Online coupon bank maps a new marketing route into physicians' offices

E-detailing, m-detailing, mobile ads and messaging services. They're all ways for companies to reach healthcare professionals who lack the time--and sometimes, the willingness--to engage in face time. Now, McKesson and Physicians Interactive (PI) have a new-age solution for pharma brands looking to get in front of physicians, reluctant and otherwise. And it's one that won't displace sales reps, the companies say.

McKesson Patient Relationship Solutions' Ken Kark

Enter Coupons on Demand, an online, one-stop shop for coupons and copay vouchers from multiple brands. For pharma companies, it's an opportunity to reach more than 100,000 professionals at once, via PI's network. And by delivering coupons this way, drugmakers can track various metrics--such as coupon redemption rates and volume--to assess how well their special offers are working, Ken Kark of McKesson Patient Relationship Solutions told FiercePharmaMarketing in an email.

For partners McKesson and PI, Coupons on Demand was a natural extension of their existing eCoupon business and PI's eSampling network. Less than 30% of doctors in the eSampling community actively use coupons or vouchers, Kark said, so there's plenty of room for brand teams to extend their reach.

PI general manager Tom Quinn

"It's about preferences," PI general manager Tom Quinn told FiercePharmaMarketing in a phone interview. "How do clinicians want to be engaged? Depending on their preferences, how can pharma and pharma brands engage their marketing model in a more efficient manner?"

According to the companies, clinicians want to be engaged digitally, and the numbers show it; Kark cited a December study from CapGemini and Quintia, which found that 67% of surveyed doctors prefer to get drug information from digital media. Coupons on Demand joins a slew of other next-generation marketing tools, all of which focus on engaging consumers where and when they'd like, Quinn said.

"This is how you touch consumers now," he said. "Physicians, clinicians and patients are all consumers. They're consumers of samples, consumers of information, consumers of education, and we're part of a digital age that enables that."

So does that mean doctors using the service see no room for reps? Absolutely not, according to Quinn. In a survey of the network's physicians, more than 75% said Coupons on Demand didn't displace reps; they still add value from an information and education standpoint, and doctors called the program an augmentation rather than a substitution, he said.

And what about pharmacy benefits managers, who are more and more reacting against pharma's sales tactics by targeting discounted drugs for exclusion from their formularies? It's really up to pharma companies to decide whether coupons or vouchers are a way they want to go, considering the current climate, Quinn said. But at least to this point, it hasn't hampered uptake of Coupons on Demand. "We're enablers," he said. "Whatever's the best strategically for the brands, we enable that."

So far, his company's services seem to be right up there. "We've seen the eSampling and eCoupon business literally in the last three years increase fourfold," Quinn said. "That tells us two things. One, clinicians are embracing this, and two, so are pharma companies. And they need to embrace this together in order to make it work."

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