The HCP engagement mess we’re in. And how we get out


By SciencePOD Editor
13th January 2022
HCP engagemnt is tricky

While other industries have responded swiftly to the need for a more insightful approach to their digital content during the pandemic, Pharma has been dragging its heels. So much so that it is starting to frustrate audiences and fuelling existing digital fatigue. Of course, we understand the underlying reasons for the industry’s cautious approach – not least the influence of legal and compliance colleagues. However, the increasing gap between the content healthcare professionals (HCPs) are asking for and the content being provided needs to be addressed. Preferably yesterday.

A changing content landscape

It is abundantly clear that there is a broadening gap between what audiences want and what they are being offered. The distance is now so great that Pharma companies risk becoming specks on the horizon.

Pharma companies which do not respond to these needs become indistinguishable from each other in the eyes of their audience. Thus, losing visibility, credibility and relevance. The opportunities and rewards for delivering dynamic content are increasing all the time. However, the market remains perversely slow in responding to its audience’s developing needs. 

Content needs to evolve to meet these demands. Audiences need content that both captivates and informs. There must be complete alignment and understanding between those collating the information and those tasked with presenting it. Only then will it be fit for purpose in the current climate.

So much content out there now relies on formats and techniques that were popular 10 years ago. Do we really think our audience’s preferences haven’t changed in a decade?

By way of example, just prior to Christmas, I reviewed a major International Congress and its industry-supported symposia sessions. I viewed over 70 invitations. Only two of those had prepared an introductory video—namely, Gilead Sciences and Advanced Accelerator Applications International. Need I say more?

Attention span and focus

Recently a client approached me in my capacity as an engagement specialist. They had a specific problem relating to their Advisory Board. Extended periods of remote working during the pandemic had badly impacted levels of attention and focus among Board members. The client subsequently reported a decrease in meaningful interactions with the group. It was clear that people were multi-tasking during meetings, to the point where the input they were giving was of little to no relevance or value.

It was also clear that the technical resources used were ill-suited to the task at hand. Was this an isolated case or a common model for current interactions? Either way, it was clear that specialist knowledge, experience and applied skills were required to address the situation.

Lack of time is an obvious factor here.

We know HCPs are under massive pressure with increased responsibilities. We need to look carefully at each activity and consider the context in which it needs to function. For example, when trying to encourage HCP engagement with an on-demand webinar or symposium it is pointless to use material with a consumption time of 15 minutes or longer. The HCP you are trying to reach has just 60 minutes a day to dedicate to this type of content, broken up into 15 minute sessions. Your 15-minute content demands that this HCP dedicates 100% of their time to you. And they simply cannot afford to do that.

Content consumption: the five-minute rule

In my daily conversations, I talk a lot about the initial point of engagement, when your audience is first exposed to your information. In-depth information takes significant time to consume, e.g. a webinar, roundtable discussion, presentation, symposium, research paper/publication etc. As useful as these resources are, they take too long to consume without deliberately scheduling time to do so. That’s time an HCP cannot spare unless they know the content is relevant to them.

The fact is, content which takes more than 5 minutes to a consume at the initial point of engagement will lose its potential audience. We need to tell them quickly why this information is worth their time investment.

If, however, you translate the long form content into a summarised highlight (estimated consumption time: 3 to 5 minutes), engagement improves significantly. Crucially, this shortened content must not dumb down the original information. It must clearly and concisely deliver the key points, captivate the audience and convince them to investigate further.

 Formats: meet the needs of a diverse audience with variety

In the battle for engagement, we need to address the needs and preferences of our audience. When HCPs search for information, there is no single source they consult. And many seek answers across a range of channels and formats. This makes it difficult to predict where best to place your content.

Adopting a multi-channel or omnichannel approach offers HCPs choice in their content consumption, and you’re more likely to hold their attention if you make your message digestible. You could increase engagement with the use of, say, a single infographic to summarise detailed content, or you could maximise engagement by offering a package of highlight formats as videos, podcasts, infographics, written plain language summaries and even animations. 

Ultimately, those that offer more variety give their audience more chances to discover and engage with their content.

A greater understanding

There is a growing translation gap between the scientists conducting research and those who design and create content around their work. The information might be too densely worded, or it may have been shortened so much the scientific detail is missing or misrepresented. This leads to content that, either fails to captivate and inspire, or is not trusted, regardless of the importance of the research.

Blame shorter attention spans, badly chosen formats or poor accessibility, but whatever the reason, engagement rates are dropping alarmingly.

As an illustration, a Pharma company presented a three-minute video on LinkedIn, an educational piece designed to enhance understanding of a rare disease. The video featured insights by KOLs and visual aids. It seemed to tick all the standard boxes for engagement and I was enthused about the subject, but my interest in the video faded after just 90 seconds. The presentation simply failed to captivate me, despite the otherwise interesting subject.

I suspect I was not alone.

To reiterate, we have reached the point where digital materials need to move forward from just being digital materials. They need to captivate, inspire and inform, and they need to do so quickly.

Moving forward, Pharma companies need to add another item to their digital content to-do list: ask whether the work instantly captivates, inspires and informs. If you can tick that box, it’s worth the work. If not, ask why not, and what could be improved? This extra step will save a lot of wasted effort on content that proves to be not easy to digest or effectively invisible.

Where possible, work with content experts who specialise in your field, and offer a true synergy of scientific rigour and creative communication. To create riveting, convincing content, these experts should combine a deep understanding of the subject matter with excellent creative instincts to create truly captivating scientific digital content.

Key lessons

What the industry needs to do is react now.

Immediately, before your audience grows even more distant to you and your message. Seek out the assistance of true experts in creating digital engagement with scientific content. They can deliver the type of content you need in front of your audiences right now, without delay, rather than waiting for the theory to filter down.

Where can you access this combination of skills? Should you use in-house talent or outsource to external specialists? This is a difficult balance to strike and one that relies on budget, time and resources, among other factors. But we can no longer ignore the need to evolve and expect to remain relevant.

The Pharma industry must react now to prevent HCP audiences drifting away from them. Seek out the assistance of true experts in creating digitally engaging scientific content. They can deliver the content you need and get it in front of your audience in a timely way. Use this period to learn from them and apply their insights to your own internal efforts for better market alignment. By embracing this specialist knowledge and skillset, your content will reach, influence and help your audience, and will keep them coming back for more.

Jeremy Betts

Head of Partnership, SciencePOD

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