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Marketing Automation: A 6-Step Guide To Making It Work for You, Your Team & Brand

by: Kari Obrist

Director of Project Services

The era of one-size-fits-all is swiftly coming to an end in health and medicine. Personalized treatment strategies are becoming more common, and even drugs are becoming individualized. Armed with genetic data, physicians can develop tailored treatments strategies, and they can even prescribe customized 3D-printed prescription medications, optimized to meet the needs of individual patients.

The personalization trend is also having a big impact on digital pharmaceutical marketing. By leveraging data on customer preferences, brand affinity, digital activities (such as Web and mobile application usage) and more, pharma companies and their partners have the capability to deliver personalized marketing content, in an efficient and automated manner, to patients, healthcare providers and other prospects and customers based on their behaviors. This trend is called marketing automation.

At its core, marketing automation is all about understanding a specific customer’s behavior (e.g. content consumption, health, prescribing, purchasing) and using that information to communicate in ways that are highly relevant and personalized, most often through digital channels. When done well, marketing automation can shape prescribing patterns, health activities and other behaviors in ways that influence outcomes and sales.

Despite its promise, many pharmaceutical marketers have been hesitant to do much more than experiment with marketing automation. Developing, deploying and measuring behavior-based campaigns requires a unique strategic mindset and a dedicated robust planning effort to map the logic of right content + right customer + right time. Also, some marketers may find it difficult to secure legal and regulatory approval for customized digital marketing initiatives without careful planning and education.

We’ve outlined six steps to help you overcome these challenges, and put you on the path to effective marketing automation.

Step 1: Understand How Digital Aligns With the Customer Journey

When done well, marketing automation can guide customers through the stages of awareness, consideration, action and loyalty. Creating and delivering personalized digital content that facilitates customers’ movement through these stages requires a clear understanding of how they use digital channels to educate themselves, receive answers to critical questions and more.

Although pharmaceutical companies regularly conduct market research, we often find this data is missing critical pieces of information about the link between the customer journey, digital content consumption and health decision-making, or has not been looked at through this lens. This is why we strongly recommend that clients:

  • Define customers’ digital journey in the context of their condition, clinical needs and more
  • Determine the places where customers are dissatisfied, feel challenged or need additional support during their journey
  • Develop detailed digital personas that are informed by their treatment, unmet needs and more
  • Identify the types of content and messages that will successfully inform and persuade

These customer insights will form the foundation of your marketing automation efforts because your content and strategy will differ based on persona and where customers are in their digital journey. These insights will also help ensure you align the behaviors you want to influence with the right messages and the right delivery mechanisms for each target audience.

Step 2: Develop a Data Collection Strategy That Improves Customer Understanding and Streamlines Behavioral Tracking

Relevant and actionable data will form the backbone of any successful marketing automation effort. Yet, many pharmaceutical companies are not collecting, organizing, interpreting or sharing data in ways that will help deliver the types of insights necessary to do marketing automation well.

  • Developing digital key performance indicators that help reveal vital information about customer intent, awareness and behavior.For example, multiple visits by a single physician to a Web page with information about dosing information, common medication side effects and drug-drug interactions can signal strong intent to prescribe.
  • Integrating data from multiple sources. Within pharmaceutical companies, a lot of critical data is siloed among multiple departments and third party vendors. It is important to bring this data together. If not, you won’t have the right information to determine what content to deliver, whether it is being used and more.
  • Creating a streamlined tagging strategy that illustrates how customers are consuming content and what actions they take afterward. Because content delivered through marketing automation is triggered by customer behavior, it is vital to tag digital properties so that you can identify the customer behavior. For example, data revealing how visitors reach your Website, and the actions they take (e.g., newsletter registrations or video views) is essential. Ultimately, this information will help you answer important questions related to marketing ROI, such as the types of content with the greatest ability to drive desired patient and physician behaviors.

Step 3: Deliver Personalized Content Based on Customer Characteristics and Digital Behaviors

At the core of any marketing automation effort is personalized content delivery. The persona and data strategy development activities outlined previously will help you define a series of rules that determine when specific content is delivered to what customers. For example, you can develop a multi-part email series designed to onboard patients, then boost adherence via refill reminders, or provide tips on optimal treatment strategies if refills drop off. It can be helpful to create a diagram or other visual to illustrate how content will be delivered at each stage of the customer journey and triggered by specific behaviors.

Step 4: Proactively Work With Legal/Regulatory to Accelerate the Review Process

Given the complexity of marketing automation initiatives, pharmaceutical executives are often concerned about how to secure approval from legal and regulatory. We have had success with the following two tactics. First, spend time educating legal and regulatory about your overall strategy, desired outcomes and other issues. (The visual you developed in step 3 can be very helpful during these conversations.) Second, secure approval for a content library and set of templates that will be distributed throughout the marketing automation initiative so that you can proactively work out broad issues related to claims, positioning and other topics. Focus on clearly describing the rules that govern whether and how content will be delivered to customers throughout the campaign.

Taking these steps will increase the odds legal and regulatory will understand what you are seeking to achieve and that you’ll have the flexibility you need to deliver relevant, compelling and persuasive content.

Step 5: Regularly Measure and Adjust Your Activities

Collecting data, but failing to review and act on it is a losing strategy. Marketing automation initiatives require careful review of data to ensure customers are taking the desired actions, content is being consumed and more. Keep your team members informed by sending out regular data reports via email. Develop dashboards that focus on campaign performance and use those as a deeper opportunity to identify and discuss potential improvements. If possible, have a regular schedule to implement those improvements. Then measure again.

Step 6: Share Marketing Automation Learnings and Best Practices

Helping colleagues within your organization become more familiar and comfortable with marketing automation will require ongoing education and training. By sharing information about what worked — and didn’t — in your marketing automation initiatives, you can help accelerate its adoption. Consider hosting a series of "lunch and learns" with colleagues to share best practices and insights widely.

Marketing automation is a complex and challenging strategy that can deliver impressive results for pharmaceutical companies, both digitally and in the real world. Doing it well will require improvements in how pharma collects and uses digital data, organizes and shares insights and much more. By following this guide, you’ll improve your odds of developing successful marketing automation initiatives that benefit your customers, team, brand and organization.

Let’s talk.

embrace@toolhouse.com | (360) 676-9275