Can learning programs be designed to deliver customer loyalty?
Most marketers agree that customer loyalty is driven by delivering value. And while driving value through product offerings largely takes center stage, most pharma manufacturers have also invested consistently in traditional learning arenas such as CME programs and speaker training. The question is, can learning programs be structured to deliver customer loyalty? And if so, what would be the differentiating characteristics of such a learning platform?
Building lifetime customer value through early engagement
Clotaire Rapaille, the author of Culture Codes, describes how Nestle in Japan tried unsuccessfully to sell coffee to a tea-drinking culture until they realized the only way around it was to imprint the next generation with coffee-flavored desserts (without the caffeine, of course). Devious as this sounds, the notion of imprinting is well established in psychology and well demonstrated in marketing. In healthcare, learning is not only central to any professional’s career continuum but it's also perhaps the most empowering approach to imprinting preference, from diagnostic approaches to procedures and products.
There are some very successful learning and certification programs in the technology sector where brand loyalty is built in. Cisco certification programs for network professionals is a career builder as well as a necessity for the engineers who manage routers and switches—the nerve centers of the Internet. Similarly, Microsoft certified professional programs designed for technologists (from developers to server administrators) are even structured into levels of accomplishment within each area. Many of these programs focus on new graduates and offer early career growth opportunities. This happens to be both a time of need where most young graduates are especially open to receiving, if not paying for, help in building their careers; it's also an impressionable time for forming product preferences.
The role of professional learning in the healthcare decision-making continuum
Some specialty areas such as surgery offer close linkages between products and procedures—
reconstructive surgery that involves a hip or knee replacement is a good example. But across the spectrum of diagnostic or procedural treatment situations, there is a distinct decision-making process
at play with any healthcare decision and a personal approach to learning is at the heart of it. It begins with diagnostic categorization, then a prognosis of disease progression, which leads to
an analysis of the benefits and risks of treatment options, and ends with an evaluation of the hopefully positive movement towards control or cure.
And marketing, by definition, tends to play a role at the end of this process rather than throughout. The great opportunity is to not just help shape product choice through an accurate evaluation of product attributes, but to shape the entire decision-making continuum through a differentiated yin-yang learning program, one that is specific and up to date in its approach to diagnosis and prognosis as well as connected to treatment choices and outcomes simulation.
Integrating education, information, and experience
Typically, education is the domain of structured learning
programs, whether university medical degrees or CME credits. Information (categorized in this context as product or process specific) is usually disseminated through white papers and
marketing/advertising collateral. An integrated approach would require long-term engagement rather than an ad campaign-type blitz. It would also need to connect online learning with real-world
opportunities—whether through labs for procedures or case outcomes shared among subscribed physicians on an ongoing basis, rather than a few curated promotional pieces for patient typing.
Understandably, this isn’t the domain of a traditional brand marketer, but requires a rethink across departmental borders and budgets. While it has been anathema to cross the world of marketing with medical affairs, that is exactly the continuum that healthcare professionals live and work in. The chief marketing officer, the chief medical officer, and the chief information officer need to morph into a trinity for the pursuit of the greater good—of patients, professionals, and even brands. After all, they were designed to do good, but marketing product information alone is but a flag waving atop a mountain with no footholds to climb on.