge, you need clear business goals, a strategy for implementation, and the resources to effectively utilize the technology in question.  

Have you identified any old school marketing techniques that it is time to kiss goodbye? Be brave and let go of yesterday’s methods to connect with patients and HCPs in a meaningful way; your success depends on it.


About the author:

Justin Grossman is CEO of meltmedia. He began his career at Accenture, building expertise in the enterprise space. He moved on to apply his consulting expertise to smaller technology startups, where he developed a passion for building and growing companies. His talents in business, technology, and design have led to a 20-year career focused on software and digital marketing consulting for life sciences clients such as Genentech and Johnson & Johnson.