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How to Use Marketing Automation for Improving Physician Relationships

The marketing landscape is changing for healthcare companies, particularly those who manufacture and market medical devices or pharmaceuticals. The 2.3 percent medical device tax passed as part of the Affordable Care Act has resulted in many large organizationsreducing the size of their sales teams and searching for other ways to reach physicians. Additionally, the Sunshine Act limits the amount of money pharmaceutical organizations can spend on face-to-face promotions, another historically popular means of healthcare marketing.


With the increase in red tape and the reduction in resources, it’s time for pharmaceutical companies to truly embrace digital strategies, such as marketing automation. When done well, this software-centric strategy consistently delivers better results at lower costs.

Automation Doesn't Mean Being an Automaton

Marketing automation is an oft-misunderstood and very broad concept.

In the words of Marketing Automation Times, “Marketing Automation (MA) is a subset of customer relationshipmanagement software that focuses on the definition, scheduling, segmentation, and tracking of marketing campaigns.”

The term “automation” can stir up ideas of robotic interactions over social media and through email, but this is a misconception. Marketing automation allows organizations to maintain close relationships with customers and leads by granting users great power to personalize content.

This strategy allows organizations to adapt to new market standards. In the face of shrinking sales forces, organizations can replace in-office sales calls with personalized content sent through direct or digital means.

In fact, this strategy is what physicians themselves want. A 2013 study by HealthLink Dimensions highlighted that 62 percentof physicians prefer to communicate with pharmaceutical and medical device companies through email. In-office sales meeting and telephone calls were significantly less popular.

Using the Right Content is Key

A full-fledged marketing automation campaign can often be boiled down to a very intricate email campaign that offers increasingly relevant content based on how prospects interact with each email. We've already established physician’s affinity for email, but from the marketer’s perspective, using email also allows for a greatermeasurability of ROI.

For example, automation software can track opens, clicks, and other metrics that indicate which content is most successful. Which leads us to the key for marketing automation: communicating the right content to your prospects so they move further down the sales funnel.

Using content as a means of communications allows you to stay in touch with your prospects without seeming too transactional. Everyone loves great content, and physicians are in the unique position of needing to stay informed about a wide range of topics while not necessarily having the time to search out great resources.

If your email campaign provides physicians with the content they need, then you've already done wonders for building trust with your target audience.

The previously cited HealthLink Dimension’s survey even provides insight into what kind of content physicians look for from pharma companies.

Over 70 percent of physicians want information about industry-sponsored, accredited CME, while disease state information and patient education materials rank second with around 65 percent each.

Content around practice management ranks fourth with around 55 percent.

It’s Not All About Creation. Curation Works Too.

Depending on the size of your organization, creating original content may not be scalable. It’s understandable: creating new content is both expensive and difficult to execute. If original content can’t serve as the centerpiece of your campaign, content curation offers a viable alternative.

Consider physicians as consumers: they lead incredibly busy lives and have precious little free time. Gathering quality resources from respected publishers and sharing them with your email readers can provide comparable value to creating original content. Many healthcare providers have used this approach in their marketing. For example, the Mayo Clinic created an entire resource just for aggregating information for healthcare professionals.

Whether you’re creating or curating content, adopting marketing automation software holds a number of benefits for pharmaceutical organizations, both in terms of returns and costs.

The Content Marketing Institute in 2012 released a study estimating that healthcare marketing lagged two years behind the other industries.47 percent of healthcare marketers still invest heavily in print, compared to only 35 percent of all marketers.

This study showcases that there are large opportunities in digital marketing, and marketing automation adopters still have a chance to build a significant competitive advantage. Pharmaceutical organizations searching for scalable digital strategies need look no further than marketing automation.

(Originally published on ePharma Blog on September 15, 2014)

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