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Digital Promotion Formats: Pandemic Remnant or an Opportunity?

By Mario Muniz - IQVIA
General Manager North LATAM Region


By Mario Muniz | General Manager North Latin America Region - Thu, 04/21/2022 - 09:08

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The 2020 pandemic confinement undoubtedly modified our way of doing things, not only hitting our entire context but literally changing our behaviors in a matter of days if not hours. From one day to the next, almost everyone was forced to stay home for their own safety. Aside from the tremendous impact in our day to day lives, businesses had to adjust to an unprecedented new reality. The pharmaceutical industry played an instrumental role in these troubled times: from finding new therapies to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic to developing vaccines from scratch in record time.

The communication between laboratories and healthcare professionals was also disrupted and the industry had to adapt to new ways of keeping such an important and permanent link alive. Traditional face-to-face visits by sales representatives, in-person congresses, and all those multichannel traditional means of promoting a medication or supporting a new launch, temporarily disappeared, forcing the industry to develop new alternatives in no time. Digital technology became instrumental to help laboratories engage remotely with their audiences and targets.

Doctors also adapted and recognized the need for new alternatives to engage with laboratories. They needed support from the industry to keep the flow of information going.

Fig.1 shows the main requests made by the medical community as revealed by our 2020 study of the impact of COVID-19(1) on doctors.

It was evident that despite the confinement, doctors asked that they not be abandoned and requested new communication formats that would keep them updated and informed.  For example, 74 percent of the doctors interviewed in our study highlighted the need to remain in contact with sales representatives but in a remote or virtual format.

What were the implications of this phenomena? As with other aspects of our lives that were also shaken by the pandemic, new behaviors were adopted to cope with the new reality: home office, virtual classes, e-commerce, dark stores, and last milers became part of our new way of life and accelerated the adoption of digital technology across all cultures, ages, and backgrounds. The pharmaceutical industry leveraged digital technology to keep the connection with the doctor.

As we can see from Fig. 2, the way the pharmaceutical industry turned to digital formats to continue promoting their products to doctors dramatically changed from one quarter to the next in 2020. As measured by our ChannelDynamicsTM tool, among a panel of more than 700 healthcare professionals, we observed how total promotional investment dropped nearly 60 percent versus typical pre-confinement levels in the second quarter of 2020, while digital formats grew in importance to an unprecedented 60 percent.

But since then, digital formats for promotional activity have been progressively losing ground: at the end of 2021, their importance fell to only 10 percent of the total investment (digital plus traditional). However, to give a sense of magnitude, this digital investment in Q4 2021 totaled MX$973 million, which contrasts the MX$135 million invested in Q4 2019, just a couple of years ago.

Fig. 2,  the way the pharmaceutical industry turned to digital formats to continue promoting their products to doctors dramatically changed from one quarter to the next in 2020 

But now the question is: are digital formats a remnant of the past pandemic confinement or an opportunity yet to be capitalized?

We believe that the digital behaviors adopted by doctors during confinement opened new opportunities for promotion, and what we see today in terms of traditional investment is more a push from the laboratories to win or regain a slot on the doctor’s agenda. We think that those laboratories that decipher the digital profile of their target doctors to engage them with technology will capitalize these opportunities.

Here’s some food for thought.

1. Digital investment did not go back to pre-confinement levels. Despite the drop in importance after a year and half of the pandemic, digital investment did not fall to zero. It is evident that some laboratories currently use digital formats to successfully engage doctors. Our ChannelDynamicsTM tool indicates that among the Top 10 laboratories in promotional investment, at least three devoted more than the average 10 percent to digital formats in Q4 2021.

2. Doctors are open to digital formats. A year after the confinement, we carried out a second study to measure the impact of COVID-19 among a sample of nearly 900 healthcare partners to capture, among other things, their receptivity to digital formats of engagement with the industry.

Fig. 3 shows doctors’ ideal preference is for digital contacts once the pandemic is over; interestingly, the ratio is practically one out of three contacts being digital.

