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The Pulse of the Pharmaceutical Industry

Is it really working?

Written by: | | Dated: Saturday, March 14th, 2015

Measuring campaign ROI in the age of tapestry marketing

Ever been to a brand campaign case study presentation at one of those big-name health care marketing conferences? You know, where the brand manager and agency lead get up in front of the audience and show off their brilliant new TV/digital/mobile/social/(insert medium here) campaign with all its bells and whistles? Where they talk about all the creative awards they won, all the visits to their new Website, their friends on Face-book or followers on Twitter, the downloads of their hot new app? How they got C-suite and LMR buy-in, and the docs and patients are ecstatic, and this is the way to create an integrated, multichannel campaign in the digital age? And hands go up at the end of this spectacular light show, and after a couple of softballs some guy in the back says something like, “Um, this is all very impressive, but do you have any direct measurement of its actual impact on sales?”

And the answer, if there is an answer, is bafflingly vague?

One of the extraordinary quirks of health care marketing today is the fact that, in an industry whose products are as evidence-based as anything that exists in the marketplace, the evidence supporting corresponding marketing campaigns remains surprisingly thin. The considerable majority of pharmaceutical brands, some of which have marketing budgets in the seven- and eight-figure range, do little or nothing to confirm the efficacy of each element of their marketing campaigns – to see if this or that or the other app or Website or TV ad is having an actual, provable impact on new prescriptions.

Even after fifteen years in the industry, this state of affairs remains a mystery to me. In practically every other consumer-facing industry out there, marketers go to a great deal of trouble to pre-define key performance indicators, to tie marketing campaigns to specific consumer behaviors, to gauge a programs’ success and optimize it accordingly. But among pharmaceutical brands, this sort of research is very much the exception rather than the rule.

And the potential cost of this continuing mystery is only rising. Fifteen years ago, when DTC only meant a TV commercial or print ad campaign, one could make relatively sound assumptions based on the sales patterns that followed the launch of that one commercial or one print ad. But we are moving into the tapestry era of marketing now; the modern pharmaceutical brand should be touching the consumer in a growing variety of places and media. If we don’t know which of those touchpoints are driving positive action and which aren’t, we are just flying blind, and doing so at great expense. Folks do certainly keep track of the low-hanging fruit numbers – page visits, clicks, downloads, open rates, numbers of likes. But knowing that my brand’s Face-book page grew from 10,000 to 20,000 likes last year tells me precisely nothing of substance about the real success of my campaign – to understand the impact of all the components of our campaigns, we need to be following the path of causation straight from marketing touchpoint all the way to new prescription.

Unfortunately there seems to be a large-scale belief prevailing in our industry that this sort of thing is not possible, or at least not possible without some sort of outrageous investment. Not so. The tools exist today to calculate return on investment for virtually any pharmaceutical brand marketing campaign component to an increasingly granular level, and do so at a fraction of the total cost of a typical brand campaign.


The first step is to find an analytics partner with end to end capabilities. We at Intouch use a company called Crossix, but others are out there. The partner must have access to broad-scope prescription data from a variety of sources, and the capability to tie names and locations at one end of the marketing path to prescriptions at the other, usually through relationships with payers which permit blinded data matching. Due to the limitations of HIPAA, such a data partner would never be able to ask a payer, “Person X visited my website last month – can you tell me if that person filled a script for my brand?” But what they CAN do is submit a list of names to payers, and get a response by percentage – say, 20 percent of the names you submitted filled new prescriptions for your brand last month. Thus a raw measure of campaign efficacy can be calculated with the privacy of individual patients still protected.

Next is calculating the lifetime value of a new patient. Learning the real ROI of a campaign doesn’t just mean finding out how many dollars it brought in this week or this month or this year. You need to know the present value of each of those new patient acquisitions over alifetime. Almost as mysterious to me as the lack of interest in ROI among health care marketers is the lack of interest in the lifetime value of new prescriptions. But that’s the only way to really understand the ROI of any campaign – if your data partner can tie marketing touchpoints to new starts and you know the lifetime value of each new start, then you have a true ROI.

Next, you have to start at the ground level of every campaign component with the calculation of ROI in mind. Whatever call to action is included in your campaign must be able, through some available pathway, to tie back to sales. For example, if your brand is running a series of programmatic media campaigns online, each campaign should have its own unique linkbacks to wherever you are driving its targets, and that place should be tagged by your data partner for collection of information about every person who clicks through. This is not the sort of thing that can be done after the fact – it needs to be a part of the brickwork of each campaign. But if it is done, the Crossixes of the world will be able to tease out how many of those click-throughs are existing patients, how many are becoming new patients, and how many of each are tied to each discrete campaign.

As might be imagined, the forward march of technology is making all this easier every day. Facebook, for example, recently launched a new platform that can literally follow its users – not just within Facebook properties but outside Facebook and across devices. So there is no excuse for any brand with a Facebook page – branded or unbranded – to not be tracking the ROI of that page.

This doesn’t just apply to digital campaigns, though. A good data partner will have access to set-top box information as well – will be able to tie viewings of your brand’s TV commercial to prescription activity, just as with the digital channels. And with a little creative thinking, brands can find ways to calculate real ROI for virtually any campaign imaginable.

The typical brand manager, worried about her shrinking budget already, is bound to ask, “How much is all this going to cost?” But that is not really the right question. The right question is, “How much money am I wasting right now on campaign components that aren’t working, or could be working better?” Campaign optimization is an often-overlooked component of ROI. In addition to calculating dollars earned from each new prescription, we calculate dollars saved by gaining efficiencies. For example, for a mid-sized pharma client, we recently took over a pay-per-click campaign from their media agency. By approaching it with an eye for efficiency, we re-focused the campaign to be more about quality over quantity. Intouch increased conversions by 63 percent and decreased costs by 41 percent. In other words, the client ended up spending much less money on the program and got many more qualified leads. Whatever calculating ROI might cost in effort or out-of-pockets, the cost of unseen inefficiencies that pop up if you don’t do so are inevitably greater. That is why ROI is a part of every Intouch recommendation possible – we as an agency always want to know if our campaigns are working, and how they might work better.

Sometimes I feel like the state of health care marketing today is a bit like the state of war in 1913. Back before the Great War, people thought of war in terms of pageantry and handsome uniforms and flashing swords and mad cavalry charges – of attaque à outrance, as the French generals put it. Two world wars and countless casualties later, military leaders finally came around to the fact that their strategy had to be placed on an evidence basis, not an emotional one. We as marketers are in the same position – though, thankfully, without the millions of casualties at stake. We can pursue the pageantry – the pretty pictures and fancy apps that look great in marketing conference presentations. Or we can figure out what works.medadnews

Chris Nelson is VP, analytics and inbound marketing at Intouch Solutions



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