Non-Personal Promotion Wanted: Dead Or Alive?

Do your non-personal promotional initiatives work more like a sales representative or a journal ad?

Consider the two ends of the pharmaceutical promotion spectrum: On one end lies the journal advertisement. It resides within a periodical, stationary and silent, eager to inform and persuade those who happen upon it. It’s a one-shot deal: either its headlines, imagery and copy resonate with the clinician, or they don’t.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, we have pharmaceutical sales representatives. They arrive for a personal encounter, equipped with the most sophisticated and versatile communication device in the universe (their brain). They have been taught to discern a doctor’s interests, preferences, concerns, issues and priorities. Then they instantly—sometimes even subconsciously—customize their detailing efforts to meet the doctor’s needs.

Good reps listen carefully. They are constantly scanning for subtle cues about the physician’s level of interest, assessing their degree of curiosity, motivation and openness to learning. They are keenly attuned to voice inflections, facial expressions, body language.

So … on one side we have the journal ad: immutable and static, and at the other end of the marketing continuum we have the adroit sales rep, constantly adapting their approach to best serve a particular clinician’s needs.

Between these two poles, we have the vast and evolving world of technologically empowered non-personal promotion (NPP). Within this category, we find web and mobile sites and services, syndicated online content modules, video presentations, convention programs, iPad-/iBook-based e-details, and on-line advertising.

Which does your brand’s NPP try to emulate: the sales rep or the journal ad?

This is a critical question, especially at a time of gradually dwindling number of sales reps, as well as a reduction in reps’ access to physicians in the United States. 

The collective track record of rep-based promotion over the past 50 years has been one of extraordinary success. While the traditional rep model is viewed as less cost-effective than it used to be, there is still much we can learn from this time-tested approach. Specifically, the skill sets and behaviors of a talented rep can be applied to generate engaging, interactive, and customized NPP. 

Current NPP genres already mimic many sales reps’ methods. The “design-a-patient” format of e-detail allows doctors to select—and to then see a virtual depiction of— patients typically encountered in their own practices. The “banter-based” interactive e-detail employs branched logic and intuitive programming to create the experience of having a conversation with an (artificially) intelligent virtual rep about a medication. 

Questions that trigger active reflection about disease prevalence, prevailing treatment approaches, healthcare trends, or other thought-provoking topics can be deployed to “start a conversation” with doctors. Each question can then lead to data showing how peers responded to the same query or with actual data to reveal the correct response.  This provocative, conversational tactic can open a dialogue, a first step towards inviting a doctor “into” a brand’s online environment. Alternately, when deploying such content “hooks,” rich media options can allow the clinician to learn more about your brand wherever they happen to be in their browsing experience, rather than forcing them to visit your website to get the scoop. 

These are a few of the engagement methods used today to enliven NPP. But this is just the tip of the iceberg. Communications technology is changing the way we (all of us, including healthcare professionals) connect, learn, think, and act in unprecedented ways. Every advance brings a new opportunity to connect with clinicians in a novel way. The many innovations taking hold include place-based messaging, crowd-sourcing, EMR-based reminders, and augmented reality, to name a few. 

Our nervous systems have evolved to respond optimally and most powerfully to live, immediate, person-to-person interactions. Can we leverage digital technological advances to make our NPP even more relevant, timelier, and more like a human interaction with an expert? Can we be creative enough, inventive enough, and ambitious enough to realize the full promise of NPP in the pharmaceutical marketing arena?

If we want to keep pace with our customers, we have no choice but to meet this challenge.

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