Building a master data vortex for pharma

Nothing powers measurement, intelligence and insight like data. But what kinds of data, you might ask? In the past, the “data” that fed customer insight and marketing strategy was usually based on gut instinct, with market research used to justify the final decision.

Gut instinct

Now there’s nothing wrong with gut instinct, especially when it’s based on years of experience in a consumer category that doesn’t change much over the years. But in an industry like healthcare that’s evolving at such a rapid rate, deciding with one’s gut is as likely to lead to irritable bowels as to true customer intelligence.

Gut instinct is a poor tool for measuring success, providing customer intelligence and distilling insight.

Another typical source of customer data has been the quarterly, episodic trend reports from the usual research consulting firms. But that means that the insight is often too little too late.

What is needed today is continuous monitoring of our market and our customers and comprehensive reporting across every customer touchpoint. And to do that, we need a single centralized master database. I like to think of it as a “master data vortex.” That giant sucking sound? It’s the vortex pulling in every piece of data we can–sales and marketing–so that we have the basis for doing near real-time evidence-based analytics.

Single source of truth

Having a single destination for both personal and non-personal customer communications means there will be a single “source of truth” about which channels and messages are working against which segments. This becomes a rich asset that most brand marketers still dream about.

Building the business, technology and data frameworks and the software tools to support customer insight has been a journey for us at closerlook. We have learned a lot about the infrastructure and politics and cultural change that’s required to get multiple parties to play well together. It’s hard but it’s possible.

Based on several years of experience, we’ve now developed a three-step approach to setting up and extracting value from a master data vortex.

Collecting the Data

First, we need to set up reliable data feeds from all partner agencies and third-party data sources of HCP data. Easy to say, tough to do for several reasons.

One is the lack of a common data structure. Every agency runs its campaigns in its own way, often using different definitions of “physicians.” In many cases, there’s also no single unique customer ID common to all agencies, creating an identity problem.

And then there’s the political sensitivity of agencies sharing their campaign response data. In some cases, there may be debate about who even owns that data. Fundamentally, agencies don’t like the fact that someone else is going to take their performance data, manipulate them, and potentially come to conclusions that the agency doesn’t like. This is probably the biggest emotional hurdle to creating a master data vortex, but one that can be overcome with a commitment to good governance and data security.

Implementing a reliable data feed requires an investment in data “plumbing.” This is another challenging area because most brand and marketing agencies have minimal in-house tech resources and don’t really have the patience for implementing the necessary technology to support clean data feeds.

But it must be done–including agreeing on a common data structure and making sure the information is clean and consistent. And then automating it so we can support effective and continuous monitoring.

In order to do this long term, our experience is that pharma marketing leadership needs to introduce new contract language into their master services agreements (MSAs) with agencies that require data feeds and outlines the technical requirements for how that data should be structured and transmitted.

Using the Data

The second step to creating value from a master data vortex is making the information relevant and actionable. This includes reporting, analyzing and predicting.

Reporting across a multichannel marketing effort includes measuring campaign results and impact. This information powers the metrics that marketers need to be able to evaluate and justify their work, and it needs to happen consistently across agencies and campaigns. This allows true apples-to-apples comparisons between tactics.

Data analysis is then applied to develop customer intelligence–being able to look at each customer on an individual level. To be able to understand how each physician is responding to clinical and marketing messages. Are they writing the product or not? Through which channels do they prefer to be communicated? What are their additional needs as a provider, as a professional?

Historically, this level of customer intelligence at the individual level has been anecdotal. It may live in the minds of the sales reps who hear the stories, but it rarely reaches the level of the marketing team. So being able to pool sales and marketing activity data together with prescription performance data from organizations like IMS Health showing whether doctors are actually using the product or not is really important. This is what will ultimately define who our most valuable customers are and where we should be investing, and is critical to the people who are actually running the campaigns.

This level of intelligence leads to the ability to predict the most valuable role of data analysis. By using current data from multiple sales and marketing perspectives, it’s possible to create profiles of “most valuable” and “most growable” customers. As we have found in our work, there are often thousands of “look-alikes” that are not in our target list or sales call plan. In our experience, once we start paying attention to these non-target physicians–showing them some love–we uncover many new writers and millions of dollars of incremental revenue.

The ability to apply predictive analytics against a target market makes the master data vortex a very serious asset. It becomes a gold mine of customer intelligence.

While customer intelligence is fundamental to activating and optimizing campaigns and predicting outcomes,  there is an even more strategic application of data analysis that can have lasting impact on brand planning and category leadership. The third way of using data to create value is insight.

Extracting Insight

Insight is a broader and more strategic category. It means distilling metrics and customer intelligence to gain an understanding of trends, unmet needs, adjacent markets, new customers and potential competitors. It answers the higher-level questions: Is our brand positioned right? Is it differentiated and compelling, is it filling a market need?

Insight can help define the strategic planning conversation around portfolio management, investment and M&A activity, and competitive positioning.

Insight is not something that you gain every week or every month; that would require significant strategic rethinking on an ongoing basis, which no organization or company can handle. Instead it’s an activity that is typically done on a tri-annual, biannual or annual basis and is used to drive strategy.

Marketing as strategy

This reliance on marketing data for strategic insight involves a cultural change. It assumes a genuine curiosity about the market and raises deeper questions about physicians and patients.

True insight always prompts lots of questions–more interesting questions, more evidence-based questions and more intelligent questions about what are we doing, what are we not doing, and why. Ultimately, the answers to these questions will feed the overall business strategy.

Once this happens, pharma will have successfully moved beyond “gut instinct” and will have the confidence, based on data, of making branding and marketing that are based in reality. And that’s what will be needed to achieve category leadership in this competitive environment.


Related Thinking

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Related Offering

HCP Digital Playbook



David Ormesher, CEO

Founder and CEO of closerlook, a recognized leader in creating innovative relationship marketing solutions that help pharmaceutical companies get closer to their most important customers. Learn more about closerlook here.


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