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The Future of e-Detailing: 2009 and Beyond

Posted on: 03 Sep 09


Max Golby, Freelance Journalist, takes a look at the history of the e-Detailing market, considers what the e-Detail of the future might look like and asks what marketing departments can learn from an academic analysis of the instrument.
The History of e-Detailing: Call it what you will - e-Detailing, e-Marketing or e-Business - now almost a decade on from the days of the dot-com predictions - and a time when the temerity that surrounded the birth of the medium was in full-flow - the e-Detail has proven itself as one of the most cost-effective, growth intensive strategies available to healthcare professionals. For many physicians, the e-Detail quickly asserted itself as a more informative - and cost effective - alternative to the sales representative. Far more than just another email in their your inbox, even in its early days, the e-Detail equipped physicians with a plethora of new powers - providing them with all the information that a traditional sales rep could provide, in addition to alerting them to a wealth of web-based resources.
Having successfully engaged thousands of healthcare professionals from day one, the format began to prove its supremacy from a relatively early stage of inception. Today, not only do e-Details save money, they deliver results. Increasingly, as sales teams decline and budgets are refined, the e-Detail finds itself as the obvious successor to the sales strategies of the past.
Back in 2006, PharmiWeb Solutions’ Marketing Director, Colin Williams, wrote a comprehensive piece on the state of the e-Marketing climate. Today, in 2009, there are a range of additional developments to tell of. The project has come a long way since its genesis.
As Colin explained back in 2006, ‘The early days for e-detailing were all about experimentation and provided real challenges for all involved’. Born at a time of growing pressures in the pharmaceutical industry as a whole – and more specifically in terms of sales and marketing – e-Marketing was immediately heralded as the savior of all things pharma; the pinnacle of everything that the internet could contribute to the corporate landscape. Naturally, the market pressure that derived from the pedestal upon which e-Detailing was initially placed was wholly unhelpful in the short-term. For as much potential as the concept had in even its earliest days, the conflict between the vision of instant triumph (and instantaneous ROI) on one side and then the reality of a promising yet ultimately inexperienced medium on the other was entirely devoid of any sense of real balance.
Moreover, whilst we now know of the wealth of engagement potential that the e-Detail possesses – particularly through non-linear, interactive and holistic approaches– the original e-Detail was perhaps once seen as little more than a 21st century slideshow. And marketing departments were often limited to making use of the model for nothing other than light brand development. Fortunately however, many firms – and their marketing departments alike – were smart enough to anticipate the growth of the channel and to persevere with their commitment to, and investment in, the medium. Naturally, those that demonstrated that kind of long-term strategic vision from the start are now reaping the rewards of an advanced internal understanding of the e-Marketing project. Pharmaceutical firms that have only just released their first e-Details in the past year will still benefit from the wider progress that has been made to date, although finding the right approach can still require patience and pilot schemes in the short-term.
So, whilst e-Detailing still enjoyed a considerable degree of success on even its earliest outings in the field, its inaugural push was partially mired by a combination of internal miscommunication and an absence of mature, product-specific targeting. In other words, in its youngest days, e-Detailing lacked the kind of finely tuned market applications that the mechanism provides to healthcare firms today. And whilst an explanation for these preliminary hurdles would doubtless reflect the shortcomings of both marketer and client, it could reasonably be argued that a considerable proportion of the liability rested with the fact that corporations were simply undecided on how they wanted to make use of the new instruments on offer. Today, a pilot scheme is less a test of the long-proven instrument of e-Detailing, than it is of the company in question and its particular project requirements. The initial period of consultation and relationship building is one of the most important aspects of the entire project. If an e-Marketing firm doesn’t take the time to understand you and your business, how can it possibly hope to sell your product successfully?