3. Digital detailing outperforms traditional face to face when it comes to leverage. ChannelDynamicsTM allows an analysis of the various multichannel formats from different angles. When we take a closer look into detailing only, we can associate the yield in weighted calls per money invested across both digital and traditional detailing. Let us first explain the concept of a weighted call: If a sales representative showcases five products during a doctor’s contact, theoretically we would record five contacts to the laboratory, one per each product or brand.  However, the concept of weighted call helps make fairer comparisons with laboratories detailing fewer brands during the visit. Weighting is simply assigning a percentage of the visit to each product showcased depending on the number of brands and the order each one had during the contact. Fig. 4 shows how the money invested in detailing translates into weighted calls by format. For example, in Q4 2020, 16.2 percent of digital investment translated into 22.7 percent of weighted calls. That’s a leverage of 1.4 versus 0.9 for the traditional counterpart. A year later, that leverage for digital detailing is 1.5; simply put, digital gives a better bang for the buck.

Fig. 4 shows how the money invested in detailing translates into weighted calls by format.

4. Digital detailing shows better performance versus traditional face to face. ChannelDynamicsTM does not only measure investment. Every time a doctor is contacted by a representative, either digitally or traditionally, the practitioner scores the performance of the visit in three key performance indicators: Rx Intent, Quality of the contact and Net Promoter Score. Fig. 5 provides a definition of each metric as well as the score per indicator for each format; these numbers consider all digital and traditional contacts measured by ChannelDynamicsTM in the last quarter of 2021.  Across these three KPI’s, digital outperforms traditional formats. Even if both types of contact were on a par, the leverage of digital would make it attractive to maximize the investment.

Fig. 5 provides a definition of each metric as well as the score per indicator for each format; these numbers consider all digital and traditional contacts measured by ChannelDynamicsTM in the last quarter of 2021.

What are the opportunities then for the industry when it comes to using digital technology to engage practitioners? To try to answer this question, let’s have a look at how the Top 10 laboratories split their detailing in weighted calls per format.

Fig. 6 shows the Top 10 laboratories that registered the highest volume of weighted calls in 2021. As pointed out, we see differences in the importance each laboratory devotes to digital detailing, from merely 1 percent to almost 50 percent.

The vertical axis represents the importance of digital weighted calls out of the total digital and face to face. It also indicates the average digital importance among the Top 10 laboratories (10 percent). The horizontal axis shows the Rx Intent of the digital format and the average of the 10 (40 percent). The size of the bubble depicts the relative volume of weighted calls among the players, while the red color of the bubble means that the Rx Intent of the digital contact is below the traditional counterpart for the same laboratory; green means the opposite: digital provides better Rx Intent than traditional.


So, what do we see here? We see a top left quadrant where Labs 1 and 9 heavily invest in digital engagement but the Rx Intent is not only below average but also lower than their own traditional face-to-face detailing. There’s an opportunity to improve the content and key messages so the communication becomes more persuasive; that is, improve the Rx Intent. Lab 2, a relevant company in terms of contacts positioned in the bottom right quadrant, shows a better digital Rx Intent but not as good as its own face-to-face counterpart; learning from the traditional format could be leveraged digitally and efficiencies gained from leverage if investing more in this format.

The 5, 6 and 10 cluster, also at the bottom right quadrant, scored a digital Rx Intent higher than the traditional counterpart but not so far from average Rx Intent. These laboratories would need to improve the persuasion capacity of their engagement and focus more on digital.

The Labs 3, 7 and 4 cluster is already outperforming not only the face-to-face format but also the average digital Rx Intent. These laboratories are “already there” but investing less than average (10 percent) in digital: focusing more on digital visits would improve efficiency. Finally, there is only one company positioned in the upper right quadrant, a space with great focus on digital and high digital Rx Intent.

We believe that this upper right quadrant is a blank space where companies that invest in technology and create engaging digital content with good persuasion capacity will make a difference.

What can a laboratory do to get into this upper right of digital opportunity? Our colleague, Oscar Velazquez, head of our Primary Intelligence business unit, believes that getting to know the digital profile of each of the target doctors is fundamental to connect with them in a personalized fashion. Digital preferences such as best day and time to connect, applications of choice, optimal length of interaction and visual aids are some parameters for digital segmentation and further targeting.

Choosing and balancing the right channel to approach the doctor will also be important because not everything will have to be digital; a hybrid approach is developing but knowing the right balance between digital and traditional to calibrate the multichannel will be key. 

The technology and analytics to get us there already exist. IQVIA can help.

Photo by:   Mario Muniz

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