Pharma Digital Acceleration Post-COVID

July 8, 2021

Bret Baker, Senior Director, Data Science Solutions


COVID-19 has shifted the ways which pharmaceutical companies reach high valued physicians. Face to face meetings are down, and digital communication is up. According to a study by Accenture, in-person meetings shifted from 64% pre-pandemic to 35%during and the split is unlikely to return to previous levels[1].I doubt many of us would be surprised by this statistic.

That said, with this unexpected shift in communication channels, how many marketers have revised their strategy and corresponding models to accommodate the change? How many marketers are ensuring that HCPs receive a unified brand story, while not over-communicating to the point of being tuned out? How easily are reps able to provide samples and copay cards to HCPs with so much less in-person access? Additionally – will this shift become the new norm?

Non-Personal Promotion (NPP) and Rep Lines Cross

Traditionally, NPP (defined here as any form of communication that is not an interaction with a live rep) has been used to either supplement rep communication or replace it in certain circumstances. While NPP is nothing new, the coordination between NPP and sales rep communication is often sparse if it occurs at all. In the past when most rep communication was done in person, there was a clear delineation of channels.

Moving forward, we expect that professional communication will be digitally led where the line between rep details and NPP will continue to blur. Personalization and relationships will remain critical, so the importance of the rep should not be diminished. Marketers should be reinforcing the same strategic messages as the reps but do so without duplicative and excess communication which can ultimately hurt the long-term willingness of physicians to engage.

Tune in and up - not out

In a more digitally led model, brand managers need to be keenly aware of how much communication is appropriate for their audience and brand. HCPs are getting hundreds of communications per month from life science companies. Physician targets are not going to give brands many chances to provide relevant content before mentally filing this communication into “spam.”

A good first step to ensure receptivity would be to conduct an email saturation analysis across brands and/or customer segments to see whether trends arise.

Figure 1 - Data shown for illustrative purposes only

Looking at Figure 1 – it is notable that while there is a degree of drop-off for each group, the Early Adopters are much more “saturation-proof” compared to Traditionalists. Of course, depending on the product lifecycle of each brand, these curves can vary. These and other simple analyses can ensure that you are usingt he proper levels of communication across all channels.

New Delivery Method

Since pharmaceutical sales began in the 1800s, pharmaceutical marketers have known that getting product into physicians’ hands works. While access has been increasingly difficult since the early 2000s, COVID has accelerated this trend.

How many brands are providing a user (and compliance) friendly hub where targeted physicians can go and securely request samples, patient materials, co-pay cards, etc.? Brands now have a huge opportunity to create HCP-centric hubs, where physicians will have access to all the resources they need and want, without any administrative burden. Ideally these systems can connect with content and customer databases, feeding a constantly improving multichannel marketing ecosystem - and insights - for brands.


Better digital and Rep coordination across the marketing and sales force functions is both critical and impactful to drive strong physician relationships.  The shift towards digital communications got a rapid boost from COVID-19. Moving forward, it will be very important for marketers to include all of these new data points and create strategies that maximize the effectiveness of both the sales force a well as NPP.


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