How to be an MCM Maverick

James Atherton|8th September 2014

Deidre Coleman from eyeforpharma sat down with Managing Consultant James Atherton to discuss how the pharma industry still presents considerable scope for developing and optimising the promotional mix. Read the full interview below:

Although most companies have espoused the MCM concept, the pharma industry still presents considerable scope for developing and optimising the promotional mix.

Multichannel marketing is defined by many organisations as communicating with and marketing to prospects and customers across many channels. Online, that includes search engines, blogs, social networks, email, and more. Offline, that means print, TV, and radio among others. But this is not of itself a determinant of success. Being present does not automatically create engagement. So how far have pharma come and what distance remains to be travelled?

According to James Atherton, Managing Consultant at Blue Latitude Health, whilst digital has moved on from being an after-thought, or a disparate line item to being an integral and fully integrated part of the marketing plan, this is not a time to rest on our laurels:

Cross-functional integration is starting to actually happen now and this is driven largely by improvements in technology and the 360 degree view of the customer.

He goes on to outline the progression in the last 12-18 months:

Senior leadership has bought into the idea of multichannel and see it as fundamental to their strategy and budgets have moved accordingly. More advanced multichannel marketing companies are also investing in the required marketing automation systems that enable the delivery of tailored messaging that is increasingly relevant to the customer in question. We’re now finally able to deliver the ‘right message, right customer, right time, right channel’ mantra that for too long has felt more of an aspirational goal than an achievable reality. The issue that pharma faces is the disconnect between the acquisition of this kind of technology, and getting buy-in from marketers that this is the new way to change the beliefs and behaviours of your customers. Connecting the marketing strategy to the business capabilities is critical, and people – marketers – hold the key.

There is also still too much emphasis on channel preference as opposed to end user testing that should be completed as standard practice:

If you ask me what my channel preference is, I will answer, 'that depends on where I am, and what I’m looking for'. Think of the context. If I’m in the office and looking for news updates, I’ll go to the Guardian online on my laptop, if on the tube, I’ll be reading the paper or using a phone app. I think it’s a highly dangerous strategy to say we need to use six channels purely based on digital adoption and geographical dispersion research data. Rapid, iterative testing with real end users to understand their channel preference based on the content or service you’re delivering, and the context the user is in, is something that should be done as standard, in my opinion.

Keys to successful MCM implementation

Atherton points to 4 keys areas where pharma can up their game:

  1. Take a long, hard look at where you are and where you want to be and what’s achievable. Design a strategy that works top down and bottom up (global, regional, local). Obviously that varies from company to company. If you think about content and services and how they are created, they need to meet local market needs and be easily adaptable. If you are going to build a new portal or CRM, that needs bottom up input.
  2. Create engaging, robust guidance documentation around how to take critical inputs (business strategy, key challenges, market dynamics etc.) and use those to inform multichannel activity. Devise a glossary of terms, to ensure their meaning is the same for everyone on the team. And please don’t get bogged down in the latest buzzwords.
  3. Think about where are you lacking and what needs to be done. Do you really have the cross-functional capability, or do you need to develop that? If you need to develop it, be honest about the level of investment you need to put in place to really make it work. Look at your capabilities and also your quality of execution. To help you understand your direction of travel, there are a number of multichannel frameworks that will help you understand where you are at, maturity wise, on the MCM adoption curve, and then create a roadmap to fill the gaps and move along the curve.
  4. Have a team that’s always looking 12-18 months ahead and how quickly that should impact what’s happening right now. There is huge opportunity to utilise marketing automation, for example, but surprisingly few companies are at this stage of maturity as they are too focussed on the here and now. We’re seeing it in every industry right now; technology (combined with great design) will be a key differentiator in the future.

Fundamentally, multichannel is a cog in enabling pharma to deliver the right benefit to the right patient at the right time. Achieving a good multichannel user experience is not rocket science. The challenge of engaging a user along multiple touch-points and multiple channels requires the creation of a consistent set of experiences that fulfils on brand promises and is also appropriate to each digital platform. The digital divide has increasingly become about knowledge and adoption of new technologies with the laggards in MCM facing serious disruption from the leaders in this field.


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