Channelling your inner disruptor

Jenna Earl|5th April 2017

Channel strategy has long been a hot topic for pharma and is often regarded as the answer to many of today’s marketing challenges.

First came the dawn of digital marketing, intending to ‘turbo-charge’ sales reps ahead of the competition by using dynamic eDetails and follow-up emails to engage with physicians. Then came the promising premise of ‘multichannel’, overcoming declining face time with healthcare professionals (HCPs) through complementary channel use. Finally, ‘omnichannel’ reared its ubiquitous head, intending to provide a seamless customer experience by surrounding the user with content.

However, as the recent political climate demonstrates, where there is a status quo, there is an innate desire for change. It’s no wonder, therefore, that ‘disruption’ is now on the proverbial marketing table.

But what are the challenges faced by pharmaceutical marketers today, and is disruption really the answer? What risks does disruption pose, and will these be outweighed by the potential gains? Finally, and most prohibitively, is pharma really ready to disrupt?

What is channel disruption?

Disruption has been used in consumer marketing to gain a competitive advantage for more than a decade. It aims to break existing patterns of behaviour through a departure from the norm. The most effective methods of disruption often involve changes to a business model to reflect a customer need (iTunes and Uber are prime examples), but channel strategy also offers opportunities to disrupt.  

Creative disruption intends to cut through the deluge of messaging faced by a target customer with unique, and often provocative, content. Pharma is no stranger to creative disruption. Xenical’s ‘Lethal Obsession’ campaign was highly successful in disrupting the weight loss market and achieved powerful results by going against the tide. But can this rebellious stance be successfully applied to channel strategy?

By going against the status quo, Eli Lilly’s Medical Information Cascade successfully transformed the way HCPs seek medical information on Lilly’s products using innovative SEO and optimisation practices.

Can channel disruption succeed multichannel?

Competitive, financial, and regulatory pressures have driven a shift toward very calculated approaches to channel choice. Some companies are adopting highly complex algorithms to determine the perfect mix of channels based on effectiveness weighting.

The danger of this calculated approach is that it distances marketers (and their message) from the customer on a human level. It also becomes difficult to connect content and objectives to customers in a meaningful, tailored way. Communications can begin to feel automated rather than personalised.

Additionally, if everyone is striving to provide the perfect multichannel experience, it’s going to be harder to cut through the noise and create a competitive advantage.

Where are the opportunities for channel disruption in pharmaceutical marketing?

The amount of time available for HCPs to process treatment information is declining, yet they are targeted with more content than ever before. Unmet needs, new products, new data, new end points – the list is endless.

Channel disruption should ultimately aim to connect physicians with the right content in a simple and effective way. Arguably, the more saturated the market of information, the more impactful channel disruption will be. Sometimes it makes more sense in a hyper-competitive landscape to take a risk and stand out in one channel than to blend into the background of five.

You’ve decided to brave channel disruption. Now what?

Deciding to break with the status quo and disrupt through your channel strategy is only the first step. Here are six steps to guide you through the early stages of developing your plan for disruption.

1. Be committed

Successful disruptive marketing requires a long-term commitment, and likely a fundamental shift in a company’s marketing model. You’ll need to be certain from the start that this is the right channel strategy for your market challenges.

2. Get buy-in

The first step to launching a disruptive marketing campaign is obtaining buy-in from internal key stakeholders. Whatever your objectives, your team will need to be brave, and you will need to be the bravest. Who will need to be convinced that, for example, all budget should be pulled from congresses and put into developing an HCP portal?

3. Delve into your insights

Making brave choices is a risky business. To mitigate these risks, your strategy must be based on a solid foundation of insights. Assess the current customer experience and identify areas for disruption. What is the behavioural pattern you’re trying to break? How will this departure from the generally accepted practice benefit your customers? What are your competitors up to? How will your approach stand out from the noise?

4. Find your angle

Once you have identified a clear need for disruptive channel strategy, it’s time to define your approach. Ask yourself what would happen if…

  • You focused on using channels that the competitor is currently neglecting?
  • You focused exclusively on one channel?
  • You focused exclusively on one customer type?

5. Execute flawlessly

As with any communication strategy, you cannot consider channel in isolation. You will need precision planning, valuable content, and meticulous design to bring your Big Idea to life and drive the desired impact.

6. Test it

Pilot your Big Idea to test it, and make small adjustments before rolling out on a larger regional or global scale – the same approach may not work in all locations, but a pilot will help to demonstrate effectiveness and get wider buy-in from other markets, as well as regional or global stakeholders.

Basic principles for any channel strategy

Even if your brand or portfolio isn’t in a position to adopt a disruptive channel strategy, there are some basic principles to remind yourself of when deciding where to spend your marketing budget. 

  • Consider the specificities of your market  
  • Always put the customer’s needs first  
  • Channel is just one component of the marketing mix
  • Be realistic about budget and prioritise accordingly
  • Recognise the limitations of your metrics
  • Get cross-functional buy in from the top down

**This article originally appeared on PMLive and in PME. 

At Blue Latitude Health, we have helped many brands engage better with their customers through effective channel strategy. To learn more about how we can help your organisation, get in touch with us at

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