Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Marketing's Right Message to Right Person at Right Time Mantra

How many times have you heard the phrase "Deliver the RIGHT message to the RIGHT physician/patient/whatever at the RIGHT time!"? Too many times, I'm guessing.

Let me call it the "RMRPRT" strategy.

Usually, to implement the RMRPRT strategy you need good segmentation based on the interests of the person who you intend to send the message to. For physicians, you might segment them based on therapeutic specialty, how often they write scripts, which products they often prescribe, etc. Segmentation could be based on one or all of these things. Then you have to compose multiple messages appropriate for these segments.

It seems like a good marketing strategy, but is it really?

First, where's the data that supports the benefit of deploying the RMRPRT strategy? If you have it, please let me see it. What I'd really like to know is whether or not the increased ROI offsets the cost of doing the segmentation and creating the different messages. If more and more messaging is done by non-personal means (ie, Internet), the cost per message is so low that it may not make sense to go overboard with segmentation and targeting.

Anyway, I'm thinking that this analysis is not routinely done by pharma marketers.

I know it's not done by marketers in other industries. For example, I just got an email message from DeerPark offering me $2 off a case of water (I get monthly deliveries from DeerPark). I have ordered cases of bottled water before from DeerPark. So I guess I am the right person to send this message to. But wait! Wouldn't it be better to send this message to clients who have NOT ordered cases previously? Isn't that the "right" person? Or maybe DeerPark gives those people an even bigger discount than they offer me. It would be a bummer if I ever discovered that DeerPark offered a better deal to someone else!

Don't get me started about the "right time" issue. I mean, how does DeerPark know when I am thirsty? Heck, they are sending email which I may not even read for hours or days after it's delivered! I could even be at my local bar enjoying a Guinness!

Here's another one. I recently ordered a futon from Now, when I visit websites I see ads for Futons from Obviously, some kind of behavioral targeting has gone awry! Hello! I already ordered the futon!

Do you think this sort of thing happens when pharma marketers try to deliver the right message to the right physician at the right time? Just wondering.

Segmenting physicians into different groups is something pharma marketers have been doing for a long time -- they are good at it mostly because they have access to all sorts of data about every physician. Recently, however, several states have passed laws restricting access to physician prescribing data. This and other trends may limit the ability of marketers to deliver the appropriate message to physicians.

What about patients? It's much harder to segment the general population based on health data. For one thing, there's the federal HIPAA regulations. It's also much more creepy to receive messages that reveal how much the sender knows about your medical condition.

I don't believe, therefore, that the RMRPRT strategy is appropriate for patients unless they have opted in to receive the information. But that's a problem because few people will opt in to receive information from a pharmaceutical company. Maybe that's why we see so many WRONG messages delivered to the WRONG people at the WRONG time on TV! Call it the WMWPWT strategy!

Just a few random thoughts.


  1. Good challenge to everyone, John. First, I can tell you for sure that the data showing that properly segmented messages absolutely exists. Most of it is proprietary because it represents a huge competitive advantage (and is very expensive). Here's one article from eMarketer that shows this is what people want (

    Our company works with several clients who use personalized information based on a number of different factors from past purchase behavior to on-site actions to create INDIVIDUALIZED messages. There's a big difference between personalized (slapping the person's name on something) and individualized (creating something that the person feels was created only for them). See my post from earlier in the year on this including a great example of Delta doing the "RMRPRT" strategy perfectly (

    I have seen countless, very well constructed, studies done by clients that shows that proper segmentation and timing can have a major impact. One of our clients is P&G and, trust me, they do it and do it very well. Having said that, I don't see that level of discipline from pharma at all. Yes, it's easier to track consumer packaged goods purchases and tie it back to a specific campaign versus matching individual prescription data, but you can get pretty close by using several surrogates.

    It's hard to do though and takes a lot of effort. For many pharma companies, it's not an area of focus so there isn't an investment in it. So, similar to your experiences with Overstock and Deer Park, the messages don't seem right and don't resonate with you. (PS: for many coupons, like your Deer Park one, they pay out a better return sending them to current customers versus using them to capture new ones).

    Great reminder and challenge to the industry.

    Jonathan Richman
    Dose of Digital

  2. Jonathan,

    As always, your comments are very insightful and based on real world experience, which I appreciate.

    What do you think, however, of the impact of the low cost of "non-personal" electronic communications on "individualism"?

    If you have a database of all smartphone users, for example, it sounds like a good idea to segment that list to match the demographics of your "target" group rather than sending a text message to all. There's a cost involved in mashing the entire list with another database of demographics. I bet these databases cost a lot of dough - especially for CONSUMERS (pharma already has bought databases for phsyicians, so there's no extra cost per use unless that figures into the database license). Does that cost exceed the extra ROI you may obtain compared with just sending the msg to ALL smartphone users?

    I'm thinking mostly of communicating with consumers rather than the much smaller number of physicians, which is much easier/less expensive to segment.

    I don't even know if it is legal to blast text msgs to all smartphone users if you can get your hands on such a list.

    I'm just thinking out loud here.

  3. Second Jonathan's thoughts on the quality of the challenge you present.

    The only thing I'd add that we heard ad nauseum in the field was "The RIGHT message, to the RIGHT person, at the RIGHT time, with the RIGHT FREQUENCY".

    The problem with how we approach things in the pharmaceutical industry is that everyone is trying to do the same thing. Generally, if Pfizer does something, the rest of us get in line and follow suit because they're the "biggest" and the "best". Right? I heard that argument at my last company when we went from having entrepreneurial liberties in the field to run our territories as our own businesses to having KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) mandated. The rationale for forcing us to make a certain number of calls on a certain doctor with a certain frequency, "Folks, let's face it. The big companies do it, and it works!".

    Only, it didn't for us, and 9 months later, 200 of our territories were eliminated, and sales continue to decline.

    Each company NEEDS to identify who they want to be and how to accomplish it instead of trying to emulate the successful companies. That includes messaging and how to both create and deliver it.

    We're at such a turning point in the Sales/Marketing side of the industry, we have one chance to get it right and really create an identity to provide sustainable value to all of our customers (clinical or not).

    Thanks, John and Jonathan!
    Dana Webster

  4. Good question, John.

    First, to answer this question of yours: "I don't even know if it is legal to blast text msgs to all smartphone users if you can get your hands on such a list."

    The short answer is maybe. If you buy a list of people who have agreed to receive SMS from "trusted partners" then you could buy a list and blast these people. However, if someone has not given consent for your to send them an SMS (or email), it MIGHT be illegal, but it's certainly not an accepted practice. Pharma is particularly careful about this and uses double opt-ins in most cases.

    Next question, it is cheaper just to blast the same thing to everyone (assuming they opted in for a moment) versus doing a little segmenting work? Answer, it depends. Most likely, these companies already have a database with some good information (included where they signed up and what they've been sent and responded to). Using those as simple rules, you can get a simple segmentation and make sure you're not sending, say, erectile dysfunction messages, to women. These database rules are very simple to create and push out to your SMS system assuming you have the right system in place. Many companies do and just don't use them right. The big cost is the initial purchase and setup. After that, things can be pretty much automatic.

    So, if you don't have a system in place, then the cost (potentially millions) might not justify the additional lift from the segmentation.

    The reality is that we make these things far too complicated (see my post today called"I'll Build You an iPhone Medication Tracker App for $10" when they can be done very simply and cheaply. With a few hours you could make a simple form that segments your customers and then generates a custom email (or SMS) to each. It won't be a thing of beauty and won't be terribly accurate, but it'll be better than nothing with little investment.


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