The Insider’s Guide to Closed Loop Marketing for Pharma

by Mark Razzell as published in Pharma In Focus

Having worked in the pharmaceutical industry for a number of years, I can say with confident assertion that the industry hasn’t even nearly got ‘digital’ right yet. Why’s that? Well, there are a number of reasons, but most notably it’s the industry specific difficulty of implementing a top-down strategy and the stringent rules on marketing activities that don’t lend themselves well to the digital environment. However, these larger problems will undoubtedly resolve with time, but I’m going to tell you what can be done right now, easily, to make your marketing efforts a little more refined. I’m going to talk about the rather beneficial position Pharma finds itself in with regard to gaining insights and what to do with that. Specifically, I’m going to discuss how to get valuable insights from your audience and how to implement them to achieve true closed loop marketing (CLM).

Pharma’s unique position

In the consumer environment, for the most part, you have to entice consumers to interact with you. Conversely, healthcare professionals (HCPs) have to interact with the pharmaceutical industry. It is a legal requirement that they undergo education and training in order to maintain their licence. Further, they need to keep abreast of the latest treatments and developments in order to provide their patients with the best possible care for the best possible price. These factors are all catered for by the pharmaceutical industry, which is a lovely complementary relationship (for the most part). These communications generally happen within two broad remits; branded and unbranded.


Firstly, just to clarify up front, I’m classing branded communications for both promotional medical education and promotional advertising, because the advent of digital and more stringent rules on what can and can’t be said has blurred the lines between these disciplines. Further, I’m not branching in to the realms of PR because that is still generally considered to be a separate entity.

Within the remit of branded communications, there tends to be a few different channels that can really help you get some useful insights. Firstly, let’s consider that old classic; the interactive detail aid (iDA). As we all know, the amount of time reps get to spend with doctors is shrinking and the subsequent ROI has taken a massive blow. However, that tool they take with them can give you some fantastic insights in to the minds of HCPs. When you’re building your detail aid, you need to think about the various touchpoints. For the sake of getting insights, a 250 page PDF on an iPad isn’t going to cut the mustard… So, what you need is linking buttons between pages/sections for the reps to use. Let’s say they go to see their customer and the HCP indicates they want to hear about efficacy, safety, dosing, and a new indication. The rep starts on efficacy and, while there, your backend tracks how long they’re on that page. To further the level of insight, you should install two touch points on the page for positive reception and negative reception. If you wanted to get technical on this, you could even set it up so that a double tap means like, and a triple means negative, where the location of the tap clearly indicates the message in question.

All of these various touchpoints and pathways will, over time, give you some reasonable insights into preferred messages and pathways, which messages are linked and at what level. You can slowly, but confidently, refine your iDA to make sure you’re providing the best messages in a manner conducive to positive reception from the customer.

This is actually pretty easy to do. Veeva, for example, already caters for much of this functionality.

closed-loop-marketingLet’s try another branded example. Suppose you’ve just launched a new product and are keen to run some promotional medical education events. More and more, these events are offered online. Of course, there will always be a place for these events to happen in real life, but for now I’m going to talk about how to make your online events a little better and also provide you with some insights. To provide some context at my frustration with these matters, when I first entered the industry one of my consistent roles was to collate the results of the ‘feedback forms’ from these events. For any poor souls who have also suffered this endeavour, know that you’re not alone in your despair. Transcribing hundreds of forms in to an excel spreadsheet then turning it in to a Powerpoint document would be great, if it told you something. However, you don’t actually learn anything. At the end of the event, doctors just want to get out of there, so they lazily scrawl feedback and tick every question with ‘I very much agree’, (for example). Most the time the ticks aren’t even in the boxes, such is their contempt for having to perform this exercise, and I can’t say I blame them. What you end up with is a 30 slide validation exercise, so everyone can pat themselves on the back and say ‘job well done’. Now, I appreciate it is notoriously difficult to get feedback from these in-real-life events, but what about the online environment? Pump in a bit more budget and set up live opinion trackers, question prompts, and a chat function. People love to engage while the event is going on, so this will give you some great data to play with. You’ll be able to track exactly which messages and points were well received and which weren’t. What better time to get some insights in to how your product is thought of than just as you’re about to launch it? After all, you’ll soon be planning the campaign update for release the following year. Further, it’ll give the account executive a chance to engage with something that helps, rather than an exercise in futility.


The amount of work and budget that goes in to medical communications has been creeping up in recent years and rightly so. While it isn’t the most glamorous of fields, HCPs have to engage with you here, so it’s a pretty safe area to invest in. Communications within this channel generally have to be pretty matter-of-fact, so there’s only so much refinement one can do. Further, they must always be completely non-promotional and completely un-associated with your promotional channels. However, the type of data you are likely to get can be extremely useful to both yourself and the medical field at large. Here’s a scenario to explain how.

You’re running an RACGP accredited med comms campaign in the disease area of Type 2 Diabetes, in order to complement an upcoming treatment launch. You’re running three online modules over the course of three months. Each module consists of key opinion leader (KOL) videos and written pieces throughout, punctuated at various points by a total of 25 questions per module. Now, as the HCP goes through, they will inevitably get answers wrong. Generally speaking, they are prompted to go back and answer again, but you really want to be tracking those wrong answers. Those answers will tell you where the gaps in information exist. Also, because they have to enter personally identifiable information, you could even highlight where gaps in information exist by location (if you have enough data). Not only will that help you refine your med comms activity for the future, it’ll help you with deciding on the messages for promotional campaigns. After all, a pretty strong outcome following receiving a selling message is ‘I didn’t know that’. Taking this one step further, if you adopt this approach across the board, you can feed this information back in to governing bodies who can use the identified knowledge gaps to refine their plans for the future. Everybody wins.

What’s the point and what’s the outcome?

Market research costs a fortune and often gets forgotten about as an ongoing exercise. Or, if it is performed in an ongoing sense, it’s pretty half-hearted. More often than not, it’s undertaken at massively disparate points in time, where campaigns have evolved so much they’re almost unrelated. If you set up campaigns in a manner conducive for measurement, you’ll get ongoing, easy and relatively cheap insights. This will help you consistently refine your communications, make sure your KPIs are being hit, all while making sure that HCPs are hearing what they need to hear.

As a strongly related side note, the importance of these insights should not be underestimated. The beauty of passively collecting data is that people don’t know they’re providing it. That is hugely important, because it gives you honest insights. As someone who has a background in measuring behaviour, I can tell you with assurance that one of the biggest problems in doing so is observer influence. That is to say that if people (or animals) are being watched, they edit their behaviour. So, in fact, this approach has a pretty handy benefit over market research.

Go on, think about it from the get go and give yourself some handy little insights to make your brand do more. Start to implement true closed loop marketing.

Let us know in the comments any great examples you’ve seen of closed loop marketing done well.


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