Multichannel: How to Whisper in the Right Ear
What happens when you take the combined portfolios of GSK and Pfizer and build a separate entity dedicated to HIV?
As a specialty company expressly set up to tackle HIV, ViiV Healthcare needs to engage in a meaningful dialogue with patients, physicians and other stakeholders – and that means multichannel, as Sara Leclerc explains.
Back in 2009, a new organization was created with a real sense of purpose, setting the ball rolling for a truly patient-centric approach that is focused on the needs of a specific community – in this case, people living with or affected by HIV. Then, add in a further dose of know how and support from Shionogi – the Japanese company added as shareholder in 2012 – and you have the makings of a formidable force.
ViiV Healthcare’s remit is not only to research and develop new HIV medicines but also to improve access to them, while partnering with the HIV community. In the context of a pharma company, this has created numerous benefits, including deep credibility with patients and physicians and enhanced agility from an organizational perspective.
“What’s interesting about ViiV Healthcare is it’s really a proof of concept,” declares Sara Leclerc, Marketing Director in Canada. “It creates a single-minded focus across the company.”
Accordingly, the mission is much wider than “just providing medication to patients”; the commitment is to support anybody affected by HIV in general, as the one-time national Sales Manager explains. Today, the company is garnering a reputation among the HIV community, and increasingly across pharma generally, as a leader in this therapeutic area.
This isn’t a trend that is behind us; every year, over 3000 people are infected with HIV in Canada1. It's my job to make people remember.
“For ViiV Healthcare, it’s much more than just the pill,” Leclerc explains. “We see the value added to the community far beyond the product. There is so much left to do in HIV. If you ask people to describe how they remember the 80's: they'll likely mention big hair, leg warmers, and cheesy music. Most wouldn’t bring up the HIV epidemic. Likely because most have forgotten this crisis. Unfortunately, although bad 80’s fashion has moved on, HIV is still very present today. This isn’t a trend that is behind us; every year, over 3000 people are infected with HIV in Canada1. It's my job to make people remember.”
“The support we provide to communities around the world has really set us apart as leaders. Importantly, our contribution has been recognized by patients: We ranked 1st in 2013 and 2014 for overall corporate reputation from a patient perspective in a well-recognized survey conducted by “Patient View”.2
Viiv Healthcare is a significant contributor to the Medicines Patent Pool, the UN-backed organization dedicated to improving access to appropriate, affordable HIV medicines and technologies in developing countries.
Leclerc suggests that ViiV Healthcare is lighting the path to a new model within the industry with its powerful focus on a single area of excellence.
The organization has benefited from its entrepreneurial culture: beginning with just 500 employees around the world ViiV Healthcare seems reminiscent of a start-up. “That was exactly the concept,” Leclerc confirms. “Everybody who’s involved does far more than their remit. The people who joined ViiV Healthcare wanted to be part of this start-up. We feel like we’re making a difference.”
The aim has been to “achieve the best of both worlds” by combining this entrepreneurial spirit with the structure and support of a science-led global healthcare company with many services outsourced to GSK.
Sales and marketing
In many ways, Leclerc has the ideal background for such an undertaking with experience in primary, hospital and specialty sales, training and coaching salespeople, involvement in continuing medical education for reps and, latterly more of a marketing focus. As Marketing Director, she is responsible for new product launches and strategy for the ViiV portfolio of products.
“Our role in marketing is to provide the strategy but much of that is based on sales feedback – how the strategy is perceived by our customers and the sales force; is it working or not?” This involves having teleconferences with the sales team “about every two weeks” as well as national sales meetings on a regular basis.
Having a small, compact sales team facilitates communication. “We speak to a member of the sales team at least every week, I would say, so we have very tight, close communication.” The fact that everyone is focused on HIV also makes communication much easier, she suggests.
The role of multichannel
HIV is a HUMAN issue and we have the ability to stop it. The solution at this point isn’t as easy as a pill – it’s a complex process. But it’s achievable in our lifetime. That’s why we need to access people via many routes – to ensure they receive our message.
Multichannel marketing is important in helping to fulfil the company’s responsibility to engage with multiple stakeholders, according to Leclerc. She acknowledges that pharma has always been quite traditional but considers that “multichannel is inevitable – you can’t look at pharma in isolation, especially in terms of where people are getting their information today, which is quite different from even five or ten years ago. This is why multichannel is so important; we have to adapt to how our customers want to receive information.”
“People demand information on their own time and terms. Technology allows us to deliver on these expectations - healthcare companies are no exception. We need to keep up and nimble players need to lead the way.”
When considering which media to choose for a communication, Leclerc says “we need to weigh not just the “how”, but the “why” ... Imagine you had the ability to solve hunger or homelessness? HIV is a HUMAN issue and we have the ability to stop it. The solution at this point isn’t as easy as a pill – it’s a complex process. But it’s achievable in our lifetime. That’s why we need to access people via many routes – to ensure they receive our message.”
Following media trends, you realize it’s no longer about who can yell the loudest – it’s about who can whisper in the right ear.”
“We’re relentlessly bombarded by every type of media. Our challenge is to make our messages stand out in the flurry of information that consumers and physicians receive on a daily basis. We’re not just competing with pharma marketing, we’re dealing with information overload. Following media trends, you realize it’s no longer about who can yell the loudest – it’s about who can whisper in the right ear.”
“Communicating an effective message needs to revolve around the patient. However, we haven’t cracked the DaVinci Code yet... We need to better understand if our messages resonate, but I think that is the opportunity. Multichannel is about creating dialogue and valuable interaction with our customers.”
How successful is multichannel proving to be? The jury is still out in terms of how effective it has been in reaching greater numbers of customers that the company didn’t necessarily have access to. Leclerc is frank: “We haven’t reached our goals yet. I think there is more to be learned about how to impact physicians we don’t get to see on the road. We need to do more to increase that reach. We are still exploring solutions while keeping an open mind.”
The way forward is to promote one clear message across multiple channels. It may also involve a mixed channel strategy that combines digital with more traditional marketing communications techniques such as print, which may help initiate conversations. In Leclerc’s view the ideal mix should provide a synergy so that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, although the challenge will be in identifying that perfect mix.
She points out that there is still a way to go in terms of measuring MCM, with pharma mostly at the stage of understanding high-level response to multichannel and digital. Compared with other industries, pharma “is pretty young”. She adds: “There’s a real opportunity to better understand if we’re measuring the right things.”
So does this require new metrics? “Yes. We can’t rely on old methods to yield new results.” Pharma tends to fall back on traditional stalwarts such as click-throughs, market research and physician feedback, but this doesn’t go far enough.
“This is an amazing time for marketing. In the face of abundance, it’s normal to take time to make prudent decisions. Multichannel opens a world of possibilities for pharma. We finally have the tools to go forward in an exciting, meaningful way.”
Sources: 1.Estimate by Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) : http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/aids-sida/publication/epi/2010/1-eng.php#a0507
2. Patient View Survey: https://alexwyke.wordpress.com/2015/02/11/press-release-the-corporate-re...
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