Refreshing the Medium: Come 2009, not only can be e-Marketing Solutions be targeted far more accurately, but by the nature of their place on web, everything can now be tracked, activities can be measured and ultimately, e-Detailing can now be proven deliver a quantifiable return on investment. Indeed, with the wide-range of effective analytical tools on offer today – such as IMS Xponent – there is no limit to how far companies can pursue the avenue of detailed, post-campaign analysis. Here, the skies really are the limit. By building on its earlier successes, the e-Detail has since made even further strides from its initial inception back in the late ‘90s, with numerous pieces of independent research verifying the tangible nature of the advancements made by the industry during the first half of this decade. Indeed, originally seen by pharmaceutical companies as an un-elaborate, multimedia presentation for brand building, today, the e-Detail is better understood by pharma - with more companies looking to specify their area of campaign focus and include more interactivity and engagement in their solutions. As an indication of the growing demand for e-Solutions, according to a 2007 study carried out by healthcare market research firm, Manhattan Research, ‘half of surveyed physicians in Europe say they prefer to receive prescription information via e-mail, Web casts, podcasts, or pharma Web sites’. The research also highlighted physicians’ decreasing reliance on the medical rep, with only 57% of those physicians surveyed saying that they still relied on reps for the bulk of their information about a drug. In tandem with these improvements, there is also a considerable up-surge in the number of physicians beginning to take advantage of new technologies – with considerable growth in the number of Doctors regularly surfing the internet, using mobile devices and scouring social media sites - such as blogs - for additional information. According to data acquired by Manhattan Research in 2005, Internet use amongst healthcare professionals rose by 12% during the years 2002-2005. In recent years, the trend has only continued. A recently released White Paper by the same research unit reports that “the average physician now spends a full work day (eight hours) using the Internet for professional reasons, a substantial jump from only 2.5 hours in 2002”. Thus increasingly, and often in conjunction with traditional forms of detailing, the e-Detail has continued to demonstrate itself as one of the most effective sales channels at pharma’s disposal. An Independent Perspective: Increasingly in recent years, academia too has begun to have its say on the efficacy of the e-Detailing model. Not only confirming the growing prominence of the model itself, but also confirming several key strategic predictions of the past. Not only is such research essential for the ways in which it answers the how, when and whys of e-Marketing outcomes, but also for the sense in which it highlights both some the best, and yes, some of the worst, of our prior judgments on e-Marketing strategy. For example, in a 2008 study on the ‘Impact of e-detailing on the number of new prescriptions’, Professors Füsun F. Gönül and Franklin J. Carter, shed additional light on the growing use of e-Detailing in the global pharmaceutical sector – reporting an estimated 3,700,000 electronic promotion activities for 2007, up 15% on 2006 for the U.S. alone. In ultimately concluding that “both e-detailing and traditional (face-to-face) detailing have positive effects on the number of new prescription sales”, the researchers also acknowledged the growing importance of e-Detailing in the marketplace, adding that ‘pharmaceutical marketers are increasingly tapping into the Internet to develop efficient and effective communication and selling strategies’. On the issue of cost, the report also contrasts the disparity in the costs between traditional detailing and e-Detailing – citing a cost of ‘between $150 and $200’ for a visit by a sales representative, compared to less than $100 in the case of an e-Detail. Differences in cost are similarly imbalanced in the UK market – if not more so. Looking to the future, the researchers also suggested that future analysis should ‘explore which stage of the product life cycle [e-Detailing] is the most effective: introduction, growth, maturity, or perhaps decline’. Interestingly enough, however, literature of this ilk already exists for wider detailing and this in itself may provide at least some indication of how changes in temporal allocation may shape e-Detailing, too. A 2005 paper on ‘Heterogeneous Learning and the Targeting of Marketing Communication for New Products’ by Sridhar Narayanan et al. – an Assistant Professor of Marketing at Stanford University - explores the potential value behind deploying heavier levels of promotion at an earlier stage of the sales cycle. Originally, when the e-Detail was first introduced back in the late ‘90s, it was considered by some to primarily be a ‘saving tool’ – something to turn to in heavier measure when sales figures began to slide. And when e-Marketing firms would try to convince some companies of the benefits of a strong, early wave of e-Detailing, marketers would respond that it was something that they would consider in greater measure towards the latter stages of their campaign. Today, things have changed for the better as more companies begin to recognize the flaw in that thinking. But still more evidence is needed in order to refine our logic. Writing in the journal, Marketing Science, Narayanan et al wrote: “We conducted three