12 Predictions for Non-Personal HCP Promotion in 2023
As 2022 turns into 2023, social media is strong and ascendent as an everyday promotional channel for healthcare providers (HCPs). Seventy percent of HCPs report actively using social channels for professional purposes. A variety of studies and surveys have found that social media is a leading channel for creating brand awareness, generating leads, providing scientific real-world evidence, driving clinical conversations, promoting events, and facilitating peer-to-peer interaction. Public, private, and emerging social platforms vie for attention, time spent, and meaningful interactions with busy, distracted, overworked HCPs.
Influencers (KOLs and DOLs) producing short, snackable, mobile-optimized videos are the most compelling and engaging social content creators. Facebook still has a dominant audience with Instagram and YouTube not far behind and TikTok coming on fast in the public sphere. The battle for HCPs, eyeballs, clicks, hearts, and minds among the private gated “Walled Gardens” has become intensely competitive. Attention spans are short, mobile phones are ubiquitous and time between patients is fleeting. So games, polls, surveys, memes, and graphics are becoming prime interactive mechanisms influencing tactics, channels, and spending choices.
Here’s what will happen next.
OMNICHANNEL NPP. The pandemic necessitated a strong non-personal promotion (NPP) strategy rooted in the rhetoric of omnichannel thinking. Too often “omnichannel” becomes a buzzword rather than a reality because organizing a comprehensive strategy and executing complex tactics requires technology investments and/or the synchronization of siloed departments that isn’t practically feasible or politically possible. Achieving an omnichannel approach must account for the infrastructure and idiosyncrasies of individual organizations. Building a fully integrated operational strategy and coordinating execution across internal organizations aimed at external targets will continue to be a widely discussed aspiration.
PEERS PREFERRED. HCPs trust other HCPs more than any other information source. From peer-viewed journals to online journal clubs and online specialist groups, to congresses, private gated platforms, KOLs and direct peer-to-peer contacts the best way to communicate to HCPs is through other HCPs. The pandemic accelerated peer-to-peer sharing and set a new expectation for how individual HCPs keep up with the torrent of scientific and clinical information news and professional opinions. Marketers will prioritize tactics to harness HCP opinion leaders, brand advocates, clinical investigators, and academic gurus.
INFLUENCERS TAKE OFF. The increased demand for peer-to-peer insight is driving the growth of Digital Opinion Leaders(DOLs), self-proclaimed HCP critics, commentators, and town criers. They are established brands with distinct voices, audiences, and points-of-view.
These HCP practitioners worship real-world data and are broadly skeptical about pharma marketing. So far there’s been lots of talk about DOLs but very few actual programs deployed and described. Med/Legal teams unfamiliar and uncomfortable with co-creation of messaging have been the stumbling blocks. In 2023, publicity and congress presentations about successful DOL programs will open the flood gates. Brands will scramble to identify, vet, contract, develop content and measure the business impact of this new channel.
MSLs MOBILIZED. The demand for peer conversations combined with waning or restricted access for pharma reps is redefining the role of Medical Science Liaisons (MSLs) in the commercializing and promotion of medications. We anticipate greater numbers of promotional calls, videos, conference meetings, and consultations with individual practitioners and DOLs. Some firms will encourage Medical Affairs to join or participate in public social media medical groups or journal clubs, monitor and comment on discussions in the “Walled Gardens,” or participate in co-creating social or digital content with DOLs and KOLs. Higher MSL visibility and more HCP engagement will become standard practice as the year unfolds.
WALLED GARDENS EXPAND. Private gated HCP platforms have dramatically expanded membership, content, features and functions, time spent and head-to-head competition during the pandemic. They deliver significant HCP engagement through scientific exchanges and personalized specialty feeds that surface clinical issues and connect peers. They are aggressively seeking advertisers and will continue to play an important role in digital and social tactical plans.
CUSTOM AUDIENCE TARGETING. Privacy concerns and compliance have limited targeting options for social media platforms. As a result, rather than going to Meta or others to define and compile target HCP audiences, marketers are working with data providers to construct audiences using hashed email addresses or NPI numbers. This is new and somewhat uncomfortable territory for pharma marketers. These basic data elements are enhanced by appending third party data to zero-in on attributes common to specialists. The resulting target lists are matched against social media users and delivered using public and private social media platforms. Marketers and their data partners will make this practice standard operating procedure to compensate for cookie depreciation.
EMAIL EVOLVES. The email barrage will continue and expand creatively mainly because it’s the preferred channel for HCPs and pharma marketers. Look for email copy to become more telegraphic and personalized for instant consumption. Expect marketers to embed video, audio or animated elements into email campaigns and to refine, simplify and improve landing pages
NEW PLATFORMS WILL EMERGE. The social universe is changing and expanding in ways that offer alternative functionalities to attract and engage HCP audiences. Redditt and Pinterest have seen growth in professional medical content and traffic. Emerging sites like Twitch, Discord, Mastodon or Telegraph are ripe for testing and experimentation especially if the target populations are younger HCPs. These sites offer less competitive activity and the chance to meet HCPs in off-duty environments. Bolder brands will test drive new platforms in 2023.
MONITOR THE METAVERSE. Brave marketers and progressive DOLs or bloggers will experiment with this parallel universe. But mainstream marketers will wait-and-see. In an industry that has barely adopted AR/VR and is generally 5 steps behind our B2B cousins in technology adoption, the value of an alternate reality for HCP promotion is limited. Look for pharma to stay on the sidelines watching and waiting for proof of concept.
PATIENT SUPPORT IS PRIMARY. Most HCPs want practice enhancing tools that they can access directly or through their pharma reps. Often the provision of samples, co-pay cards, patient education materials or preauthorization assistance opens the door to physicians allergic to pharma promotion. The needs are real and are table stakes for many HCPs. Ideally, brands can create digital self-service sites to super serve these requests. Savvy marketers will find social and digital distribution channels to respond to these traditional asks.
COMMUNITIES CALLING. The idea of having a curated opted-in community of HCPs by specialty or interest is a universal wish among pharma marketers. Like a standing research or ad board panel, the availability of real time reactions and insight into thinking, attitudes, practices, or behaviors is intensely appealing. Unfortunately, HCPs gravitate to neutral non-commercial spaces. Empaneling and/or sponsoring a community and nurturing regular interactions is a serious challenge requiring a significant investment in time, technology, content, and moderation. Some brands will finesse these challenges by aligning with existing communities or institutions. Communities are a “nice to have” but unlikely as HCP promotional assets.
BEWARE OF DEFAULT. The greatest impediment to progress in HCP promotion will be a default to the tried-and-true traditional marketing tropes. If the pandemic is seen as a rare exception to the rule rather than as a monumental sea change conservative marketers will fall back on the standard HCP playbook which would be a colossal mistake. Smart professionals will guard against doing what we’ve always done.
Reach out to the author, Danny Flamberg, VP Strategy – HCP, LiveWorld, to learn more about digital and social agency services for the healthcare and pharma industry. firstname.lastname@example.org