I recently spoke with Jane Portman, SVP, General Manager, Merkle Health, to discuss new sales and marketing trends within the pharmaceutical industry--particularly a focus on an increasing “virtual” space in which sales reps are forced to operate. We also talked about why 1:1 marketing is even more critical for pharma brands now, and will be in the future.
The full text of our conversation is below.
EH: You were recently promoted to SVP, General Manager, for Merkle Health. Congratulations! What’s your vision for Merkle Health and how does your considerable analytics experience play into that vision?
JP: Thank you! Merkle is a data-driven, technology-enabled, performance marketing agency. Merkle’s differentiation has always been our people-based approach and our unwavering commitment to making marketing personal for our most important constituents – our clients. Under the hood fueling our competitive advantage lies the data, something that I have been analyzing for 20+ years of my professional career. Having this experience gives me the ability to better integrate solutions that enhance our people-based approach, help clients shift focus on performance, and keep us accountable for driving value through a measurable approach and benchmarks.
At the moment, we are all challenged both personally and professionally in navigating the current environment due to the COVID-19 worldwide pandemic. In response, we have been hyper-focused on providing support to help our clients rethink strategy and create the most appropriate and valuable experiences for their customers, right now and in the foreseeable future.
My vision for Merkle Health is to advance our mission to continuously create value for our clients, under normal circumstances and in times of crisis like today. We are dedicated to building enduring partnerships based on trust, commitment, and results, and we will help our clients steer through this crisis and achieve their goals. Solutions have been centered around integrating our newest acquisitions in people-based identification, marketing automation, analytics, and digital experience design, activating our global scale, and leveraging our strong alliance network.
EH: What trends do you see among your clients that excite you?
JP: Many of our healthcare clients, from pharmaceutical companies to payers and providers, are embracing the need for digital transformation and many have already made significant progress. Pharmaceutical companies have enabled reps with a digital toolkit such as triggered email templates and integrated sales aid content. Healthcare professionals can now dictate when and how they want to receive communications through various tools like a microsite, webinars, virtual meetings, and other on-demand content.
Companies that have undergone this transformation and adopted these practices early on are much better equipped to navigate in our current environment where reps are no longer in the field. Having the ability to deliver the same level of support virtually will be a challenge. Omni-channel activation and the importance of integrating personal and non-personal marketing to create an optimal customer experience is now amplified. Now more than ever, our clients are starting to think about the martech stack and what needs to be in place in order to successfully deliver on omni-channel.
With that, I am also happy to see many of our clients re-platforming their outdated data solutions and moving to the cloud. This will help improve their time-to-market, create scalability, realize various process efficiencies, and activate costs savings over the long-term.
EH: What’s generating more interest from clients? Marketing technology innovation, better data management across digital marketing channels, something else?
JP: The marketing technology marketplace is crowded, and our clients have been especially interested in better understanding what the right solution is for their needs. Typically, most clients are looking for marketing automation solutions. We have been able to support these efforts on behalf of our clients through consultative support. We help them navigate through their marketing stack, build marketing automation roadmaps via discovery and assessment, and vet multiple vendors in a formal RFP process.
EH: Where are the biggest gaps still appearing in your clients’ marketing efforts? What do you think will help fill those gaps?
JP: The ability to use real-time data and insights to optimize marketing continues to be a challenge for many clients. In most cases, the pipes are already built, data is flowing, and analytics are turned on, but the ability to course-correct and execute optimizations in-market tends to be a gap. I do not believe there is a quick fix, but many things can help, the most important being an organizational shift that allows for this type of flexibility. Marketing automation platforms and decisioning engines will enable our clients to operationalize these initiatives. Until the technology is stood up, frequent analysis and measurement combined with regular meetings to specifically address follow-up on optimizations are a good solution. It’s not enough to simply report on an insight and give a recommendation, there has to be follow-up on the results.
EH: Is a focus on 1:1 marketing still relevant for pharma brands in 2020? Why?
JP: One-to-one marketing has always been important but has become even more important now and will continue to be crucial in our future-state “new normal.”
Very few health marketers have been able to execute 1:1 marketing successfully. To offset that gap, reps have historically been able to reach their most valuable customers to have a personalized conversation and deliver brand communications. Office access was increasingly becoming a challenge creating a very important role to engage the physician digitally on another platform. In our current environment, reps are no longer doing face-to-face meetings and rep-directed content will be deployed digitally, creating a surplus of missed connections, undelivered content, and unengaged customers.
In the “new normal,” virtual access issues will continue to increase, and office access may be worse than where we were trending a few months back. This is a crucial time for marketers to build their infrastructure to have the ability to activate omni-channel marketing campaigns, reach the right individuals, and deliver relevant messages that result in high engagement and measurable impact.
EH: How do you advise clients on the balance between a “broadcast” email to everyone on a target list--as opposed to a more personalized email program where, for example, an email may only go to one individual based on an observed behavior that triggers the email?
JP: In the world of product launches, indication approvals, continuous clinical research, and drug-safety label changes, there is likely a place for both. Our client strategy teams work closely with brands to fully understand and advise on their business efforts, including the creation of sophisticated trigger programs. We have observed that personalized programs where messages are triggered based on behavior have significantly higher engagement and impact (i.e. Rx lift) than marketing campaigns where everyone receives the same message. Often, we advise clients to use 1st and 3rd party data to create more personalized experiences and use response and activity data to build on those experiences to further conversation. This approach has been successful within the email channel and can be even more effective if scaled to include omni-channel activation.
About Jane Portman, SVP, General Manager - Merkle Health
In her role as General Manager, Jane is responsible for establishing Merkle Health’s unique positioning in the Healthcare Industry. She leads the development of innovative solutions that support the evolving business needs of her diverse healthcare clients across Pharmaceutical, Payer, Provider, Animal Health, and Wellness sectors. Jane connects the power of Merkle’s full-service offerings across client success, technology, media, strategy, analytics, and creative, to help the world’s best health brands create competitive advantage through people-based marketing.
Jane has over 15 years of experience solving client challenges and providing strategic perspective through a health lens. At Merkle, prior to her role as GM, Jane led the Health Analytics Practice, bringing innovative data-driven solutions to optimize customer experience through targeting, segmentation, measurement, and actionable insights. Prior to joining Merkle, Jane worked at Publicis where she developed corporate-level bespoke CRM analytic solutions that were adopted by Publicis affiliates. Jane also has extensive client-side and out-of-industry experience, having worked at Newsweek and E*TRADE Financial.
Merkle is a leading data-driven, technology-enabled, global performance marketing agency that specializes in the delivery of unique, personalized customer experiences across platforms and devices. For more than 30 years, Fortune 1000 companies and leading nonprofit organizations have partnered with Merkle to maximize the value of their customer portfolios. The agency’s heritage in data, technology, and analytics forms the foundation for its unmatched skills in understanding consumer insights that drive people-based marketing strategies. Its combined strengths in performance media, customer experience, customer relationship management, loyalty, and enterprise marketing technology drive improved marketing results and competitive advantage.Headquartered in Columbia, Maryland, Merkle’s workforce of nearly 10,000 smart, talented marketing professionals spans more than 60 offices in 13 countries across North America, EMEA, and APAC. Merkle proudly joined the Dentsu Aegis Network in 2016 and still continues to grow at a rate that outpaces the market, surpassing $1 billion in revenue in 2019.