When Digital Becomes Personal: The New Reality of E-Detailing—Part I

—Maureen Winigrad, VP, Marketing & Strategy

The reduction of sales call time does not correlate with sales reductions. The first article of this two-part series examines E-detailing as an efficient marketing tool, revealing how digital technology can better meet targets than traditional marketing calls.

Parents brave enough to embark on a road trip with their children know the dreaded question will soon begin emanating from the backseat: “Are we there yet?”

Those raised on a pop-culture diet of The Jetsons, 2001:A Space Odyssey, and Star Trek ask the same question about the future. Where are the flying cars and talking computers? When can we beam up? Are we there yet?

Futurists, such as Stanley Kubrick and Gene Roddenberry, predicted a mixed bag. Although computers can talk, a la HAL 9000 in 2001, we have yet to experience HAL’s conversational skills and dry wit. Cars still do not fly, and it does not appear that we will beam objects or people between different locations anytime soon.

Another common science fiction theme that has failed to materialize relates to technological advancement provoking depersonalization. Rather than fostering homogeneity, technology has advanced our ability to personalize–to which anyone connected to an iPod that contains 1,000 favorite tunes will attest.

It is tempting to lament what medical marketers perceive as depersonalization when companies cut salesforce manpower and slash detailing budgets. They should, however, acknowledge technology’s redefining of “personal” and celebrate the new and exciting opportunities it creates.

The New Meaning of Personal
According to a recent Manhattan Research (New York City) study, 43% of the 85,000 U.S. pharmaceutical sales reps embarking on a detailing mission fail to make it past the receptionist’s desk. Those making it past the gatekeeper then have only two to three minutes to speak with a physician.

Taken at face-time value, a two- or three-minute conversation between a physician and sales rep might strike one as more personal than an online experience. However, what actually strikes practitioners as more personal–brief, forgettable chats with reps that interrupt the flow of their routines and cause them to lose time with patients or a self-scheduled online session during which they absorb information that they will actually use to treat patients?

Data from Cap Gemini Ernst & Young (New York City) indicate more than 70% of U.S. physicians said online information influences their knowledge, diagnoses, prescribing habits, and interactions with patients. Although still in its infancy, E-detailing has already proven itself in terms of efficiency and effectiveness. Another Cap Gemini Ernst & Young report cited a six –month study with 1,130 doctors targeted by a leading interactive-detail agency that reported a 25% reduction in detailing cost. The average length of each detail doubled, as did the number of details per rep per day.

New Conversations With Consumers
Evidence already suggests that consumers embrace new digital-channel approaches. For instance, Time magazine reported that when Johnson & Johnson (New Brunswick, NJ) introduced a new contact lens line in China, it sent a mobile coupon, or “M-coupon,” for free samples to tens of thousands of young, urban women through text messages to mobile phones. Nearly 10% of the recipients redeemed their coupons. This response rate did not surprise the Shanghai-based marketer behind the campaign, who noted more than 90% of people open and read unsolicited text messages–a dramatically greater percentage than the estimated 20% who open unsolicited E-mails. The responsiveness of Chinese women shows little resentment toward the imposition of commercial messaging into a medium previously only used in a very personal way.

When it comes to capitalizing on digital media for reaching physicians and health care consumers, are we there yet? We may still have miles to go, but we certainly have a long, exciting journey ahead of us.

Original publication date: June, 2007; Product Management Today; © HLG Health Communications. All rights reserved.