counterfactual experiments to see if firms could increase their revenues in this category by changing their detailing allocation patterns”. Their results were conclusive in demonstrating the value of adjusting the time allocation of wider detailing. ‘We find that if they change just their temporal allocation without changing the cross-sectional allocation of detailing, they get a 6.1% to 8.6% increase in revenues in the first three months after launch’, they said. Doubtless, the more we know about a product, the better we can hope to make positive use of it in the marketplace. For this reason alone, independent research such as the aforementioned studies can only serve to better educate and equip those e-Marketers most passionate about being at the forefront of their profession. For a company like PharmiWeb Solutions, such knowledge is the key to providing a more evolved, measured and bespoke e-Marketing experience to each of our clients. Whilst the development of the perfect marketing strategy is as much of an art as it is a science, where an opportunity for knowledge building exists, we must be willing to make the most of it. The Future of e-Detailing: Looking to the future, in a recent discussion with Colin Williams, PharmiWeb Solutions’ Director of e-Marketing, we explored the likely areas of future expansion for e-Marketing in the next few years and questioned the extent to which social media tools are likely to play a part in the e-Details of the future. “The key functions in terms of future development will revolve around interaction, engagement and user control”. Picking up on the specific role of web technologies in the future of the medium, Williams was keen to emphasize the degree to which 21st century technologies can be brought together to create a powerful sense of engagement with healthcare professionals. "In terms of engagement”, he says, “where the e-Details of the past have typically been extremely linear – focussing primarily on brand messaging – the e-Details of the future will likely use instruments like video, voiceover and branching interactivity a lot more”. More than that, Williams remarks, “I would advocate that the growing numbers that we see today in post-Detail analysis are almost certainly a result of the stronger sense of engagement and interactivity that we have embedded in our details over the past few years. As these tools advance further over time, we will be able to offer even greater value added content opportunities for our clients. Things can only get better”. Indeed, on this area of future expansion, Williams’ response was categorical: as more Doctors start to include the internet within their daily workflows – and as pharmaceutical companies seek to build more trust into the detailing experience per se – interactivity and tools for engagement will become even more important than they are today. And as client expectations in this area grow, so will the ability of firms like PharmiWeb Solutions to respond to market demands. Yet, for Williams, to think of engagement purely in technological terms is to ignore one of the most uncomplicated, yet fundamentally powerful, aspects of the medium: human feedback. New technologies are important, for certain, but “…That is not to say that engagement is all about flash tools and impressive animations”, he remarks. “In fact, engagement with HCPs can often be a lot more about posing key questions than over-loaded them with new technologies and tools”. Yet, for Williams and the team at PharmiWeb Solutions, it is ultimately a harmonious mix of the two that will produce the big results down the line. “The ability of an e-Detail to feed a conversation between likeminded healthcare professionals is an extremely powerful aspect of the instrument and we intend to make full use of it in creating the e-Marketing solutions of the future”. As the conversation drew to a close, I was determined to acquire an answer to what surely must be the most voguish, contemporary e-Marketing question of the moment: “Social media”. The reality, Williams suggests, is that it’s not really a case of ‘if’, but rather “…when and to what extent”. At a fundamental level, Social media essentially re-enforces the trust argument – just through an alternative mechanism - he says. Where social media will deliver in the long-term, he indicates, “…is when it comes the improved profiling of healthcare professionals: understanding their day-to-day lives, cataloguing their likes and dislikes and thus developing an improved means by which to determine the precise information that they require at any given moment of the sales cycle”. That’s partly a facet of a wider CRM strategy, he says, but also a potential sphere where social media can have a demonstrable impact. “On that level, I can definitely see how social media will have a direct impact on e-Marketing and e-Detailing in the future”. Ultimately, Williams concludes that, “…this should lead e-Detailing to provide a much more targeted and tailored experience to the end-user: providing HCPs with as much of the content that they do want to hear about and as little of the content that they don’t”.

Max Golby

Last updated on: 27/08/2010 11:40:18

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